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Red Wings fans, prepare for realignment overload

Bloggers shouldn’t usually say that they get “yelled at,” so I’d prefer to say that Red Wings fans offer passionate debate when it comes to the theory that the Red Wings might move to the Eastern Conference after the 2011-2012 season. With the announcement that the Winnipeg Jets…I mean Manitoba Moose…let’s just got with True North Sports and Entertainment…has in fact purchased the Atlanta Thrashers, the hottest topic this side of Nicklas Lidstrom’s playing future for now, and probably aside from the Wings’ likely roster and bench overhaul, what will transpire with the team going forward is best summarized by the Detroit News’s Ted Kulfan:

With the Atlanta Thrashers officially moving to Winnipeg — the news conference will in Winnipeg at noon Eastern on Tuesday — speculation of realignment will begin. And the Red Wings figure to be in the middle of the discussions, with their hope of moving to the Eastern Conference.

There won’t be any changes soon. The schedule for the 2011-12 season is nearly complete and it’s too late in the process to change. So Winnipeg will simply stay in the Southeast Division for this season but most likely switch to the Western Conference’s Northwest Division in 2012-13.

Jimmy Devellano, the Wings’ senior vice-president / alternate governor, said during the playoffs the team would prefer to be placed in the Eastern Conference. But there’s been talk of possibly Nashville — like the Wings, also in the Central Division — being switched into the Southeast Division, or possibly Columbus being placed in the Eastern Conference.

In the land of jittery talk, MLive’s Rob Otto “worries” about the concept that the Predators or Blue Jackets (and it’ll probably be Columbus) might precede the Wings in the move-to-the-East pecking order:

Of course we all understand the competitive imbalance that the Wings have had to endure. The west coast trips and late start times force them to alter their daily schedule more than every other championship-caliber team.  That would change with a transfer to the East.

Simple, right?

Maybe it is just the pessimist in me, but I can’t help but focus on the ways that the Red Wings will not end up where we want them.

If the League wanted to make the change with the least mess, they would move Nashville to the Southeast.  Geographically, that makes the most sense, rather than transferring a team like Pittsburgh into that division.  In this scenario Winnipeg would be in the the Northwest, and Minnesota would shift into the Central Division.

So no Red Wings in the East.

Another possibility that has me worried is lobbying by the other Western Conference teams to not lose the Wings.  Having Detroit visit is a veritable gold mine for other teams.  They have fans everywhere, and sell out every arena.  The Wings are like Def Leppard circa 1989, just with fewer Union Jack t-shirts.  Oddly enough, there is the same number of torn blue jeans in the crowd.

Anyway, I worry that the NHL would not want to strand Chicago as the only Original Six team in the West.  That leaves the Columbus Blue Jackets as the only other Western Conference team in the Eastern Time Zone.  If the League wants to retain the integrity of the Detroit-Chicago rivalry, then it would be Columbus switching conferences.

That’s the reality of the situation, as Sportsline’s Brian Stubits suggests:

The problem for Detroit is it might be too valuable to move. Nobody in the Western Conference would want to see the Wings fly away—well, maybe from a competitive standpoint—because of the draw they are at the gate. They have as big of a fan base as you’ll find in the States. Bottom line: it’s guaranteed to be a big crowd on the road. The foes in the West don’t exactly want to see that disappear.

Plus we have a little imbalance issue by swapping Atlanta for Detroit. You are sending a team that has made the playoffs once in its history to the West for a team that has made the postseason 20 consecutive seasons. You could make the argument that the conferences need a little balancing anyways, that the West has been the better half top to bottom for a few years, but that’s a significant upheaval.

But let’s have some fun here. Let’s imagine a Detroit move to the East happens. You likely aren’t going to send them to the Southeast, so some shuffling will be needed. Most likely scenario would be putting the Wings in the Northeast with Toronto, Montreal, Ottawa and Buffalo, dropping Boston into the Atlanta [sport] and moving either Pittsburgh or Philadelphia to the Southeast. Surely you see the downsides in that. Bruins-Habs in separate divisions? Breaking up the Keystone State rivals? Really, there’s no way that makes much sense to put the Wings in the East while keeping important battles going without just dropping them in the Southeast—which, again, makes little sense.

So it might still happen, but I’m thinking sorry Detroit, you’re stuck where you are.

Geographically speaking, the simplest solution seems to be putting the Predators in the Southeast to fill Atlanta’s spot. Everybody else in the East stays the same. But, despite its location being so far East, Nashville doesn’t sit in the Eastern Time zone. Columbus does. And the Blue Jackets would prove a pretty comparable swap franchise wise with the Thrashers.

