(Chicago Tribune, Chicago Tribune)

I know you were promised this yesterday, but life sometimes gets in the way. Anyway, by now you all know the NHL has approved a radical new realignment plan by a vote of 26-4, splitting the league into four conferences. The Blackhawks will play in a yet to be named conference with the Red Wings, Blues, Predators, Jets, Wild, Stars and Blue Jackets. The reaction around the league has been mostly positive and the league did a good job to accommodate the needs of most of the parties involved.

For Blackhawks fans, the worst case scenario of being stuck in a godforsaken division with St. Louis-Nashville-Columbus and Minnesota was averted and the rivalry with the Detroit stays intact. The NHL already stole the Minnesota North Stars and Toronto Maple Leafs from the Hawks – taking Detroit and leaving us with Columbus and Winnipeg would have been cruel and unusual.

There is no question that Detroit and Columbus had a legitimate gripes with the current structure. It’s not hard to understand why fans in those cities were not thrilled with having to stay awake until 10:00 or sometimes !0:30 to watch their team play on the west coast. That is about the time a normal home game would be winding down. The new Conference format considerably cuts down on both teams western travel and their fans will be able to enjoy games with reasonable start times. Columbus especially benefits as the late starts were clearly affecting their ability to build its fan base in Ohio.

The best part of the whole plan in my view will be the additional intensity of regular season conference games. The new plan will have teams facing conference opponents in the first two rounds of the playoffs. Make no mistake, the tone for these playoff series will be set during regular season games. You KNOW you are going to be facing these teams in the opening rounds and precedents need to be set and messages sent during those games in December and January. This is not always the case in the current format.

Much has been made of the Blackhawks losing their rivalry with the Vancouver Canucks. While it is certainly regrettable, the price for keeping the rivalry alive would have been losing Detroit to the Eastern Conference. Seeing Vancouver four times a season is not better than seeing Detroit five or six times a season. Plus, we are virtually guaranteed to see Detroit in the post season with this plan, something that was not at all guaranteed with Vancouver. There is a silver lining in the rivalry ending. Blackhawks fans can look back on this era proudly, knowing that we took two out of the three playoff series, and most importantly, won a Stanley Cup, while Vancouver came out with absolutely nothing. Unless the two teams up end up meeting again this year, the rivalry ends with the Hawks indisputably getting the best of Vancouver.

How many times have you heard someone complain about the lack of visits to United Center by Original Six teams? Probably more than you can count. Realignment has finally solved that problem. Each Original Six club will show up in Chicago once a season. While it’s still not ideal, it was simply unacceptable for those teams to come into town just once every other season.

The league is still uncertain about the structure of the 3rd round and the Stanley Cup Finals. It is possible that if reseeding happens after the conference playoffs are are decided, you could see a Stanley Cup final with Chicago and Vancouver or Pittsburgh and Toronto. This would upset geographical balance, but you know your going to watch it anyhow, so who cares?

Some people have slammed the plan and said the playoffs will become boring and predictable. I won’t pretend to know how crazy the rivalries with the North Stars and Blues were in the 1980′s, but from talking to people who were fans in old Norris Division days, one gets the feeling that boring and predictable won’t be the words people use to describe what we are about to witness.