Yes, we know, Winnipeg does not belong in the Southeast Division or even the Eastern Conference. We also know that that isn’t changing next season, as the NHLPA recently denied the NHL’s realignment proposal. As much as it stinks for fans who were excited about new “conferences” and a new playoff format, it’s being put on hold for now because reportedly the players had no say in it.
What does this mean for the Jets? Well obviously another year playing the Panthers, Lightning, Hurricanes and Capitals six times per season. Is this a bad thing? Not necessarily. While Winnipeg fans were salivating about more matchups against the Red Wings, Blackhawks and Wild, the fact remains that they would have been in the midst of a very competitive eight-team division or “conference,” in which they’d have to battle not only those three teams, but also the Blues (1 point out of 1st in the West), Predators (6th in the West), Stars (on the bubble in 9th) and Blue Jackets for just 4 playoff spots.
Where are the Jets in that mix? Obviously a lot would happen between now and next season when you factor in player movement and injuries, but let’s assume St. Louis, Chicago and Detroit are shoo-ins for the playoffs. That leaves the Jets in a battle for one playoff spot with the Minnesota, Dallas and Nashville. I left Columbus out because that franchise seems to always be going nowhere in a hurry no matter what they do. Is passing those three teams insurmountable? No, but remember playing in the new conference makes the Jets’ competition that much more difficult.
As it stands, the Jets play in the weakest division in hockey. This is one of the reasons they are in the hunt for a playoff spot this season. Would their chances be as great next season if realignment was approved? Probably not, because of the number of quality teams they’d have to face over and over again and surpass to get to one of a mere four playoff spots.
The bottom line is this: it’s okay for a fledgling franchise to play one more season in a division in which it doesn’t belong because ultimately the fans want to see their team in the playoffs.
And the Jets’ chances are better in the Southeast.