In the end, while Detroit can hope and pray, Columbus would be the odds-on favorite to swap conferences while Nashville would be the safe second. But Detroit has a whole season to politick.

The Red Wings, Blue Jackets and Predators have to apply for realignment by January 1, 2012, and the NHL’s Board of Governors, all 30 of them, get the final say, but I simply cannot imagine a situation where the Board agrees to move the Wings to the Northeast Division. It messes up the “natural order” for the Eastern teams and the Wings remain the West’s “anchor tenant,” and, again, it’s the Blue Jackets who’ve most desperately stated that they want to move East.

The Raleigh News-Observer’s Luke Decock of all people offers a unique solution for the Wings, however—while acknowledging the other fact of the matter, that in terms of TV ratings, a Wings-less West won’t deliver, at least in the U.S.:

The Red Wings have wanted out of the Western Conference for years, which bestows upon them the worst travel in the league (Detroit, just for example, is east of Atlanta), but the NHL has millions of reasons to keep the Red Wings and Blackhawks in the same division—it’s one of the matchups Versus/NBC likes. And if you haven’t noticed, Versus and NBC are basically running the league right now, which is why we have this screwy schedule for the finals.

The Southeast Division teams will be pushing equally hard to get the Red Wings, because that replaces three unattractive games against the Thrashers/Winnipeggers with three guaranteed sellouts against Detroit, not to mention Peter Karmanos’ own personal reasons for being in the same division with his hometown team.

On purely aesthetic grounds, the Predators make far more sense. They’re the geographic and spiritual brethren of the other teams in the Southeast Division and they face the same travel issues as the Red Wings. Needless to say, you won’t hear NBC make a squeak. Nashville has built up some rivalries in the Central, but nothing worth preserving when the Southeast offers significant potential for rivalry development.

The Columbus Blue Jackets are another option if the networks won’t let the Red Wings move and the Predators put up a fight, but that seems unlikely at this point.

Also of Wings-related note this afternoon:

The Wings have confirmed that Andrej Nestrasil’s been signed to a 3-year deal, and Yahoo Sports’ Greg “Puck Daddy” Wyshynski noted several of the Stanley Cup’s strangest destinations, with Steve Yzerman’s shower and the baptisms of Tomas Holmstrom’s niece (and Mikael Samuelsson’s kids’ baptism, too) included in the list.

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Comments

Chris in Hockey Hell's avatar

We all know that Detroit isn’t going to the East. They just aren’t. At this point, I say screw it, and let Nashville go to the Southeast Division so I don’t have to deal with their “fans” but once every three years or so from here on out.

Posted by Chris in Hockey Hell from Ann Arbor, MI but LIVING in Columbia, TN on 05/31/11 at 02:48 PM ET

MsRedWinger's avatar

This is another thing like the going-after-Shea-Weber thing.  Wings fans may like the idea, but it aint gonna happen.

Posted by MsRedWinger from Flori-duh on 05/31/11 at 03:07 PM ET

MsRedWinger's avatar

Posted by Chris in Hockey Hell from COLUMBIA, TENNESSEE on 05/31/11 at 01:48 PM ET

I thought I was in “hockey hell” here in Central Florida, but I will have to agree that you have it worse.  Nobody around here cares about hockey.  You have to put up with Preds fans.  Yuck.

Posted by MsRedWinger from Flori-duh on 05/31/11 at 03:08 PM ET

awould's avatar

I wish they would move to the East. They’d dominate. The only worry I’d have is if it made the Wings transform into a weak, no-D east style team over time.

Posted by awould on 05/31/11 at 03:09 PM ET

11B4PF7 in MN's avatar

I guess this means the Wings will not be able to cherry pick any former Atlanta Thrashers like BoGo or Ladd.

Posted by 11B4PF7 in MN on 05/31/11 at 03:30 PM ET

NHLJeff's avatar

It will likely be Columbus or Nashville, and I’d bet Columbus. While it’d be great for the Wings to move to the East, Columbus really needs a jolt, and getting to play teams in their time zone and potential rivals like Pittsburgh more often is likely to give them that jolt.

Posted by NHLJeff from Pens fan in Chicago, IL on 05/31/11 at 03:41 PM ET

Slumpy's avatar

Prefer the Preds to be moved to the east. BJ’s have lost money every season since the lockout and are not much of threat in our division and will probably eventually be relocated to Quebec City or some other better hockey market.

Can’t leave the Blackhawks as the only Original Six team in west. Toronto being moved to the western conference would be ideal making it a 3/3 Original Six split.
Screw the Maple Leafs having to travel more than us since it hasn’t hurt them since 1967.

