The Malik Report
by George Malik on 12/04/11 at 09:06 AM ET
Updated 2x at 1:45 PM: In theory, we know it’s coming, but I don’t think that we Red Wings fans necessarily know who we’re dealing with when we talk about it.*
As Paul posted on Saturday night, the CBC’s Elliotte Friedman built off the column by Sportsnet’s John Shannon, which suggested that NHL commissioner Gary Bettman will table two options for realigning the NHL to the 30 members of the Board of Governors this Monday in Pebble Beach, CA. On the Saturday night’s Satellite Hotstove (which you can watch here), Friedman stated the following:
The Board, which is mostly made up of very wealthy older men who worry about their financial behinds, first and foremost, will be told that the league could either make a straight swap of teams to accommodate the Winnipeg Jets’ move West (assuming that the BoG doesn’t delay the whole shindig till the All-Star Game as no one knows where the hell the league-operated Coyotes will play next season), with (presumably) the Red Wings, Blue Jackets or Predators taking the Jets’ place in the Southeast Division, or the BoG could choose to ditch the current six-division format for four “conferences,” which would primarily play games within each seven or eight-team “conference” and then play home-and-home games with every other team, and would compete in intra-“conference” playoff championships as well.
Here are Freidman’s “Tweets”:
Here is the new “four-conference” breakdown that will be proposed at the NHL BoG. I: VAN, CAL, EDM, LA, SJ, ANA, COL, PHO
II: WIN, DET, CHI, STL, CLB, NSH, MIN, DAL.
III: TOR, OTT, MON, BOS, BUF, FLA, TB.
IV: PHI, PIT, NYR, NYI, NJ, WASH, CAR. PHO is wild-card.
NHL prefers “conference” instead of “division.” Also, there is a plan for a 1 vs 4, 2 vs 3 re-seed in Stanley Cup semifinal.
If PHO moves to Quebec City—and I’m not saying that’s a given—think Coyotes would move to the TOR division.
Yahoo Sports’ Greg “Puck Daddy” Wyshnski provided a screen capture of what the whole thing looks like for the more visually-minded:
Image from the CBC, via Yahoo Sports’ Puck Daddy Blog
And here’s Wyshynski’s summation of the discussion:
Under this proposal, every team in the League will play home and home at least once every season. The first two rounds of the Stanley Cup Playoffs would be played within each division/conference, pumping up regional rivalries.
One of the driving forces behind the realignment were travel concerns from teams like the Red Wings.
But one NHL GM told Eric Francis of the Calgary Sun, via HNIC, that he believes there will be 20,000 miles of additional travel and $1 million in additional travel costs for each team. The NHL estimates it’s much closer to 5,000.
Another wrinkle: That instead of radical realignment, the Jets could flip one-to-one with … the Columbus Blue Jackets, according to Sportsnet’s John Shannon.
As was mentioned on Hot Stove, Gary Bettman and the Western Conference favor the radical realignment; does it have enough support in the East to make it happen?
Better question: Are there enough Bettman acolytes in the East that’ll push it through and give it the two-thirds support it needs? These guys are always hesitant to enact radical change. But the commissioner can be very persuasive — how else can you explain the continued ownership of the Coyotes?
Well here’s what Lou Lamoriello, one of Bettman’s chief lieutenants (keep in mind that Boston Bruins owner Jeremy Jacobs is the Chairman of the Board) had to say about these scenarios to the Newark Star-Ledger’s Rich Chere...
There will be a lively discussion when the NHL’s board of governors meets in Pebble Beach, Calif., tomorrow to determine how the league’s 30 teams will be realigned for next season. Realignment is necessary because the Atlanta Thrashers became the Winnipeg Jets and no longer fit geographically in the Southeast Division or the Eastern Conference. The easiest solution is to put Winnipeg in the Western Conference and move either the Columbus Blue Jackets or Detroit Red Wings to the East.
“That sounds like the simplest solution, but I don’t know if that would be the right thing,” said Devils general manager Lou Lamoriello, who’ll be involved in the talks. “I’d like to see us stay with six divisions, the way it is, but you’ve got to do what is best for the league.”
Prominent in the discussions will be the proposal of a four-division alignment that could look like this:
Gretzky Division: Anaheim, Calgary, Colorado, Edmonton, Los Angeles, Phoenix, San Jose, Vancouver
Howe Division: Chicago, Columbus, Dallas, Minnesota, Nashville, St. Louis, Winnipeg
Orr Division: Boston, Buffalo, Detroit, Montreal, Ottawa, Pittsburgh, Toronto
Bossy Division: Carolina, Florida, Devils, Islanders, Rangers, Philadelphia, Tampa Bay, Washington
“I’d have to see the alignment,” Lamoriello said of four divisions. “You play the whole season for the playoffs. You have to make it equally balanced for each club. No matter what scenario, somebody doesn’t like it.”
