Provided the Thrashers are indeed moving to Winnipeg (and I have no reason to doubt this story because it originated in a paper owned by one of the Partners of True North) and provided no other teams move this off-season, the NHL will have to realign its divisions. How do they do that?
Obviously Winnipeg should play in the Northwest Division. (This is obvious because it is north and west of another team in that division: Minnesota.) There are three options:
- Vancouver joins the Pacific:
- This one doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to me. Dallas would have to be bumped into another division (the Central) but Vancouver would now be farther away from its nearest competitor and they already have the worst travel in the league (so they say).
- Colorado joins the Pacific:
- Again Dallas would have to move to the Central. This makes more sense because Minnesota and Winnipeg are very close to each other – at least in Northwest division terms – and they could perhaps get a rivalry going.
- But Colorado is not as close to the Pacific teams as it was to Minnesota (Phoenix is farther believe it or not) and the other teams are farther away than Calgary was. I saw this bandied about online last night as the most reasonable solution but I don’t necessarily see it that way.
- Minnesota joins the Central:
- Yes Winnipeg is close to Minnesota but the idea that Minnesota play in the Northwest Division has always been ridiculous. It is as far east as Ontario for chrissake.
- This doesn’t take advantage of the nearness of the Peg and Minny but it does put Minny in a more sensible spot and it has the further advantage of leaving the Pacific Division alone. (The fewer moves the better, I think.)
- Yes, perhaps Dallas should belong in the Central but the NHL’s divisions and especially conferences haven’t always made a lot of geographic sense.
With any of these moves there are suddenly too many teams in the Central division. So regardless whether it is Minny or Dallas that ends up there, a Central team has to move east. This is actually a good thing, as some teams in the Central actually play in the Eastern time zone. There are, again, a number of options.
- The simplest is to move Nashville to the Southeast:
- This ends the division musical chairs because this is of course the division that has a hole in it because of the move. Nashville is south and reasonably east. It is in fact barely farther west than Atlanta is. It appears to make the most immediate sense.
- The problem for me is that the southeast has always been a joke. Aside from when the Capitals are good and when the Lightning or Hurricanes are winning the Cup, the southeast is pathetic. And regardless of team success they have, as a division, perhaps the shakiest ownership situations of any division in the league. Does adding Nashville really help that? (Regardless of how well this team did this year.) No.
- As a purely hockey based decision it does add a consistently average team in place of a team that was uniformly terrible. In that sense it improves the division. But if the NHL really is serious about selling the game in the southern United States – and we know it is even though that project has always been doomed to failure – then don’t they want strong franchises in there?
- But why not keep Nashville in the Central, where it can compete regularly with stronger franchises than in the Southeast where it is surrounded by shakiness? Of course if you accept my logic then the move east is automatically move complicated.
- Detroit moves to the Northeast:
- This is the one that appeals to me the most simply because I am a Leafs fan and it is ridiculous to me that a team that is three hours away by car from my Leafs is in another conference. (Note: Nashville and Atlanta were about four hours away in separate conferences.). We miss the old Wings-Leafs rivalry and no doubt Habs fans miss the old Habs-Wings rivalry.
- This has the disadvantage of killing the re-emerging Hawks-Wings rivalry and any pseudo-rivalry between the Blues and Wings.
- The other thing is that if the Avs are ever good again, that more recent classic Avs-Wings rivalry would never occur again. I don’t consider the latter to be much of a loss now that most of those players are retired.
- Another disadvantage is that a team would have to leave the northeast and the most obvious and logical choice is Boston, hurting perhaps the best rivalry in the league: Habs-Bruins. It wouldn’t end it, but they wouldn’t play each other as much during the regular season. (They would still manage to meet in the postseason no doubt.)
- Boston moving to the Atlantic then begs the question: how moves to the Southeast? The obvious answer based on geography is Philadelphia, but then you are partially hurting the Flyers-Pens thing, which is another problem.
- Columbus moves to the Atlantic:
- Though Columbus is hardly near the Atlantic Ocean, Dallas isn’t really close to the Pacific either, and Pittsburgh isn’t really a stone’s throw from the Atlantic. The ‘Columbus in one conference, Pittsburgh in the other situation is even more absurd than Leafs-Wings. It makes sense to move them east as they are the farthest east Western Conference team. They can replace Philly for Pittsburgh as rivals – not really, who are we kidding? – and Philly can move to the Southeast. It is simpler than the above and addresses some of the concerns of the Nashville move.
Though I would most like to see Detroit come to my division, I think the most likely change is Nashville to the Southeast because it is simplest. (Whether Dallas or Minny moves to the central is another question altogether.) The fact of the matter is that Columbus, Detroit and Nashville and maybe even Chicago all make more sense in the East and the problem is that there are just too many teams east of the Mississippi to ever have a sensible east-west conference split. Perhaps, to make it more fair to Western Conference teams, a different approach needs to be considered for establishing conferences but this is something that would only really be effective after contraction and as yet the NHL is totally in denial about that.