Flyers react to NHL's new realignment


In 2010, as the well-told story goes, the Flyers got lucky.

On their road to the Stanley Cup Final, they didnt have to face the Washington Capitals or Pittsburgh Penguins, two teams that have had their number in recent years. But now, with the NHL set to completely overhaul its organization for the 2012-13 season (see story), the Flyers will only see more of their rivals.

However, the morning after the league announced that it will realign teams into four new conferences with seven or eight teams apiece (and that both the Caps and Pens will be in their conference), most of the Flyers still werent clear on the details.

In fact, Kimmo Timonen and coach Peter Laviolette only found out about the realignment Tuesday morning before practice. Ilya Bryzgalov learned of it in a conversation with the mediahe wasnt sure at first whether the changes were going to go into effect immediately.

Even Braydon Coburn, the Flyers NHLPA representative, hadnt yet had time to digest the adjustments.

The Flyers new conference, for now simply called Conference D, includes the Capitals, Penguins, New Jersey Devils, Carolina Hurricanes, New York Islanders and New York Rangers. One thing the realignment certainly means is the Flyers will find themselves in a very competitive group.

I think for this division, its going to be some really good hockey, Max Talbot said. I dont know what theyre going to call it, but out of the seven teams, its going to be a battle to make the playoffs every year. You get into the playoffs and youve got to get out of that division. Its going to be some intense hockey and I think the fans love it and we do love it as well because its increased rivalries and these games are what we love to play for.

In addition to playing teams in their conference six times, the Flyers will face every other team in the league twice: once at home, once on the road. For a team with one of the easiest travel schedules in the NHL, the increased commute will likely be the element of realignment that has the biggest impact on the Flyersat least during the regular season.

Obviously, if we add more travel, its going to be hard, Timonen said. Because our travel now, its really good. But whatever they do, they do. Its really out of our hands. But I dont mind the way things are right now, but obviously they have to do something with Winnipeg. So whatever they do, we take it.

The Winnipeg Jets, who moved north from Atlanta for the start of this season, have the unfortunate pleasure of playing in the NHLs Southeast Division this year.

Bryzgalov, who had to deal with a less-than-ideal travel schedule while with the Phoenix Coyotes, said of the Flyers fate, simply: That's much more travel, huh? Damn!

The NHLs realignment plan might appear complicated, but in reality, its no worse than what the league currently employs. Now, the Flyers face some Western Conference teams twice, others once. The Chicago Blackhawks came to Philadelphia in 2010, for instance, but Philly fans hoping to see a Stanley Cup rematch in 2011 were out of luck; the teams met just once that season, in Chicago.

With every team now playing at least one game at the Wells Fargo Center, Flyers fans will see more of teams and players they havent had a chance to get a feel for in recent years.

I think its going to be interesting to fans to see every single team every year, Talbot said. Were fortunate here in the East that we see the Crosbys, the Malkins, the Ovechkins, if I can say the stars of the league. But the Western Conference teams, they dont have the chance to see them as often every year. I think thats one of the biggest advantages.

Another potential advantage is how the playoffs will look. Postseason hockey is already well-regarded for its intensity, but realignment offers an opportunity to perhaps make the product even better.

The first two rounds of the postseason will be played within each conference (first place against fourth place, second versus third), with the eventual champion of each conference meeting for the final series that will decide the two teams that will battle for the Stanley Cup.

The details of the playoffs after the second round will be finalized this spring, but no matter how things fall into line, the postseason promises to be a tough battle.

I think thatll be interesting for rivalries, for sure, Coburn said. I know from past experience any time you play a team in the playoffs, it seems to breed bad blood. It just seems like in that kind of format you end up maybe playing some people in consecutive years in playoffs, and I think that would really conjure up some fierce rivalries.

Not that the Flyers need any help heating up their rivalries with the Pittsburgh Penguins or Washington Capitals, of course.

Exactly, Talbot said. Adding a team like the Capitals to our division is something that makes it interesting.

It makes it tough, but it makes it interesting.

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