Who Stays? Who Goes?
When the Atlanta Thrashers offically became the Winnipeg Jets this past off-season it presented the NHL a few head scratchers in terms of logistical issues. The main headache was Winnipeg’s strange and awkward position in the Southeast Division. It was announced by NHL Commish. Gary Bettman that this was a temporary situation and it would be solved by 2 things.
A: Winnipeg would move full time to the Western Conference by the 2012-13 season & B: A Current Western Conf. team would jump over to the Eastern seaboard to keep the conferences even at 15 teams apiece.
So now begs the question who jumps ship from the West to make room for the Jets. Here are the 3 of the current teams who would love to make the switch:
Detroit Red Wings: Owner Mike Illitch recently revealed that Bettmen promised the Wings 1st crack when the opportunity arose for a team to move east, plus given that Detroit is a model francise and their closeness in terms of miles to other east teams such as Toronto & Montreal makes you want to say that the Wings are the favorite.
Columbus Blue Jackets: The Jackets are farther east then the Wings and an much earlier road game schedule(No more 9 or 10PM road games) would certainly help a franchise with a slowly developing fan base. Playing most of their games vs the easier comp. from the East wouldn’t hurt & also raise the Jackets playoff hopes.
Nashville: The Preds see themselves as the perfect candidate to replace the Thrashers in the Southeast Division given their proximity to fellow division members such as the Carolina Hurricanes and would make an easy swap putting the Jets in the Central. The Preds may not be in the same time zone but the fact that the Preds would play teams geographically close to them at least 8 times a season makes it a very appealing move to ownership and the fans.
So with that in mind this is what the divisions in the east could possibly look like:
With Detroit: Northeast: Boston, Detroit, Montreal, Ottawa & Toronto: Detroit has a close proximity to 3 of the division’s clubs. The 3 Canadian clubs remain together with Boston & Detroit replaces Buffalo. You instantly have a Original Six rivalry renewed and we keep the fierce rivalries between Boston/Montreal and Toronto/Ottawa.
Atlantic: Buffalo, Islanders, Rangers, New Jersey & Washington: Buffalo and Washington replace the two Pennsylvania clubs as all of the New York area franchises are placed into one division and the New York division rivalry is now a 3 team race. Now Washington is the wild card in this division as the Caps could easily fit into the Southeast but their placement here will really show us if the Caps have to the stuff to win it all.
Southeast: Carolina, Florida, Tampa, Pittsburgh & Philadelphia: Our 2 resident Pennsylvania clubs replace the Jets and Caps and makes this division no longer a guarantee win such as in the past. Plus having Sidney Crosby coming to the Sunbelt at least 8 times year certainly wouldn’t hurt things. Although it does leave the Hurricanes as the odd team out when it comes to state rivalries.
With Columbus: Northeast: Buffalo, Columbus, Montreal, Ottawa & Toronto: Now a case could be made that the Northeast remain the same with Columbus in the east but work with me here. We still have the 3 Canadian clubs together along with Buffalo who love being so close to the canadian border plus having Columbus have teams such as the Leafs and Habs coming to Ohio up to 8 times a season certainly would help in growing the Blue Jackets fan base.
Atlantic: Boston, Islanders, Rangers, New Jersey & Washington: Yea we take the all New York area division away but we do add the Bruins and this division could become the Northwest of old where almost every team has a chance for the post-season. Plus having the Rangers and Bruins in the same division wouldn’t hurt right? Just ask the MLB what it means having that NY/Boston rivalry in the same division.
Southeast: Carolina, Florida, Tampa, Pittsburgh & Philadelphia: See above
With Nashville: Divisions would basically remain the same as they currently are as Nashville would take the Jets position in the Southeast Div.
Confused yet? Just wait until we go over what this would mean for the West.
We have a few potential scenarios when it comes to the West.
Scenario 1- Detroit Moves: Northwest: Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton, Minnesota & Winnipeg: The Jets are added to the Northeast as all 4 of the Western Canada clubs are together and Minnesota gains a much closer rival in the Jets.
Pacific: Anaheim, Los Angeles, Phoenix, San Jose & Colorado: 1st off we get rid of the issue of the Dallas Stars who really belong in the Central. Plus traveling to Denver is a lot closer then Texas for the California clubs.
Central: Columbus, Dallas, St. Louis, Chicago & Nashville: We finally put the Stars where they belong and give them much closer rivals in St. Louis and Nashville. Plus this scenario does minimal movement but keeps most rivalries alive and creates much needed new ones.
Scenario 2 – Columbus Moves: Now with a Columbus move the Western Conf. Division realignment could stay exactly the same as above with no issue as Detroit would just basically replace Columbus in the Central.
Scenario 3 – Nashville Moves: Same as above but with Detroit & Columbus staying in the Central. Although a case could be made for the Jets to replace the Preds in the Central and the Northwest and Pacific divisions remain the same, but the Dallas Stars really need to get out of the Pacific.
But what if we really wanted to get creative? Well this is my solution for the West..
Northwest: Colorado, Calgary, Edmonton, Minnesota & Winnipeg: Your 1st thought is that Vancouver is missing but I can explain. Colorado is the somewhat oddball but you have to keep the Battle of Alberta and Minny and Winnipeg are close rivals and it could be interesting to see how Vancouver fares in the Pacific.
Pacific: Anaheim, Los Angeles, Phoenix, San Jose & Vancouver: This situation would place the Canucks in a much more friendly time zone to travel in as they would only be out of the Pacific time zone when playing road games in Arizona. Although other divisions and teams may have envy over the non-existent jet lag these teams would have.
Central: Columbus or Detroit, Dallas, St. Louis, Chicago & Nashville or Columbus: Basically the only change here is the addition of the Dallas Stars and for the Stars playing in a much more friendly division time zone and travel wise could boost the team and find the francise an actual owner.
Really it is all a guessing game until the final decision is announced but it can’t hurt to stand in the NHL’s shoes for just a moment. Can it?