The Chicago Blackhawks have become comfortable in the Central Division, (usually) knowing how the other five teams tick and (sometimes) running roughshod over them. They like the familiar: Nashville and its music scene, St. Louis and its food, Columbus and whatever it has going for it. It’s like seeing good friends six times a year.
That familiarity has now been thrown out the window. With realignment coming next season, Chicago will be in a division with only two teams from the old Central – the St. Louis Blues and Nashville Predators. The rest are either known (Colorado Avalanche, Dallas Stars, Minnesota Wild) or are from the Eastern Conference (Winnipeg Jets). Yes, five of them are Western Conference rivals, but the Blackhawks only see three of them a few times a season.
Gone also is the storied rivalry with the Detroit Red Wings. For decades, it was always a showcase game for the Blackhawks when they played the Red Wings, and the chants of “Detroit sucks” echo through United Center. Now that the Red Wings will be an Eastern Conference team, they’ll only play each other twice a season. With only two chances to see this rivalry in action, save for the playoffs, it diminishes the rivalry and renders it to afterthought status. It’ll only be a big deal when the games take place.
The Jets are the big unknown factor. They’ve been very good this season, but they’re in a division with lackluster teams. They may not be as strong when matched up against the rest of the Western Conference. As for the fans at MTS Centre, they’ll boo anything that’s not in a Jets home jersey, especially opposing captains. Who’s to say that they won’t boo native son Jonathan Toews or hold up signs begging him to jump ship and play for their team? It’ll be a surprise if they show him more than a minimum of respect.
The realignment on a whole is a huge, unnecessary mess. For the Blackhawks, it’ll be like starting school in a new classroom and only knowing two people. They have three years to get the hang of this new scheme. Hopefully no one will emerge as the class bully.