The man in charge of the NHL, Gary Bettman, had some interesting things to say before the Stanley Cup Playoffs began, but I didn't find very much of it to be worthy of comments. However, I began thinking more about his comments on realigning the divisions and conferences, and it dawned on me that the problems facing the NHL this season may only compound next season if the NHL can't find a way to salvage the Phoenix Coyotes for 2012-13. If the Coyotes are moved after next season to possibly Quebec City or Kansas City, the NHL faces a whole new set of problems in their realignment.
Bettman spoke of how realignment cannot allow a competitive disadvantage to occur if, say, the Detroit Red Wings moved to the Eastern Conference. Obviously, the powerful Red Wings would be one of the better Eastern Conference teams based solely on their record from past seasons, so Bettman was cautious in ensuring that any team that moves won't find themselves at an advantage or disadvantage. Those that would like to move and those teams receiving the newly-moved team, however, would get a say on what they thought of the potential move.
"All those clubs need an opportunity to be heard," Bettman said. "That's a process we'll go through the first half of next season, looking at the issues that clubs want to raise, looking at various possibilities, and trying to figure out what will make the most sense moving forward."
I truly believe that the Columbus Blue Jackets will be the team that gets shifted to the Eastern Conference. While I have nothing but speculation to go on, it seems that the Blue Jackets are the most likely selection for a few reasons:
- Competitive balance. The Southeast Division loses an up-and-coming team in the Atlanta Thrashers/Manitoba NHLers, and replaces it with another up-and-coming team in the Columbus Blue Jackets. Both teams have only appeared in the playoffs once, but the Blue Jackets played in the ultra-competitive Central Division, so they should hopefully improve if playing in the Southeast Division.
- Money. The Blue Jackets have lost a reported $80 million since the lockout, so cutting travel costs by reducing the number of west coast trips would help immensely. It would make up all the money they've lost, but it is a way to cut costs. Especially when you consider that Columbus-to-Anaheim is 1963 miles one-way while Columbus-to-Florida is 968 miles one-way. Significant difference, indeed.
- Time zones. The Blue Jackets play in the Central Division, but operate in Eastern Time. Therefore, almost all of their conference games are played in time zones other than Eastern Time. Only Detroit and Nashville games would be played in Eastern Time, so you have to think that has a serious effect on the team after 82 games.
Personally, I believe that if Detroit left the Western Conference, there would be an immediate shift of power to the Eastern Conference. If Detroit was to swap conferences, there would only be three Western Conference Stanley Cup winners since 2000. While Detroit has maintained that they want to be moved to the Eastern Conference for the travel relief, I can't see the NHL breaking up rivalries such as Chicago-Detroit and San Jose-Detroit just to help Detroit with travel across time zones.
As for Nashville, I can't see them requesting a shift in conferences simply due to the rivalries they have built with a number of Western Conference teams like Detroit, Chicago, and Vancouver. Walking away from those guaranteed sell-outs is nothing short of idiotic, so I believe that Detroit and Nashville will remain as Western Conference teams.
There are a few options that can happen in the realignment situations. I want to be clear that none of these options have been confirmed, discussed, or even tabled in front of the NHL Board of Governors at this point, so this is just my own speculation. Here are the options that I've thought about and considered:
- Option 1: Manitoba joins the Northwest Division. Colorado would shift to the Pacific Division. Dallas would shift to the Central Division. Columbus would shift to the Southeast Division. This works out well for all the teams involved, and seems to be the most logical of the solutions so that all of the respective teams play within or very near to their home time zones. Manitoba would be the only team that has to cross multiple time zones to play division rivals.
- Option 2: Manitoba joins the Central Division. Columbus would shift to the Southeast Division. While this works, it also leaves Dallas in the Pacific Division which doesn't help them at all. Dallas has wanted out of the Pacific Division due to the multiple time zone problem, so the league would have to review another move to accommodate this request.
So what happens in 2012-13 if Phoenix's time runs out? Well, Kansas City has an arena, but no ownership. Quebec City has an ownership group, but no suitable arena. Seattle and Portland have neither an NHL-ready arena nor waiting ownership. Atlanta - do you even consider them for a third time? - has an arena, but no ownership. Hamilton has ownership, but no suitable arena.
Realignment after this season will work for the teams in their current locations, but it seems as though this realignment situation could become a headache if Phoenix suddenly becomes a team with no home. Had the NHL simply allowed the Coyotes to leave Phoenix for Winnipeg, the picture of realignment would be much easier even if the Thrashers could have survived for one more season. Instead, the realignment proposed for 2012-13 could mean more realignment in the future.
Of course, if the city of Glendale enjoys seeing $25 million eliminated from its bottom line year after year, this may not be an issue at all. Boy, what a tangled web weaved!
Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!