With a mere 3265 miles between them, Vancouver and Orlando are quite a distance apart. While Orlando has yet to obtain an NHL franchise, they do have the ECHL's Orlando Solar Bears, so there's a bit of a hockey culture there. I will say that these two coastal communities have yet to appear in the same article here on HBIC, so let's knock that one out of the park. Due the recent NHL realignment, though, there won't be many visits by the Canucks to the state of Florida, and since the Victoria Salmon Kings aren't an ECHL team anymore, the Solar Bears won't invade British Columbia in the foreseeable future.
REALIGNMENT PLANSThe NHL's new realignment plan that has yet to be voted on and agreed to by the players seems like it will work. Detroit and Columbus move to the Eastern Conference, and that will help them immensely. There won't be frequent west coast road trips that cause them to cross three time zones to play, and TV broadcasts for their fans will be much more convenient. Both teams have to be happy about this.
Detroit should be fine when it comes to playing against teams in the Northeast and Florida, but Columbus might find themselves in a world of hurt as they join the old Patrick Division plus Carolina. That would be a tough division for Detroit, let alone the Blue Jackets. There's a good chance that if Columbus can continue building, they could develop a great rivalry with the Pittsburgh Penguins, but Columbus fans might find this move to be a little disappointing for a few years with the powerhouses of the Atlantic Division.
Washington and Carolina, two recent winners of the Southeast Division, may find themselves in the same boat as Columbus after playing in the weakest NHL division for the last fifteen years. Washington and Carolina simply wouldn't be playoffs teams with regularity if the new realignment had been in place in the last few years. They're going to have to be better and develop some solid talent if they hope to compete with the Penguins, Devils, Rangers, and Flyers once again.
The Winnipeg Jets join the rest of the central time zone as they move to the Midwest Division. Frequent flyer miles aside, the Jets jump into a division where they will need to better, but they also get a shot at developing some excellent rivalries. I'm especially excited for trips to Minnesota where the Jets and Wild will meet often.
With sixteen teams in the Eastern Conference, it looks as though expansion to Quebec City and Toronto will certainly be put on hold, especially after moving Detroit and Columbus to the east. The Western Conference has 14 teams and there are opportunities in places like Seattle, Kansas City, and Houston, but expansion may not be in the NHL's best interest at this time. Time will tell.
Playoff hockey in Canada will be exciting if all seven teams make the playoffs, but the divisional playoffs will see the Canadian teams dwindle quickly if all seven are in action. Because the top-three teams in each division make the playoffs and will play within their division in the first two playoff rounds. The only Canadian team that won't have a shot at eliminating another Canadian team within the first two rounds is Winnipeg. Go Jets Go!
All in all, I think this realignment will work despite the added travel for the Panthers and Lightning in terms of playing in the north-east against their divisional rivals. And if it doesn't? Well, the NHL and NHLPA will go back to the drawing board at the conclusion of the 2015-16 season. Three years, and hopefully the start of some great rivalries and battles.
ORLANDO STORMTROOPERSThe Orlando Solar Bears joined the Dark Side on Thursday night as they became Stormtroopers for one night as they battled the Reading Royals! The Solar Bears used fantastic defence and solid goaltending to down the Royals by a 1-0 score. Goaltender Zoltan Hetenyi stopped all 29 shots sent his way, and C.J. Severyn's first-period goal was all that Orlando needed in holding off the "Royal Alliance". I'm not Darth Vader or Emperor Palpatine, but I'm pretty sure the Galactic Empire would be happy with these results. With the win, Orlando improves to 18-8-1-3 at the Amway Center, but, strangely, Orlando is still fifth in the Southeast Division with 26-27-2-3 record. As the wise and quotable Han Solo said after a successful win against the Empire, "Don't get cocky, kid!"
PHOENIX SUNS HOCKEY?When I first saw this uniform, I thought it might be some sort of Phoenix Suns-based hockey jersey. It's not, though, as it's the alternate uniform being worn by those Orlando Solar Bears this season! If there's one quibble I have with this design, it's the fact that there isn't a bear to be found anywhere on the uniform. I do like the color combination, but if you're the Solar Bears, there should be a bear on the uniform, no? In any case, these uniforms are pretty good, and I'd actually buy one if I could find a pro-style jersey!
MILLIONAIRES AS MILLIONAIRESThe Vancouver Canucks will honor the last team to bring the Stanley Cup to Canada's west coast as they'll don replica jerseys of the 1915 Vancouver Millionaires against the Detroit Red Wings on March 16. Kesler wore this uniform earlier in the season when the Canucks announced that the light-colored breezers would not be worn. As the Canucks got themselves ready for a little media scrum today, you can see that they are wearing, um, light-colored breezers? Maybe someone didn't get the memo. Regardless of the mix-up, I like these uniforms. They're sharp, the stripes look fantastic, and the color is rich. Thumbs-up from me!
So that's how we closed the gap between Vancouver and Orlando. Again, it's the first time that these two cities and hockey teams appeared in the same article despite their distance, but they both did a pretty swell job on their newest threads. Well done on the realignment, NHL and NHLPA, and well done on the uniforms, Orlando and Vancouver!
Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!