For years the Detroit Red Wings sat patiently, waiting for NHL realignment to move them into a more time-zone and travel friendly setup.
Now the wait is over.
Beginning next season, the Wings will play in the Eastern Conference’s Atlantic Division along with the Bruins, Sabres, Panthers, Canadiens, Senators, Lightning and Maple Leafs.
Needless to say, players were thrilled to learn they’d be leaving the Western Conference, dramatically cutting down on cross-country flights.
“We’ve traveled back and forth, across the United States quite a bit,” Jimmy Howard told the Macomb Daily back in May. “To move to the East I think that would be a lot of fun to play a lot of games in the Eastern Time Zone. It would be great for our fans too, not having to stay up until all hours of the night to watch us.
“I think the travel sometimes takes years off of all of our lives.”
Traditionally one of the NHL’s most-traveled teams, Detroit figures to cut down its mileage in 2013-14. Some diligent work from SB Nation’s On The Forecheck suggests the Wings will log 35,324 miles — a far cry from the 42,865 they played in the last full NHL season (2011-12).
The real boon, though, might come in the playoffs.
The 2013 postseason was a tough one for Detroit, especially in the opening round. Its series with Anaheim went the full seven games, meaning the Wings had to endure five cross-country trips totaling more than 10,000 miles. There was also the endless switching of time zones (three hour difference), all of which took its toll.
“The worst is going back from [Pacific Standard Time] to the Eastern,” defenseman Kyle Quincey told MLive.com. “It’s a four- or five-hour flight with a three-hour time change. You get on a plane at 9 in the morning, you get home, the next thing you know you get back to your place and where did the day go?”
All that said, Detroit won’t escape the West entirely this year. It’ll have two significant swings: One through Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton and Winnipeg from Oct. 30-Nov. 4, and another through Dallas, San Jose, L.A. and Anaheim from Jan. 4-12.
The move will also affect Detroit’s relationship with one of its biggest rivals — the Chicago Blackhawks. Whereas the two teams would meet routinely during the regular season, next year sees them face off just twice…something at least one Red Wing is OK with.
“I don’t think we’ll miss playing them six times a year,” said Niklas Kronwall.