The Red Wings would love to come to the Eastern Conference and the Stars would like to get away from playing so many games in the Pacific time zone. Might expansion be put on the table? The league says no. Another issue is whether the Coyotes will remain in Phoenix.
“I think the Devils are in a very comfortable position because there’s not much you can do with our location,” Lamoriello said. “Whatever is decided, I don’t think it will be bad for us.”
As we already know, however, most of the NHL’s easternmost teams prefer the status quo, and the same can be said for the teams on the West Coast (see: the San Jose Sharks, though not the Colorado Avalanche? Go figure, Adrian Dater), because the teams and the East and West have to travel more regularly for the sakes of the teams “in the middle.”
We also already know that the league’s made it very clear that any “promises” one Gary Bettman or the NHL may have made to the Red Wings regarding realignment were either, shall we say, “fibs,” or were simply referring to what might happen if the NHL were to add another Western Conference team via expansion. That isn’t stopping the Ottawa Sun’s Bruce Garrioch from duly noting that there’s still some support for the Wings’ desire to move East, probably swiping a playoff spot from an Eastern Conference team and leaving rinks that are hard to sell out in October, November and December in the southwestern U.S. a little more empty:
As QMI Agency first reported in June, league sources say Bettman is trying to push through a proposal to scrap the current format and realign with four divisions: Pacific, Midwest, East and South. The top four teams in each division would make the playoffs. The first round would be divisonal play, the teams would then re-seed for conference play. Bettman’s idea would not affect a East-West Stanley Cup final matchup.
“I do think he’s going to get his four divisions, but I believe only two teams are going to move: Detroit will come East and Winnipeg will go West,” predicted a league executive.
This has turned into a bigger battle than Bettman could have imagined when he first presented the scenario to the board in June. Three months ago any chance of it happening was considered remote. Now, it’s alive but there are as many as nine proposals on the table.
That’s because several teams want to move. The Red Wings have wanted to get back to the East for 10 years, while Columbus, Minnesota and Dallas have all petitioned to play in the East. Dallas has been the most aggressive, but that may fall on deaf ears.
“The league owes it to the Wings to move them East,” said the executive.
That’s a classic line from Garrioch’s usual “league sources,” who are always both anonymous and quite happy to spread rumors and spurn discussion, regardless of whether it’s grounded in reality.
The Edmonton Journal’s Jim Matheson provides a more measured take on the situation—and his “conferences” include the Red Wings in the West:
The realignment won’t be ideal, but the surroundings will be idyllic when the NHL governors hunker down in Pebble Beach, Calif., on Monday and Tuesday to lay the framework for new groupings of four divisions, with seven or eight teams in each.
There will be home-and-home between teams in different divisions, and playoff matchups within divisions (commissioner Gary Bettman wants that) as they used to be back in the bad, old Smythe Division days, when the Calgary Flames would always draw the Edmonton Oilers. The top four teams in each division in regular-season play would make the post-season. The protracted problem: the Detroit Red Wings and Columbus Blue Jackets. The two Eastern-time zone teams are currently in the Western Division, but want to be in the Eastern Division, although the Red Wings might stay in the West as long as they play every team home-and-home outside their division so they would have way more TV games on at a reasonable hour.
Here’s how the West might look:
Edmonton, Calgary, Vancouver Canucks, Los Angeles Kings, Anaheim Ducks, San Jose Sharks, Colorado Avalanche and Phoenix Coyotes (if they don’t move) in one Pacific Division.
Minnesota Wild, Chicago Blackhawks, Detroit, St. Louis Blues, Winnipeg Jets, Nashville Predators and Dallas Stars (all but the Red Wings in central time zone) in the Central Division.
And in the East:
Stick Columbus in with geographic rival, the Pittsburgh Penguins, along with the Toronto Maple Leafs, Montreal Canadiens, Ottawa Senators, Boston Bruins and Buffalo Sabres. If Phoenix finally folds it’s tent and relocates to Quebec City, the Coyotes would join the Habs and Leafs etc.
The New York Rangers, New York Islanders, New Jersey Devils, Philadelphia Flyers, Washington Capitals, Florida Panthers, Tampa Bay Lightning and Carolina Hurricanes round out the rest of the teams.
If the Coyotes move to Quebec City, you would have 14 teams in the Western Division and 16 in the Eastern Division, but so be it.