Posted by Slumpy from Detroit on 05/31/11 at 03:51 PM ET

WingsFaninCO's avatar

Posted by NHLJeff from Pens fan in Chicago, IL on 05/31/11 at 02:41 PM ET

We have a winner.

Posted by WingsFaninCO on 05/31/11 at 03:56 PM ET

Avatar

The only worry I’d have is if it made the Wings transform into a weak, no-D east style team over time.

Posted by awould on 05/31/11 at 02:09 PM ET

My thoughts exactly.  Would they be able to maintain a “West” style of play over regular season (+playoffs) and run rough-shod over the East (and potentially the now beat-up and run-down winner of the Western Conference Finals) or would they become an “East” style team over time…weaker like you said.  (sorry, my Western Conference bias is showing…a lot)

Posted by deezer on 05/31/11 at 04:32 PM ET

Leo_Racicot's avatar

I’d like to see the league shake things up in the manner that the MLB and NFL have done with their leagues/conferences.

Let’s increase travel for the Wales conference squads (nobody in the Campbell experiences the luxury of the Patrick and Adams division teams having 30 minute drives to arenas, etc.).

Posted by Leo_Racicot on 05/31/11 at 04:52 PM ET

monkey's avatar

I find it intriguing that the arguments for why Western owners will vote against the Wings moving tend to be economic, while the arguments for why Eastern owners will vote against it tend to be competitive.

By reversing both you could argue for a unanimous vote in favor of moving the Wings to the East.

Eastern conference owners want the Wings to move East because the Wings put butts in the seats and the Blue Jackets do not.

Western owners want the Wings out because they win too much.

Posted by monkey from Praha, Česká republika on 05/31/11 at 05:01 PM ET

monkey's avatar

Posted by NHLJeff from Pens fan in Chicago, IL on 05/31/11 at 02:41 PM ET

I agree- it’s economics that will drive this vote.  Detroit’s position as a revenue generating machine will not change regardless, but there is a possibility Columbus can earn more by moving.  Money talks.

Posted by monkey from Praha, Česká republika on 05/31/11 at 05:06 PM ET

awould's avatar

I wish they’d realign the entire league. Make geography less of a factor. Two Conferences, Three Divisions in each. Align the Divisions with geography as a larger factor, but not so constricting - like, it should be ok that the Rangers are in a Division with Nashville because they’re closer than Colorado, but they don’t need to be in a Division with New Jersey just because they’re next door. And they could be in the same Conference as Phoenix.

Detroit could be in a Division with Chicago, Dallas, Nashville and Pittsburgh, and in a Conference with a Division that includes San Jose, LA Kings, Colorado, Winnipeg and Phoenix.

Just a thought.

Posted by awould on 05/31/11 at 05:28 PM ET

HockeytownOverhaul's avatar

Wings made the West what it is.. if they go east, believe it’ll be the east that becomes dominate.. that’s just the facts..  If teams had to routinely play the Wings, they’d get better.. the Wings care about winning and being the best, not what everyone else is doing.. look at Jersey, they are the Wings of the east and really didn’t change until management tried to play GM.  Thankfully our management got hard for Modano, relatively cheap.. Devils ownership got hard on Kovi.. expensive mistake..

Posted by HockeytownOverhaul on 05/31/11 at 05:32 PM ET

Avatar

It doesn’t make sense to speculate about realignment until Phoenix is moved in 12 months.  If they go to Quebec City, or Kansas City, or Seattle, or ???, well, each scenario has profound implications on how divisions should be structured for the 28 cities playing from 2012-13 season onwards.

Posted by Andrew from Portland on 05/31/11 at 05:43 PM ET

calquake's avatar

Most likely scenario would be putting the Wings in the Northeast with Toronto, Montreal, Ottawa and Buffalo, dropping Boston into the Atlanta [sport] and moving either Pittsburgh or Philadelphia to the Southeast. Surely you see the downsides in that. Bruins-Habs in separate divisions? Breaking up the Keystone State rivals? Really, there’s no way that makes much sense to put the Wings in the East while keeping important battles going without just dropping them in the Southeast—which, again, makes little sense.

The moral of the story is: Do whatever to the Wings and their old rivalries but, God forbid, don’t touch other teams rivalries.  I’m calling BS here.

Posted by calquake on 05/31/11 at 05:56 PM ET

awould's avatar

The simplest solution is to move Nashville to SE Division, put Winnipeg in NW Division and move Minnesota to the Central Division.

Posted by awould on 05/31/11 at 06:08 PM ET

awould's avatar

In a situation where you can’t satisfy everybody, you need to be willing to satisfy nobody. Rivalries will grow out of whatever divisions they create.

