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NHL Returning to Winnipeg, Should Divisions Be Realigned?

All season, fans and analysts were anticipating a franchise move in the NHL.

The only question was which club would be moving and where would they be moving to?

On Tuesday morning the wait ended. The NHL announced that True North’s purchase of the Atlanta Thrashers was granted. Of course there is still the necessary 75 percent vote of confidence from the Board of Governors and the majority vote required to move the club, but believe me when I tell you, this sale is final.

Atlanta has once again been stripped of an NHL franchise. I can’t think of another city who has had their team removed twice for the same sport in the same league.

With True North’s announcement that it plans to move the team to Winnipeg to revitalize the ailing fans of the extinct Winnipeg Jets, I thought it appropriate to see how this move will affect the NHL’s divisional makeups.

There are two things certain in this move: I personally guarantee this team will not be called “The Jets” like their predecessor’s, and the other should be obvious. Expansion is sports can sometimes lead to divisional geographical anomalies.

Way back when the Pittsburgh Penguins were a fresh franchise, they were members of the Western Conference. Of course back then, expansion was meant in the literal sense, as the league was expanding from six teams to 12.

There was a point in the 1970s where the Canucks were placed in the Eastern Conference, while their neighbors to the east, the Atlanta Flames were in the Western Conference.

These were the ancient days of the NHL though. The league has been nationwide for what’s now been decades. The league has done an excellent job of aligning itself fairly and correctly, with respect to geographical rivalries, while keeping an eye on travel expenses and the toll on players.

The 2011-2012 NHL really has no choice but to realign the divisions. One could make a healthy enough argument based on geography alone.

Winnipeg will most likely inherit the Thrashers’ roster of talented, young up-and-comers, but if they want to keep them, they need to keep the intensity of hockey on the ice, and not in the air. Because Winnipeg will look as out of place in the Southeast as Vancouver did in the Eastern Conference way back when.

Placing them in the Southeast would mean road trips to Washington, D.C. (2,300 miles away), Raleigh, N.C. (2,500 miles away), Tampa (2,800 miles away) and Miami (more than 3,000 miles away). These boys would essentially be traveling the distance of the United States multiple times a season, making Winnipeg easily the most hellish destination for any player in the NHL if they’re willing to tolerate the travel.

I’ll let Ilya Bryzgalov give you the rest of the commentary on Winnipeg.

Of course the NHL could also be announcing another move next season, with the Phoenix Coyotes finding a comfy home in the Eastern Conference.

Should the Coyotes move occur, the most likely candidates to move East would be the Red Wings, Blue Jackets and Predators, with the Predators making the most sense to switch conferences. The Preds have southern roots, and their switch of conferences wouldn’t be missed as much or maybe at all from a fan’s or player’s perspective in the West.

Moving the Red Wings would just absolutely destroy the spirit of the game, as they are much more ingrained into the NHL’s fabric. Not only that, pulling Detroit out of a division with Chicago—and to a lesser extent, St. Louis—would rob the league of one of its longest and most intense rivalries.

Here is his scenario should Detroit move east with Winnipeg’s move west:

West
Central: Minnesota, Chicago, Nashville, Columbus, St. Louis
Northwest: Vancouver, Calgary, Winnipeg, Edmonton, Colorado
Pacific: San Jose, Anaheim, Phoenix, Los Angeles, Dallas

East
Atlantic: Philadelphia, New York Rangers, New York Islanders, New Jersey, Buffalo
Northeast: Boston, Detroit, Montreal, Toronto, Ottawa
Southeast: Pittsburgh, Washington, Carolina, Florida, Tampa Bay

The West loses a lot of its personality with the absence of the Chicago-Detroit rivalry. The NHL would be the only major sport in which Chicago and Detroit are not in the same division. It’s not the kind of distinction the NHL should be shooting for.

Here’s the scenario should Nashville or Columbus moving to the East and Winnipeg going to the West:

West
Central: Detroit, Chicago, Minnesota, Columbus or Nashville, St. Louis
Northwest: Winnipeg, Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton, Colorado
Pacific: San Jose, Los Angeles, Phoenix, Anaheim, Dallas

East
Atlantic: Philadelphia, New York Islanders, New York Rangers, Pittsburgh
Northeast: Buffalo, Boston, Montreal, Toronto, Ottawa
Southeast: Tampa Bay, Florida, Nashville or Columbus, Washington, Carolina

This is obviously the easiest move to make, but it counts on Phoenix staying put where they are.

So it’s obvious the NHL doesn’t care about fans in Atlanta, as they’ve stripped them of a team once again. If history enjoys repeating itself, that should mean a title for the team in Winnipeg sometime in the next 20 years.

But let’s go off topic here for a minute and address what is a much more important issue than Atlanta, Phoenix, Quebec or whatever other town you want to lose or gain a hockey team. Let’s talk about the man in charge: Gary Bettman.

Gary Bettman is ruining the sport of hockey.

Now, I understand he’s had several very positive impacts on the sport we all love.

But where I come from, the negatives outweigh the positives. Especially the negatives Bettman has had. Now this is no new argument in the world of hockey.

The NHL under Bettman has seen two lockouts, five franchise relocations and seven bankruptcies, but who’s keeping track? That five could turn into a six soon if Phoenix needs to move again.

And how about the recent releases of what tickets for the Stanley Cup Final cost? I understand this league is a business, but it’s fueled by the fans who watch it. What would you do with a hospital with no nurses? The fans are the lifeblood of the NHL and Bettman and his cronies are running them out of the game.

If you thought Atlanta was a mess, just stay tuned. It will get worse. Watch.

About David Barclay

"Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect."

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