What are the most likely scenarios for Southeast Division realignment?

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With the Atlanta Thrashers moving to Winnipeg, one of the first logistical questions revolves around the Southeast Division and next year’s schedule. The league has stated the Winnipeg Thrashjets will remain in the Southeast for the first season—but after next season, there will certainly be changes coming down the road. For a frame of reference, here are the distances between Winnipeg and their Southeast Division rivals next year:

Carolina: 1346 mi (2166 km)
Florida: 1893 mi (3047 km)
Tampa Bay: 1701 mi (2737 km)
Washington: 1246 mi (2005 km)

Now with the sale to True North completed and confirmed, the question of realignment is no longer “if and when” and more about “who and where.” When realignment goes down for the 2012-13 season, the three most likely suspects are the Detroit Red Wings, Columbus Blue Jackets, and Nashville Predators. Pierre LeBrun has already started asking around about the realignment question:

“But a league source told me recently that the reason realignment is being delayed a year is that the league wants to properly canvass all its governors and get everyone’s feedback on what is always a contentious issue. The Red Wings desperately want to move east. They’re tired of playing most of their games outside of their time zone, and it’s brutal for TV ratings when you’re asking your fans to stay up late to watch most of your road games. Having said that, many Western Conference governors will oppose losing Detroit because of the Wings’ gate power. So then, what to do? I think the league will examine all kinds of possibilities, perhaps use this opportunity to revamp the entire division and conference setup, not just plug in one team for another. There will be lots of talk and ideas leaked in the next 12 months.”

Detroit Red Wings: Detroit ownership has wanted the Wings moved to the Eastern Conference for the better part of two decades. Already in the Eastern time zone, West Coast road trips mean games are starting at 10:00 or 10:30 every night. For opponents, the games at Joe Louis arena start too early for West Coasters during the week. There’s a reason that teams three time zones apart, aren’t supposed to play each other four times per season.

Red Wings’ senior vice president Jimmy Devellano has made no secret of his desire for the team:

“(Realignment’s) going to be a long, tough process. We have our fingers crossed.”

“It’s a lot of wear and tear (on the players),” said Devellano, adding the cost of the travel for the Red Wings is an issue.

“Once in a while (the West Coast starting times are) OK, everybody has to do it. But we’ve had to do it many times. It’s difficult.”

Columbus Blue Jackets: Like the Red Wings, the Blue Jackets are also a Western Conference team stuck in the Eastern time zone. Since the time zone isn’t changing anytime soon, the other option is to switch conferences. Also like the Red Wings, attendance plays a factor in the decision—but for the opposite reason. The Red Wings bring in fans to opponents all over the Western Conference, but the Blue Jackets would love to create a rivalry with the Pittsburgh Penguins who are only 162 miles apart. By starting all of the Eastern Conference games at the same time, the Blue Jackets hope it would help with both building a stronger foundation with their fanbase and also help the ratings for Blue Jackets telecasts.

Nashville Predators: If the Predators were to move to the Southeast Division, they’d be the only team in the Eastern Conference that was not in the Eastern time zone. However, even though the city is in the central time zone, Nashville makes the most sense geographically. Just pull out a map for the best argument for the Predators moving to the Southeast. It makes sense for a team in the middle of Tennessee to play against Carolina, Florida, Tampa, and Washington.

Just how much power does the Detroit organization have with the NHL? It’s understandable that they’d want to move to the Eastern Conference—just like it’s understandable that the Predators and Blue Jackets management would want to move to the East. All would benefit from better start times and improved travel. But if the Red Wings flip, it has the potential to cost most of the Western Conference teams in terms of revenue and exposure. The struggling franchise in Columbus could gain stability from a better schedule. From a common sense point of view, Nashville just seems like the right market to slide into the Southeast Division. Regardless, let the lobbying begin!

Let’s throw this to the readers. If you could shift the Red Wings, Blue Jackets, or Predators to the Eastern Conference, who would it be?

Point gets Lightning extra point against Kane, Blackhawks

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The Tampa Bay Lightning edged the Chicago Blackhawks – barely – on Wednesday to leapfrog back over the St. Louis Blues for the top record in the NHL.

The Bolts capitalized on a power-play opportunity in overtime, with Brayden Point scoring the decisive goal in a 3-2 OT win. It was an exciting overtime period, with Point being stopped all in alone earlier in the OT, and the same happening to Patrick Kane on a breakaway.

