SAN JOSE – NHL realignment became official on Thursday morning, and the reaction to the news was positive from a couple of Sharks veterans.
Specifically, Patrick Marleau and Dan Boyle are on board with the idea of playing in a new West Coast division, and facing every team in the NHL at least twice. The league will contract into four divisions from the current six.
“I’m good with it. Four divisions, hopefully the travel will be little bit better for a lot of teams,” Boyle said. “You get to see every team, I think that’s probably the most important thing for me, and the fans. The fans are going to get to see every team at least twice. I think that’s what we needed.”
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The Sharks will battle Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton, Los Angeles, Anaheim and Phoenix for a division crown. The top three teams in the division will get an automatic playoff berth, and two wild card teams from the seven-team, Western Conference-based divisions will also qualify for the postseason. The Eastern Conference divisions have eight teams apiece.
Whether or not the travel will be easier or harder for the Sharks is difficult to say. There will be more games in the Pacific time zone, but the team will probably have to embark on at least three lengthy East Coast swings in order to visit every arena in the NHL at least once.
Marleau said: “It will be interesting to see how it’s going to be next year. It’s going to be beneficial for some teams, and others are going to have to do the travel as usual. Time will tell.”
The fact that every team in the league will visit HP Pavilion should be a key selling point for the Sharks’ sales staff. Bay Area hockey fans will get the opportunity to see players like Sidney Crosby, Steven Stamkos and Claude Giroux each and every year. It will be the first time that’s happened since the 1997-98 season, which was Marleau’s rookie year.
“When I first came into the league, it was nice going into each team’s building, and playing in it. That part of it will be fun,” Marleau said. "The travel is definitely something you have to look at, but I don’t know any different, so I’m ok in that boat. But, I think it will be fun to play a home-and-home with Eastern teams.”
Boyle said: “At the end of the day it’s for the fans, and it’s important for them to see everybody.”
One casualty will be that some rivalries will inevitably cool with fewer meetings. The Sharks will only play the Detroit Red Wings twice, and the Dallas Stars will leave their division.
“There will be some teams that we normally play a bit more that we’ll miss like Detroit, but it will be exciting,” Todd McLellan said. “Some rivalries will get ramped up.”