NHL realignment will affect the Washington Capitals in that they move from the Southeast Division to a grouping with the Pittsburgh Penguins, Philadelphia Flyers, New York Rangers and others. But from a logistical standpoint, the changes aren’t drastic.
That’s not the case for the likes of the Columbus Blue Jackets, Detroit Red Wings, Winnipeg Jets, Dallas Stars and Minnesota Wild, the big winners of realignment. Columbus and Detroit (both located in the Eastern Time Zone) get their travel burdens eased with a move to the Eastern Conference, while the Jets, Stars and Wild get more games in Central time.
“We’re thrilled. Absolutely thrilled,” Blue Jackets president John Davidson said on a conference call Thursday. “We tend to use the word common sense around here. This seems to make a lot of common sense.”
The Blue Jackets made one playoff appearance in their first 11 seasons. Competing with the Caps, Carolina Hurricanes, Flyers, Rangers, Penguins, New Jersey Devils and New York Islanders doesn’t seem to make that an easier task, but Columbus should save money with Eastern Conference travel and hopes to create a rivalry with Pittsburgh.
Commissioner Gary Bettman said realigning was “extraordinarily important to a number of our clubs.” The Atlanta Thrashers’ move to Winnipeg necessitated the move, even though it’s coming after the Jets spent two seasons in the Southeast Division.
True North chairman Mark Chipman was pleased with the Jets’ division, which includes the Chicago Blackhawks, Colorado Avalanche, Dallas Stars, Minnesota Wild, Nashville Predators and St. Louis Blues. He acknowledged that being grouped with five American teams isn’t “perfect” but added that there was no way for this to be perfect.
The Florida Panthers and Tampa Bay Lightning are the biggest losers of realignment, at least from a travel perspective. They’ll be in the other Eastern Conference division with the Boston Bruins, Detroit Red Wings, Montreal Canadiens, Toronto Maple Leafs, Buffalo Sabres and Ottawa Senators.
Bettman said the “unique geography of Florida” made this option make the most sense.
From Columbus’ perspective, Davidson said there’s nothing “on the negative side” of this realignment. Players around the league point to uneven playoff odds (eight of 14 Western Conference teams make it, while it’s eight of 16 in the East).
Expansion to 32 teams could solve that, though the league has said there are no immediate plans to do that. Quebec City and the Toronto area are the most logical locations for new teams.
If (or most likely when) there’s expansion, the Red Wings and Blue Jackets could get moved back to the Western Conference. Detroit general manager Ken Holland said the league gave no assurances about remaining in the East.
But Bettman said the Blue Jackets and Red Wings are “moving east End they have no plans on going back.”