The reports are becoming more and more numerous that the Atlanta Thrashers organization will be (or already has been) sold to True North Sports and Entertainment, which would move the team up to Winnipeg. There has been a lot of speculation as to how the Conferences will shuffle to make room for a team going from the Southeast Division in the Eastern conference to (ostensibly) the Northwest Division of the Western Conference. I’ve included here a number of scenarios which are, at least, plausible, for the re-ordering of Divisions, given the new NHL+Winnipeg paradigm. This is of course, assuming the NHL doesn’t do something completely senseless and keep the new Winnipeg team in the Southeast Division…..
Scenario #1 – Nashville to Southeast, Winnipeg to Central
This seems to be the easiest and least painful move that the NHL could make. Geographically, it keeps Division opponents within the same timezone (or no more than one away). The drawbacks to this include moving the Nashville Predators to the Eastern Conference after they’ve finally established themselves as a competitive fixture in the West. They would lose their recent rivalry with the Detroit Red Wings, which has heated up in recent years given several Playoff series. However, the move to the Southeast Division would allow the Preds to establish their presence among two very competitive teams in Washington and Tampa Bay. It may, to a lesser degree, light a fire under the Florida Panthers to get even more aggressive in their team improvement by exchanging the Thrashers for a more successful team, lest they be in the Southeast cellar for an extended period of time. If it worked, they would probably see a stronger market in South Florida. Given a largely successful move from Georgia to Manitoba, the Winnipeg team would have a healthy opportunity to work its way into the Central Division with Columbus and St. Louis, while also aiming for the heavyweights like Detroit and Chicago. However, the obvious problem would be Minnesota, as the Winnipeg team would have to fly over Minneapolis to get to all of its Division opponents and vice versa. The media would also lose a bit of potential in sparking some kind of “Rivalry Reborn” between two clubs which were relocated, but returned.
Scenario #2 – Winnipeg to Northwest, Colorado to Pacific, Dallas to Southeast
This one is a bit more convoluted, but again, it tries to keep a little geographic logic while trying to preserve the same beloved matchups we’ve all come to enjoy. Personally, I think Dallas’s place in the Pacific Division is silly. Again, having to fly right by Denver to get to the likes of San Jose and Los Angeles/Anaheim. If the Stars are shipped to the Southeast Division, it probably wouldn’t burden them very much as far as travel is concerned, and in fact, may even improve them, by dropping the time change down to one timezone instead of two. I’m not aware of any “spirited” rivalries involving Dallas, except with maybe Minnesota (South Stars Versus North Stars, or Mike Modano’s Worst Nightmare), but that’s probably just a media thing. The move for Colorado would also make a little more geographic sense, and the players wouldn’t have to invest in all those winter parkas. The obvious upside to all this is a Northwest conference 80% full of Canadian teams.
Scenario #3 – Winnipeg to Northwest, Colorado to Pacific, Dallas to Central, Nashville to Southeast
A hybrid of options 1 and 2. The perks for each remain the same as well as the better part of the drawbacks. But it lines up the Divisions a bit differently and involves the extra step of moving two competitive teams in Nashville and Dallas to other conferences. I don’t suspect any real issues with that expect that much more paperwork.
Scenario #4 – Winnipeg to Western Conference, Detroit to Eastern Conference - Northeast
This is one that has been kicked around a lot by Red Wings fans for years, and one that I’ve had a lot of fun thinking about lately….how do you somehow get Detroit into the Eastern Conference “where they belong (their words).” Another team to replace them in the Western Conference certainly makes that option more viable. But where do you move the Wings? The basis for the move would have to be both geographically, and historically, and by that, I mean the number of games played against Original Six clubs. Right now, as it stands, Detroit plays at least 10 games with Original Six teams. Moving the Red Wings to the Eastern Conference maroons the Blackhawks as the only Original Six club left in the West. Doing so would jeopardize the current record of most regular season games played against each other with Detroit and Chicago – something I personally would like to see continue, especially now that Chicago has become much more successful instead of being cellar dwellers.
If the Red Wings move to the Northeast Division, they would obviously fit in quite nicely with the likes of Toronto, Boston, and Montreal. And while those games would likely be successful sell-outs, that leaves either Buffalo or Ottawa to get the boot. I doubt very many Buffalo fans would give up their rivalry with the Leafs for a move to, possibly the Central Division, or to the Atlantic Division. I also don’t think, geographically, that there is any place for Ottawa to go, since it’s tucked away up in the northeast corner of the league, as well as the whole continent. So as fun as it may be for the Red Wings to have 23 games against Original Six clubs, it would likely be a logistical nightmare to try and jam them into the Northeast.
Scenario #5 – Winnipeg to Western Conference, Detroit to Eastern Conference - Atlantic
Continuing with the thought of transplanting Detroit to the East, a more reasonable option would be to drop them into the Atlantic Division. While increasing its Original Six matchups to 19 instead of 10, it gives them a chance to snuggle into some very well established rivalries. Also, living in New Jersey, this would be a favorite of mine since I could start pondering the notion of season tickets. That leaves the most logical move in the Flyers being shifted to the Southeast. While they’d get to play the Caps more often, they’d play the Penguins, Rangers, and Devils less often. Six games to four, and four games to six, so it’s not that bad of a move. It’s also, of course, not unheard of to see teams from the same state end up in different Divisions (New York). I used to think this option was impossible in trying to move Philly, but now that I’ve typed it out, this seems very plausible.
Bonus Dream Scenario – Winnipeg to Western Conference, Detroit and Chicago Eastern Conference
This one is just for fun, but wouldn’t it be great to have all Original Six teams in one conference? It would make for a great regular season, but would completely eliminate the possibility of these teams ever facing off in a Stanley Cup final. That being said, if Detroit and Chicago move, that’s two holes in the Western Conference that would need to be filled and only one team moving from the East. That’s where the Penguins come in…
Given the idea of splitting the Pennsylvania teams doesn’t seem that big of a stretch, so both the Winnipeg team and the Penguins could be shifted to the Central Division. We’d lose the ever-popular Ovi vs. Crosby matchup-slash-media circus in the regular season, but you gain that possibility of a Pens/Caps Stanley Cup Final. Roll that one over while you try to negotiate your TV contracts for the next 10 years…
What say you? Any other suggestions?