Yesterday Gary Bettman indicated he expects realignment for the 2012-13 NHL season.
With the new Winnipeg franchise playing in the Southeast during 2011-12, a distance of almost 1,300 miles from where the Thrashers played, realignment of this franchise is a necessity.
Since we aren't even finished with the Stanley Cup Finals for 2010-11 yet, I am a little surprised that some kind of realignment could not be done for the 2011-12 season. With the Winnpeg sales drive for tickets currently taking place and the board of Governors "sale approval" meeting scheduled for June 21st...and the 2011-12 NHL schedule not yet published...couldn't the league have moved Winnipeg to it's new conference/division for the upcoming season?
It turns out, according to Bettman, there are three teams that they are considering to move to the Eastern Conference when Winnipeg departs for the West; Detroit, Nashville and Columbus. This appears to be, in part, why the realignment is being delayed. All three teams are the farthest East of any of the Western teams, with Columbus being the closest, only a few hours from Pittsburgh.
Even though there are some serious considerations about which club to move East when realignment occurs, I also get the feeling that the Phoenix Coyotes play into this realignment equation.
With the Coyotes getting another year in Glendale, a year bought by the city itself for $25M, I can't help but think realignment was put off until 2012 so that the NHL can find a buyer for the Coyotes.
Bettman continues to say the NHL wants to keep the Coyotes in Phoenix...but for the life of me, I can't see why.
Given the clubs current financial state and it's poor "box office return" -- even though it has been more successful recently...like setting a franchise record for points in a season...the Coyotes often play in front of a building that's only 72% full (avg of about 12,000)* on most nights --- I just don't see the rationale in keeping a club there.
And maybe Bettman doesn't REALLY see it either.
Maybe "we're committed to keeping the Coyotes in Glendale" is just commissioner-speak.
It wouldn't surprise me in the least if during the 2011-12 season, the Coyotes are bought and moved to Canada in 2012-13.
It would make the total of Canadian teams 8 and would probably affect the realignment more than originally thought but would not necessitate the conference movement of any of the three franchises that Bettman mentioned yesterday (although they might find themselves in new divisions).
Bettman has said in the past that a return to Quebec City is something he wants to see happen. Wouldn't moving the Coyotes to Quebec, in much the same way the Thrashers are being moved to Winnipeg, be the perfect way to fix the messy money situation in Phoenix and realign the league without moving (switching conferences) any franchises that currently have a stable home?
I'm never happy to see a franchise fail in a city.
There are always victims...including fans left without a team.
But sometimes there are problems that can't be solved by wishing things were different and waiting around...hoping that they change.
Sometimes you just have to make that change happen...somewhere else.
Isn't the situation in Phoenix one of those times?
* Coyotes 2010-11 home attendance
Please check out: