One thing that hit me hard was looking at the Stanley Cup Semifinal lineup. Not the fact the Lightning had been bounced out and who was left, but where was left in both conferences.
In the East: Ottawa, New Jersey, New York, Buffalo...
In the west: Detroit, San Jose, Anaheim, Vancouver.
No, don't think about the teams or the franchises and what they all bring to the table. Think about the locations and the proximity to their opponents location. New Jersey versus Ottawa? A 433 mile trip between the Meadowlands and Ottawa. Roughly the same (if not shorter) distance between New York City and Buffalo.
Now look in the west and maybe you can start seeing where I have a problem. While the east enjoys a highly northeastern sectionalized affair, the west has it's long, slogging sojourn of a playoff series between distant cities.
It's an unfair advantage for Eastern conference teams to travel such short distances during the season and especially the playoffs between opponents. Yes, the teams rack up miles but it's not the same as those in the Western conference -- where division opponents are out-of-timezone foes who may or may not be west of the Mississippi (which in the US truly epitomizes the west).
There are several things I find arcane about the NHL and the East/West alignment is one of them. Traditionalists will always claim "that's the way it's been" even when the divisions had actual tangible names instead of ambiguous regional monikers -- it still doesn't mean it's a good way to schedule games.
Of course, the other traditionalism desire will ruin any attempt at a realignment that divides the NHL's 30 franchises in 2 distinct east-central-west conferences (which I greatly prefer a la Major League Baseball or in the NFL until recent years). Not all eastern rivals will be able to continue playing their rival-opponents a large number of times yearly. Also -- you would have "could give a care" division opponents who have to earn your loathing in order to give a damn about them. That won't be looked at fondly when Atlanta, Carolina or the Florida teams get mixed into a heavily traditionalist division (with original six teams -- either in the east or the central).
Yet it's something that's gotta be done.
Why? Not just because of the unfairness factor I state -- making Western conference teams do double-distance in the playoffs) but to also make those irrelevant teams relevant. You want Montreal to start giving a care about Miami? Put them in the same conference and when Miami routinely comes to town and gives the Habs trouble, you have a cross continent rivalry brewing.
But it would take guts and leadership to draw up an alignment that works -- and accept the fact that many may be left unhappy to begin. Gary Bettman doesn't have Leadership ability as-so-much as ownership ass-kissing credentials. And in the players union -- they wish to remain in the status quo if not the olden days as long as they can -- to hell with the future of the game, lets embrace the past.
But I digress... My rant is turning into a complain-fest about the league itself and not about the alignment. I expect Detroit to win the western conference and probably Ottawa win the Cup with thanks to their road through the playoffs (though I am dismissing the teams ability which I have seen first hand last season in the playoffs). I'll be rooting for the Ducks tonight however as I'd like to see the final 2 teams from the 1992-93 expansions make it to the Cup finals.
EDIT: I was wrong. Ducks vs. Ottawa. Also, new poll on Boltsmag asking which alignment would be best... [poll=8]