The NHL seems to change its division alignments and scheduling formats almost annually. No sport is as willing to eschew tradition.
And that’s not always a bad thing. Thanks to the latest round of realignment, for the first time in 16 years the Capitals can look at their upcoming schedule and make plans for every city in the league. The last time Washington hosted and visited every team in the NHL at least once was 1997-98. For some reason during the 1998-99 season it hosted the Detroit Red Wings, but did not play them on the road at Joe Louis Arena.
Expansion played a role here. Remember that one season when the Tampa Bay Lightning were in the Western Conference? Of course you don’t. But it happened in 1992-93. The NHL added teams in 1991 (San Jose), 1992 (Ottawa and Tampa Bay), 1993 (Florida and Anaheim), 1998 (Nashville) and 2000 (Columbus and Minnesota).
The league dropped its traditional division (RIP Patrick Division) and conference (Wales and Campbell) names in 1993. It went to three-division formats in each conference in 1998-99 (RIP Southeast Division). Quebec moved to Colorado in 1996 and switched to the Western Conference. Toronto moved to the Eastern Conference in 1998. The NHL had schedule-crippling lockouts in 1994-95, 2004-05 and 2012-13. No wonder no one can remember the last time the Caps played every team home-and-home.
But just look at the schedule for this October. After a nice five-game homestand at Verizon Center, where local hockey fans can catch a glimpse of old friend Semyon Varlamov and the Colorado Avalanche or the young, exciting Edmonton Oilers, Washington hits the road.
And it’s that classic western Canadian road trip with games at Winnipeg, at Edmonton, at Calgary and at Vancouver, each one every other day. You can almost hear Ron Weber’s voice coming through the radio on a cold winter’s night from some far off place. It’s been a while since that trip happened.
There’s also the annual March road trip, which this year features games at San Jose, Anaheim and Los Angeles. Speaking of the Ducks, you can greet former coach Bruce Boudreau on his return to Washington on Dec. 23. You can see the defending Stanley Cup champs when the Chicago Blackhawks play here on April 11. You can cheer Matt Hendricks when the Nashville Predators visit on Dec. 7. You get the point. The latest realignment – whatever you think of the new Metropolitan Division – allows hockey fans see the entire league for once and gives precedence to historical rivals. That can only be a good thing.