They need 20 of the 30 teams to approve the realignment model.
That’s the stickiest wicket of all…
And while they don’t have a vote, it should come as no surprise that the players might be more curmudgeonly about the subject than their owners, given the high likelihood of increased travel for the teams with the “easiest” schedules, as the New York Post’s Larry Brooks suggests:
With realignment the major issue at the Board of Governors meetings that will commence tomorrow at Pebble Beach, Calif., Slap Shots has learned the NHL Players’ Association has cited ramifications of playoff qualification in expressing concern with, if not downright opposition to, a proposed shift from the current structure to a four-division setup.
According to a source familiar with the informal discussions between the NHL and NHLPA, the union has indicated it does not favor a setup to two seven-team divisions and two eight-team divisions under which the top four teams in each division would qualify for the playoffs. The NHLPA, which does not have a formal voice in the matter, believes such a setup would be unfair to teams in the eight-team divisions.
The union also has expressed concerns about changes in the schedule that would create increased travel.
A two-thirds vote is required to change the current six-division setup and unbalanced schedule. If any change is adopted this week, it’s likely to feature a conference swap between the Red Wings and Jets — Detroit to the East, Winnipeg to the West — that could be accompanied by a move to a more balanced schedule featuring more travel for most of the league.
Okay, that’s a ton of information, and if you’re like me and this issue has tugged at the red and white feathers in your heartstrings—never mind your purchases of caffeinated beverages and Visine to deal with loss of sleep during West Coast swings over the past fifteen or so years—you’re probably pretty damned stirred up about this issue.
But I’m gonna come back to the my first sentence—I don’t think that we Wings fans necessarily know who we’re dealing with here, and the truth of the matter is that, as Francis suggested, the Board of Governors is an entity unto itself, and it’s an entity in which divisions exist between the team’s public and private faces. There’s no doubt that more than a few of the general managers who’ve expressed support of the more radical realignment proposal work for owners who want things to remain exactly the same, and vice versa…
And these men are billionaires and businessmen, first and foremost, who are already very unhappy the fact that they’ve been subsidizing their weaker sisters by giving up significant chunks of playoff revenues for the sake of “sharing,” and they’re also going to be very, very curious as to whether the team they essentially own and operate—the Phoenix Coyotes—is going to remain in Phoenix, or is going elsewhere.
It’s that outstanding part of the problem, on top of the fact that we can look upon past changes in NHL policy and see a half-decade’s worth of lead-up to the Board of Governors embracing change (see: the obstruction crackdown, as Bettman admitted clutching and grabbing would “have to be fixed” in the next CBA as early as 2001 or 2002, and Brendan Shanahan’s empowerment to go after head shots in more than a half-assed fashion), and as such, I will be tremendously surprised if the Board does anything at all until the Coyotes are signed, sealed and delivered to their new owner.
Moreover, as I’ve suggested for a long time now, I don’t believe that the Western Conference owners who enjoy the extra-full rinks and ratings yielded by Red Wings visits and playoff series want Detroit to get away (the Original Six rival Chicago Blackhawks and Rocky Wirtz included, never mind David Poile and the resurrection project/lock-out poster boy that is the Nashville Predators added to the equation), nor do I believe that Eastern Conference GM’s want the Red Wings to ruin their current alignment (see: the Northeast Division’s owners) or take a playoff spot away from present teams (see: the Southeast Division’s owners, and staunch conservatives like Jacobs or Flyers owner Ed Snider).
I genuinely believe that, especially as that they may fear Columbus to be another Phoenix in the making, and that given there are competing agendas here because the Wild, Stars and Jets have their own agendas in terms of receiving more favorable travel, and, put bluntly, because it appears that the NHL’s Board of Governors delight in not giving Mike Ilitch and Jimmy Devellano (who had the gall to publicly admit that the Red Wings very reluctantly voted to lock out the players to be a “good citizen” in 2004) their way as much as any competitive businessperson would…
I don’t believe that the Board of Governors will simply swap the Wings out to the Southeast Division, and I find it hard to believe that the Board will come to any consensus until the Phoenix Coyotes’ fate is settled.
In other words, don’t get your hopes up. These are businessmen we’re talking about, supremely wealthy, supremely powerful and supremely self-interested people who run the show, and they’re not about to give a rat’s ass what you or I think when it comes to making decisions about their sports teams. We come in handy as we’re walking dollar signs, but when it comes to Board of Governors’ meetings, the franchises involved are the biggest of big boys’ toys, and in these kinds of discussions, money, egos, self-interest and sameness tend to win out—and nothing is broken here that cannot be fixed in a conservative manner, especially if it involves ensuring that the Coyotes are sold to someone by the middle of January, and that the Blue Jackets don’t become the league’s next charity case for the sake of a “promise” made to Mike Ilitch.
