Hockey is a conservative beast, most of the time. Circular artists are resolutely jammed into square holes. Orthodoxy fights unorthodoxy on everything from helmets to visors to no-touch icing. An epidemic of concussions is approached with caution, as if it were a live bear. Changes come, eventually, though fighting remains. So it goes.
Then you get a little thing like a franchise failing in the East and rising in the West — or at least, in Winnipeg — and the next thing you know an entire continent has seen its jetstreams redrawn. On Monday, in California, the National Hockey League’s board of governors got together, talked for an hour, and chucked the entire divisional structure in favour of four conferences, two time-zone-friendly playoff rounds, and a different league. You can call realignment a lot of things, but you cannot call it incremental.
And frankly, you cannot call it the wrong decision, either. Sure, there is an out-of-town scoreboard’s worth of winners and losers, as measured in flight times and time zones and rivalries. Florida is now an orphaned state, hockey’s big toe, replacing places like Detroit and Columbus. There is a mathematical playoff problem, and probably a lot of unintended consequences on the horizon. It is a big, tangled mess.