Kane had been getting the best of the Lightning earlier in the game, scoring the first two goals of the contest in the first period. Not a lot of players can make plays like this off the rush:

Then again, few teams can score a goal this pretty, especially while shorthanded:

Steven Stamkos and Vladislav Namestnikov collected assists on Wednesday, but the top line (including Nikita Kucherov) failed to score a goal, though they created quite a few chances. The best – at least in regulation – came when Stamkos seized an opportunity against the Blackhawks, but Corey Crawford was game:

Wow.

Again, both goalies made some big stops. Here’s that Kane miss in OT, with Andrei Vasilevskiy depriving number 88 from a hat trick:

So, with that, the Lightning hold a one-point standings edge (34 to 33) over the Blues in the early race for the Presidents’ Trophy, and most importantly, gives them a five-point edge in the Atlantic Division. Tampa Bay’s impressive start to 2017-18 is especially notable since they’ve played one fewer game than St. Louis and two fewer than the Toronto Maple Leafs (the second-ranked team in the up-and-down Atlantic).

Check out the logjam at second-to-last in the competitive Central for Chicago, as of this writing, with these three teams all at 21 games played:

Dallas Stars: 11-9-1, 23 points
Blackhawks: 10-8-3, 23 points
Minnesota Wild: 10-8-3, 23 points

It has to be a little frustrating for the Blackhawks to see a two-goal lead dissolve, but plenty of teams would struggle to secure such an edge against the powerhouse Lightning. Maybe the Blackhawks will gain some confidence in merely sticking with them (and grabbing a point for their troubles).

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Much-needed response from Oilers vs. Red Wings

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One win can’t cleanse the palate of a bitter 21-game start, but beggars can’t be choosers, and the Edmonton Oilers really needed a W tonight.

That’s not to say it would be easy, either, as they faced a rested Red Wings team in Detroit to close off a back-to-back after Tuesday’s humiliating loss to the St. Louis Blues. Edmonton got that sorely needed response, chasing Jimmy Howard and beating the Red Wings 6-2.

While Connor McDavid (two assists) and Leon Draisaitl (one helper) made their typical impacts, it’s especially heartening for the Oilers to see less-obvious names show up in the box score. Jesse Puljujarvi, Jujhar Khaira, Mark Letestu, and Drake Caggiula ranked among goalscorers, while Ryan Strome collected a pair of assists.

Any bit of confidence gained, particularly for supporting cast members, could be very important for the fledgling Oilers.

It doesn’t take long to ruin the party; now at 8-12-2, the Oilers’ 18 standings points still leave them at second-worst in the West.

Still, all the Oilers can do right now is gradually, slowly dig themselves out of the troubling hole they’ve created for themselves. This won’t be easy, and even this early on, they might need a few other teams to hit a wall.

But, hey, it’s better than the nothing this team showed last night, right?

Catch up on Edmonton’s struggles

Why they’re the NHL’s most disappointing team

The uncomfortable parallels between McDavid and Jack Eichel

These struggles are the results of some bad moves from Peter Chiarelli

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Scott Darling: Latest goalie beaten from center ice (Video)

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Here’s a thought: considering an 82-game regular season and about a two-month-long postseason, it’s almost a little surprising that we don’t see more center-ice goals.

Such a goal can happen in so many ways. A puck can take an odd bounce. A goalie might take his eye off the puck for a second while deciding what to do next, much like an NFL receiver who drops an easy pass while dreaming of those sweet, sweet, yards up ahead.

So, let’s not be too hard on Carolina Hurricanes goalie Scott Darling, who padded Mika Zibanejad‘s already-robust goal totals with the center-ice flub you can see in the video above.

If you prefer a GIF form, this one nails the spirit of the thing:

(Agreed, little emoticon monkey. Agreed.)

Since we’re on the subject of goals netminders would want back even more than usual, we might as well also consider Tyler Ennis beating Chad Johnson here:

Ouch. Hey, we’ve all been there (vaguely speaking).

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

WATCH LIVE: Blackhawks – Lightning, Wednesday Night Rivalry

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The latest edition of “Wednesday Night Rivalry” features a rematch of the 2015 Stanley Cup Final, as the Tampa Bay Lightning host the Chicago Blackhawks.

During that competitive series, the Blackhawks were the favorites. The tide has turned now, however, as the dynamite duo of Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov have propelled the Bolts to the upper crust of the NHL. Chicago, meanwhile, strains to remain a contender.

But it’s worth noting that the Blackhawks cannot be taken lightly. They still feature Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, and Corey Crawford, so tonight should provide plenty of entertainment.

Along with watching on NBCSN, you can also check the action out on online and via the NBC Sports App.

CLICK HERE TO WATCH LIVE