The NHL's realignment plan isn't going to improve the chances of the Sabres winning a Stanley Cup any more than their own management is holding them back from it. It actually is not at all about the Sabres or any of the other current Eastern Conference teams for that matter (except the Jets obviously). This format was created to balance out the west.
Under the current system, Western Conference teams endure more travel than any other teams in the league, especially within their own divisions. Three of those teams, Minnesota, Dallas and Columbus, cause more problems than any other. The Stars are forced to cross two time zones every time they play the division-rival Kings, Ducks and Sharks in California, and obviously in turn, force those teams to do the same in order to play in Dallas. The Wild don't affect as many inter-division teams, but still, when they and the Canucks face off, two time zones must be crossed. Columbus's inter-division match-ups are even less of a stress, but they play every Western Conference team four times a year, meaning teams such as Vancouver, L.A., San Jose and Anaheim are forced to cross three time zones and vice versa.
The Blue Jackets are also the only team to really get left out in the cold during all of this change, being the only remaining team in the old west with an eastern standard time location. Future (unnecessary) expansion will definitely play a role in their fate though. If one of the desired teams ends up out west, they will be the obvious candidate to switch over to the now Eastern Conference.
For the most part, I believe the NHL got this right. There won't be any strenuous travel amongst inter-division (or conference) teams, and for the most part, they kept all of the true, regional rivalries intact. As Jon mentioned, living close to D.C., the Sabres will only come around once a year now -- rather than the two times he's used to -- but overall improvement for the league as a whole is obviously going to come with its share of disappointment for some. For me right now, the closest hockey city is Dallas, and the Sabres don't even come here this season. Under the new schedule, every team will be in every city at least once a year.
It's disappointing that some great rivalries will eventually be lost too. The Sabres and Flyers have had a long history and losing that is definitely a going to be a shame. The NHL is protecting their bread and butter though, and for that, you have to give them some credit. Losing the Sabres/Flyers rivalry isn't anything compared to what losing say, the Pens/Flyers rivalry would be. Trust me, I'm just as sad as anyone to play Philly two less times a year, but after living in Pittsburgh for the last decade, I can honestly say that the NHL made the right move on keeping that one. And on many others: Rangers/Devils; Red Wings/Blackhawks; Bruins/Sabres; Sabres/Leafs; Canadiens/Bruins; Flames/Oilers, etc. They're obviously capitalizing on new rivalries such as Penguins/Capitals as well, which brings in a ton of more money than Capitals vs. any other team in their current division.
This realignment also shows that Florida teams don't have a real place in the NHL. Kept together in the end -- as they should be -- but thrown into a conference that makes them look like the outcasts of the league.
The one thing that is the most interesting to me is how entry to the playoffs will occur. The top four teams from each conference will get in, cut and dry. It'll almost operate like the pennant race in Major League Baseball, which will lead to a lot more excitement coming down the stretch, but will undoubtedly leave the NHL open to scrutiny as there will be teams left out of the playoffs by season's end who have more points than other teams that make it, by way of playing in a harder conference. Kinda like when either the Yankees or Red Sox get left out of the playoffs every year because of the Rays.
I you break it down though, two less teams per year will be guaranteed a playoff spot, and if you ask me, this league needs more of that. Too many times the NHL has given a team the 3rd spot in the conference when it wasn't deserved. You can also argue that the lack of diversity of play in the first two rounds could get a little boring after some time, but it could also intensify those rivalries and make it better in the end.
Either way, time will tell if this realignment will help or hurt the game. It's actually starting to look more like what NCAA football did before they started destroying all of their rivalries, and if you remember, that's what made college football great in the first place.
But on the surface, the good teams will still be playing for the Stanley Cup and the bad teams won't. And for at least the next couple of years, the now-Eastern Conference teams will have a better chance of making it, having one less team per conference.
By the way, what are they going to name these new conferences anyway? The NHL can't possibly believe that "Conference A, B, C and D" are at all appropriate. It would be nice to see them go back to the old Smythe, Adams, Patrick and Norris titles. I mean, come on, what was actually better than naming divisions after four dead guys?