Posted by awould on 05/31/11 at 06:20 PM ET

RWBill's avatar

Without reading any of your narrative yet, using the words “realignment overload” when the word “realignment” has appeared in three of your last four headlines tends to be a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Posted by RWBill from cruising Brush Street with Super Creepy Rob Lowe. on 05/31/11 at 07:09 PM ET

RWBill's avatar

Eastern conference owners want the Wings to move East because the Wings put butts in the seats and the Blue Jackets do not.
Posted by monkey from bat country on 05/31/11 at 04:01 PM ET

This is true, but many more teams in the east already come close to sell out percentages.  The Wings make a much bigger difference in attendance in the west than they would in the east. 

I just can’t see this happening unless, as a genius above wrote, in one year PHX moves east, then hold on to your Stroh’s everything is in play.

The simplest solution is to move Nashville to SE Division, put Winnipeg in NW Division and move Minnesota to the Central Division.
Posted by awould on 05/31/11 at 05:08 PM ET

I said something similar in a previous thread a long, long time ago, maybe last week.  Minnesota, Chicago, and Detroit in the same Division has significant historical and cross-sport merit.  (but would still keep Detroit as possibly the only eastern time zone team in the western conference,  thus ensuring year after year playoff trips across 27 time zones. )

Posted by RWBill from cruising Brush Street with Super Creepy Rob Lowe. on 05/31/11 at 07:25 PM ET

Rdwings28's avatar

but, but… i Love staying up until 1 a.m. to watch the the Wings/kings

Posted by Rdwings28 on 05/31/11 at 07:59 PM ET

monkey's avatar

This is true, but many more teams in the east already come close to sell out percentages.  The Wings make a much bigger difference in attendance in the west than they would in the east.

I know.  I was just playing devil’s advocate to what I perceived to be common arguments.

Posted by monkey from Praha, Česká republika on 05/31/11 at 08:22 PM ET

monkey's avatar

I just can’t see this happening unless, as a genius above wrote, in one year PHX moves east, then hold on to your Stroh’s everything is in play.

What happens when the NHL and KHL merge?

Posted by monkey from Praha, Česká republika on 05/31/11 at 08:24 PM ET

monkey's avatar

Do away with all conferences and divisions.  Every team plays every other team equal number of games. Top 16 teams make the Stanley Cup playoffs.  Basically turn the regular season into a true round robin tournament.  Fire Bettman.  Dany Heatley will score 70 goals.

Posted by monkey from Praha, Česká republika on 05/31/11 at 08:29 PM ET

Avatar

There is no compelling argument to move Detroit to the East other than the insatiable sense of entitlement.  Which eastern team would have to move to the SE?  Philly or Pittsburgh?  Which NE team moves to the Atlantic? Boston or Buffalo? None of this makes sense outside of Michigan. But then you can’t expect many there to consider the interest of the rest of the league.

Posted by timbits on 05/31/11 at 10:38 PM ET

calquake's avatar

Do away with all conferences and divisions.  Every team plays every other team equal number of games. Top 16 teams make the Stanley Cup playoffs.  Basically turn the regular season into a true round robin tournament.  Fire Bettman.  Dany Heatley will score 70 goals.

I completely agree with at least two of your statements. Guess which ones? cheese

Posted by calquake on 05/31/11 at 10:42 PM ET

Avatar

I want an Original 6 Division!

Have one other division with 4 teams (other than Division title, whoever finishes 2nd/3rd/4th in the division doesn’t matter as it relates to playoffs).

NOW you will have your rivalries!

Of course, Bettman doesn’t care about history or tradition…

Posted by Jim from Detroit on 06/01/11 at 10:12 AM ET

Avatar

It makes perfect sense to move Deroit to the Northeast Division with Toronto, Ottawa, Buffalo and Montreal. Boston is a better fit in the Atlantic Division with the New York Rangers, New York Islanders, New Jersey and Philadelphia, it makes perfect sense to move Pittsburgh to the Southeast Division because of their ever growing rivalry with Washington, Tampa Bay, Carolina, Florida

The money making potential of the Red Wings in the Eastern tv markets is huge and much greater than Columbus or Nashville which are very small market teams that may not survive anyway down the road.

Posted by Erik from Grand Rapids, Mich on 06/01/11 at 03:25 PM ET

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The Malik Report is a destination for all things Red Wings-related. I offer biased, perhaps unprofessional-at-times and verbose coverage of my favorite team, their prospects and developmental affiliates. I've joined the Kukla's Korner family with five years of blogging under my belt, and I hope you'll find almost everything you need to follow your Red Wings at a place where all opinions are created equal and we're all friends, talking about hockey and the team we love to follow.