* father was a probation officer in Detroit during its Murder City heyday, and he possessed the kind of charm, panache and self-confidence that allowed an unarmed white man to write pre-sentencing reports for convicted felons by doing nothing less than meeting their family members and friends to provide profiles of said offenders, and then to take that information and use it to make a recommendation as to how long someone should spend in jail and/or on probation. His biggest splinter skill, however, involved something called profanity, and I’m going to employ it to say this about the realignment issue:
In the words of the old fart, the whole issue involves the media “dicking around” with fans’ emotions for the sake of generating discussion, and I don’t like that. I think it’s pandering and exploitative and I don’t like it, which is why I don’t like talking about it. It makes me feel like I’m dicking around with you, and that’s not right. I really hope that you don’t feel dicked around with after reading this entry.
Big-ass update: MLive’s Ansar Khan wrote a HUGE article about this topic from the Red Wings’ perspectives…and it didn’t hit till 9 AM, so enjoy:
“It’s simple from the Red Wings’ standpoint: We would like to avoid going far west twice,” team senior vice president Jimmy Devellano said. “We understand we need to go there once. To go twice is terrible for TV ratings and extra travel expenses that many teams don’t incur. That’s really our only concern.”
Devellano said making two trips each season to the West Coast and western Canada “has been our only problem.”
“People say we’d like to be in the East. That is true, but (being in the West) isn’t the major problem,” Devellano said. “It’s all about (traveling to the) far west. Any way that can be cut in half, we can live with that scenario.”
“We’re probably not going to get the absolute perfect scenario, so we want something better,” Red Wings general manager Ken Holland said. “We’re not OK with the status quo.”
The Red Wings have many reasons for wanting to be in the East: less wear and tear from travel, earlier starting times for most of their road games, and an attractive home schedule with more games against Original Six rivals Toronto, Montreal and Boston.
“The fans want to see us play more Eastern Conference teams,” Holland said. “They’d like to see more of our road games in prime time instead of 9:30 and 10:30. We would prefer, come playoff time, not to be going back and forth across the country every four days.We also understand that it’s a 30-team league. Everyone wants to feel a little bit good what the final solution is going to be. We’re trying to be flexible in our thinking that’ll allow us to vote in a couple different directions.”
A two-thirds vote of the 30 teams is required to pass any plan, which Devellano said won’t be easy. The primary problem with the four-division format is clubs in the eight-team divisions must compete with an extra team to qualify for the playoffs.
“A lot of people have problems with that,” Devellano said.
And then continue reading for player reactions, and come back here and discuss!
Update #2: Sorry about the over-enthusiastic comments…Reading some actual commentary from Red Wings personnel was just incredibly refreshing after so much talking head gabba.
USA Today’s Kevin Allen does not, however, qualify as a “talking head,” and here’s what he reports about the actual level of support for any realignment plan:
If the latest proposal does indeed have current Western teams and Winnipeg divided into two eight-team conferences, it should be more attractive to current Eastern Conference teams since they would be in seven-team conferences. The playoff pool will stay at 16 teams, with four teams qualifying from each conference.
The Eastern teams feel like they have an advantage under the current setup because travel is easier. If Eastern teams are in two seven-team conferences, they still would have an advantage because there would be better odds for making the playoffs than in the West.
There are no plans for league expansion, but the four-conference proposal is set up for future growth and would make it easy to move a team from a Western time zone to an Eastern time zone.
Clearly there are other factors to consider when addressing the realignment question because the proposal includes a schedule change to allow for at least a home-and-home against teams in other conferences. There are concerns about increased travel costs and wear and tear on players.
Those issues will have to be weighed against the geographic logic of the four-conference proposal and making life much better for Western teams such as the Columbus Blue Jackets, Detroit Red Wings, Minnesota Wild and Dallas Stars. If the four-conference proposal isn’t approved, then the other proposal would be to move Detroit to the East and Winnipeg to the West. Although there are teams in both the West and the East that would like to keep Detroit in the West if there is a one-for-one switch, the reality is that Mike Ilitch has been an NHL owner for more 30 years and has long wanted to move to the East. While it would make sense to move either Columbus or Detroit, it would seem logicial to move the team with seniority.
But when all of the discussion is done, it still will come down to owners deciding whether they are partners or competitors. The answer is that they are both and that’s why it’s difficult to realign.
Yahoo Sports’ Sean Leahy digs the set-up as well, but it he’s got the same vote we do in the process…
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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.