If the reports that leaked out over the weekend are true, then it is a great day for the Winnipeg Jets, Detroit Red Wings and Columbus Blue Jackets, and perhaps not such a good day for the Nashville Predators. Though the proposed realignment being floated around has not been finalized yet–and might not be for several more weeks–it will do much to correct some of the conference and geographical imbalances that currently exist.
Twenty years ago, the Red Wings did the league an enormous favor by relocating to the Western Conference to help grow the game out west during the most recent era of expansion. An Original Six squad, their frequent presence in established markets like Vancouver and Los Angeles, in addition to newer ones like San Jose and Anaheim, had a profound impact on making the league more popular in the west, and was something the NHL sorely needed.
They haven’t gone to the poor house as a result of this move, but they will definitely be happy to be located in the east now where their travel requirements will be greatly reduced.
Add the Jets and Blue Jackets to the list of teams that will be happy to see their travel time cut down. We all knew Winnipeg’s time in the Southeast Division would not last forever, but it is nice to know that the team can now cut back on travel expenses themselves, considering how much closer they will be to some of their competition (hello Edmonton, Minnesota, Chicago, Calgary and Vancouver!).
This will make them more financially viable in the long-term as well. And the same goes for the Blue Jackets, who are perennially struggling for success on the ice and at the gate. Switching to one of the Eastern Conferences will cut down enormously on their travel expenses, and playing against hockey-mad teams from nearby areas like Pittsburgh and Buffalo will draw additional fans their way for home games.
You will probably hear that the Predators might be the biggest loser here as they will remain in the Western Conferences, but I disagree. Yes, staying in the Western Conferences means continuing to have to travel far more than they would like to, but here’s the kicker: putting this year’s early awesomeness of the Chicago Blackhawks aside (sorry boys, you won’t be able to play like this on an annual basis), the Predators arguably become the best team in their conference.
And, if it has been suggested, the top four teams in each conference will make the playoffs, Nashville will still be in great position to do so each year, especially with Detroit out of the picture. So while the travel situation still isn’t ideal for them, they are far from losers here.
Similarly, some will argue the western teams as a whole will lose because Detroit has left the building. It is undeniable that having the Red Wings leave the west will hurt some, but it won’t hurt a ton. The Red Wings will visit Los Angeles and San Jose less frequently, yes, but they will still come to town here and there.
Also, the flip side is that teams like the Phoenix Coyotes (provided they still exist next season) won’t have to travel all the way to Columbus or Detroit for games anymore, which will be nice. Tack on a stop in Winnipeg between road games with Minnesota and, say, Calgary, and you’ve got a much more efficient schedule working here, which can only be a good thing.
If this is the new plan going forward, most teams should be happy with it, and it should be good for the league as well.