The Malik Report
by George Malik on 12/02/11 at 06:45 PM ET
Updated 2x with some insider info at 4:17 PM: Ahead of what’s supposed to be a potentially fabric-of-the-NHL-chaging meeting of the NHL’s Board of Governors on Monday—assuming that what is truly a collection of power brokers generally consisting of hard-liners, dinosaurs, curmudgeons and a mostly aged and intransigent bunch doesn’t simply say, “Well, we don’t know what the hell’s going to happen with Phoenix, anyway, so can we delay this decision till we know where the Coyotes will play during the 2012-2013 season (if we have one)?” or perhaps to simply say, “Look, the Blue Jackets are losing money, so they go East,” or perhaps, “Moving the Predators East makes the most geographic and territorial sense given that the Thrashers are gone”...
The Windsor Star’s Dave Waddell spoke to Ken Holland and the Wings’ players about their desire to no longer force their fans to burn the midnight oil on such a regular basis, and as we already know by now, if you mention, “Red Wings” and “Eastern Conference,” you’re bound to generate enough web hits that the media’s been milking this topic like the low-hanging fruit it is all season long.
In any case, Holland suggests that the same-old, same-old won’t cut it, despite the Wings’ willingness to be a “good citizen”:
“There’s not just one thing the Detroit Red Wings want,” said Detroit GM Ken Holland, who will attend the meetings in Pebble Beach, Calif.“We feel if we go out there with one thing and we don’t get the one thing, we could be left on the outside looking in. We’re going there open-minded with two or three different scenarios that may satisfy us. Anything I’ve been suggesting is better for the Detroit Red Wings and their fans than what we have today. We want something better. We’re not OK with the status quo.”
Among the acceptable solutions to the Wings is a straight move to the Eastern Conference. They would stay in the current setup, but change the schedule matrix to give the Wings fewer western swings and more games against the east or adopting a proposed major realignment based on regional conferences. In every scenario, the Wings are looking to limit themselves to one visit to each of the California and western-based Canadian clubs.
“It’s very, very simple from the Red Wings’ standpoint,” Detroit’s senior vice-president and alternate governor Jimmy Devellano said. “What we would like to avoid is going far west twice. We understand we need to go there once. To go twice is terrible for TV ratings, extra travel expenses that many teams don’t share in. That’s really our only concern.”
Holland and the Wings are realistic, however, regarding their chances of receiving 20-plus votes of support from the Board of Governors’ membership—and we already know that many of the Western-based ones love that the Wings fill their rinks, especially early in the season, while the Eastern BoG members probably aren’t too keen on the Wings screwing up the happily-stacked Northeast Division, never mind swiping one of eight Eastern Conference playoff spots on what’s all but guaranteed to be a yearly basis…
“We understand that it’s a 30-team league,” Holland said. “Everyone wants to feel a little bit good about what the final solution is going to be. There are bigger issues in the west than there are in the east because of the travel and all the time zones. Different teams have different things that are important to them.”
Devellano told Waddell that the “four geographically-based division” concept, which has mostly been floated to fans as a sort of thought balloon by the NHL’s favorite media types, is gonna be a hard sell (something tells me that the owners aren’t too keen on returning to divisionally-based playoff formats or cutting down non-divisional intra-conference play to two meetings per season between teams that have healthy playoff-based rivalries, like the Wings and Sharks)...
“The four-division format is good because you play teams in your own time zone (or close to it) and the first two rounds are in the division.” Devellano said. “But the problem is there would be two divisions of eight teams and two with seven. A lot of people have problems with that (because clubs in an eight-team division are competing with an extra team for a playoff spot).”
And Waddell duly notes that the Coyotes are the wrench in the works, because at this point, their most likely destination seems to be anywhere but the Phoenix suburb of Glendale. Despite the CBA’s insistence that realignment decisions be made final by December 31st, my gut—and if you’ve forgot while I’ve been gone, it’s a gut that doesn’t believe that the Wings are going to move East, period—tells me that this whole decision will be delayed, perhaps even with the support of Donald Fehr and the NHLPA, until everybody knows where the Coyotes will play.
In other words, I simply don’t believe that we’re going to hear anything but ideas from the Board on Monday and Tuesday, and I think that this decision might not be made until next June.
The Wings’ players, however, suggested to Waddell that the Wings moving East makes perfect sense:
“If we end up in the East, there’ll be a lot of people very happy,” forward Dan Cleary said.
“The travel on the east coast is easy,” said [Mike] Commodore, who played for Carolina. “You’re at home by midnight most times.”
We all know that everything’s on the table, but when we’re talking about a group of people whose ranks include Boston Bruins owner/professional curmudgeon Jeremy Jacobs, the less than new-age thinker that is Brian Burke and a bunch of other owners and governors who took four years to give Brendan Shanahan the disciplinary agenda that both players and the NHL’s general managers had been requesting, I don’t see substantive change happening, at least until the Coyotes are sold and probably moved somewhere else (and yes, Coyotes fans, that sucks and is unfair to you).
I’d be very happy to eat barbecued crow if we find out that the Wings are indeed headed East next week, but I’m not about to bet a single cent on it.
Update: Well, Gary Bettman suggested that the decision might not be made till the All-Star Break, and I do think that’s a realistic possibility, if not probability, at this point.
Update #2: Via Paul, Sportsnet’s John Shannon offered an intriguing sneak peek into the BoG’s agenda:
In a season that seems to be chock full of big stories, the NHL has set the stage for another big story on Monday and Tuesday in Pebble Beach. Many league officials believe that out of the annual Board of Governors’ meeting will come the new realignment plan. Earlier this week, the league circulated the two-day agenda. On the agenda were two realignment plans. One simple, one a little more progressive.
I’m told, the two plans will be presented without a recommendation from the commissioner’s office, and they are plans that “reflect the greatest level of club interest.” The simple one is just a swap of Detroit for Winnipeg. That fulfils the promise of Gary Bettman to Mike Illitch to put the Red Wings in the east.
The second proposal is very close to the one we have been discussing for a few months that would see the removal of the two conferences (and six divisions) for four divisions and would include a more balanced schedule. It would appease the Wings’ demand that, if in fact they can’t be in the East, every team in the league would play a minimum of one home-and-home series. That proposal would also call for two rounds of divisional playoffs, which would help maintain the regional rivalries, if they don’t play as many games against each other in the regular season.
Remember that it takes a two-thirds vote by the group to approve a new system, so nothing can be taken for granted. In fact, on his weekly show on Sirius/XM radio, Bettman has backed off earlier assertions that it would be done for sure by Tuesday.
“If we don’t get it done now, we’re going to be in really tough shape if we don’t get it done by the All-Star Game,” he said. “I don’t even think we can wait that long. But I haven’t figured out what we’ll do if it doesn’t happen (next week).”
I’m suspect that message was not for the fans but rather for the 30 owners who have their own realignment agendas.
Having worked for the man, I know Bettman goes to every meeting with a plan of getting four or five key issues accomplished. He does a great job of reading the temperatures of the owners. This appears to be one agenda item that has the commissioner in a state of flux. I’m not sure I’ve seen that before.
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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.