The Malik Report
by George Malik on 05/31/11 at 03:29 PM ET
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.
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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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.