Much talk has been made of the purchase of the Nashville Predators by Research in Motion CEO Jim Balsillie. It appears the team will be transferred to him, and, with it, rumours are in the works for a team to perhaps go to Kitchener-Waterloo.
I have been debating this for some time, so I'll retierate a lot of what I thought:
Logistically speaking, in that case, it would make sense to move the KW Preds to the Northeast Division. After all, makes sense to play their fellow Ontario teams eight times a year, rather than play West Coast teams more times than those in their own province.
The NHL, however, has proven an anomaly logistically. Detroit and Columbus, despite being in the Eastern time zone, are Western Conference teams. The Leafs, despite being very much an Eastern team, were in the Western Conference until 1998, when they were moved to make way for- wait for it- the Nashville Predators. Geographically, the NHL makes some weird decisions, and, as a result, you could very well see Kitchener-Waterloo play in the Central Division.
If KW were to move to the East, the best candidate for relocation to the Western Conference would undoubtedly be the Atlanta Thrashers- the westernmost team in the East. The problem, however, is the even divisional structure. The Thrashers play in the Southeast, and the Predators would likely move to the Northeast. So the question remains: who would move to the Southeast? Clearly, no team currently in the Northeast would be a worthy candidate, nor would any team in the Atlantic. Thus, it would be hard to realign divisions and would make a titanic mess to move the Predators into the Eastern Conference.
Another point of contention is rivalry. Sure, the consensus would be that this team would begin a rivalry with the Leafs, but, there is no doubt such would be put on the backburner in favour of the Battle of Ontario rivalry between the Leafs and Sens, or the traditional rivalry between the Leafs and Habs. Sure, a Leafs/Preds rivalry could gain steam over time, but, it may never exceed third place on the Leafs rivalry depth chart to the other two Eastern Canadian teams.
On the other hand, the Predators, given the weakness of most of their division, have developed a fairly intense rivalry with the Detroit Red Wings over the last few years. A move to the Kitchener-Waterloo area would place the franchise just 295 kilometres from Detroit, thus intensifying the current-standing Red Wings/Preds rivalry. Thus, keeping the Predators in the Central Division would further a rivalry that has only grown in the last couple of years.
On the other side of the coin, however, are some economic realities to consider. For one thing, bringing a third franchise to Southern Ontario would be difficult given that it currently has four strong fanbases (Leafs and Sens, as well as the Sabres and Red Wings), and would take time to build. What's more, Kitchener-Waterloo currently lacks a major arena. So the question arises: what about Winnipeg?
For me, I have always felt that the relocation of the Winnipeg Jets was a wrong, one that, after eleven years, still hasn't been righted. I have always felt that Winnipeg deserves something similar to what the Cleveland Browns got in the NFL- a complete revival and recreation of the franchise. Moving the Preds to Winnipeg to assume the form of the Winnipeg Jets would be a move that would garner much support. Moreover, there is already an arena in place- the 15,000 seat MTS Centre, which does have 46 corporate boxes. While small, it may only be temporary- if an NHL franchise were to return to Winnipeg, it's likely, the MTS Centre would be renovated, or a better stadium would be built in time. Moreover, the Central Divison would be a perfect geographic fit for a Winnipeg team (or, if you wanted to place all four Western Canadian teams in one division, you move the Jets to the Northwest, and the Minnesota Wild to the Central Division).
It's not that I am against the concept of another Ontario team. I am not an admirer of the Leafs ownership, and I feel some competition would be just what MLSE needs to get a fire lit under it to deliver success to a Cup-hungry city. I do, however, believe there are hurdles in place, in both alignment and economic matters, that could make the idea questionable. Personally, I would like to see a seventh Canadian team sooner rather than later. Given that, Winnipeg is the best choice- bring back the Jets, and there's no need to change the divisional structures around much. Moreover, Winnipeg has an arena in place and is better suited in the short term to sustain an NHL franchise than the Kitchener-Waterloo region.
I've said it before, and I'll say it again: if you want to being a hockey franchise north, Winnipeg is your best bet in doing so.