If Atlanta moves to Winnipeg, how should the NHL realign the divisions?

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Sometimes here we have to expand our minds a bit and start drawing up scenarios for potential situations. We don’t usually delve into the fantasy world here but with the chatter growing louder about the possibility of the Atlanta Thrashers being sold to David Thomson’s True North group and moved to Winnipeg we can’t help but get wondering about some things. Mostly, we want to know what happens to how the divisions and teams will be lined up.

If Atlanta moves to Winnipeg there’s no logical way to have Winnipeg be in either the Eastern Conference nor the Southeast Division and with the NHL not being eager to have a mismatched number of teams in each conference, someone in the west would move east. The questions here are who would be the one to move and just how would the divisions be set up? We’ve got some ideas on how things could play out.

You’d have three instant candidates to move to the Eastern Conference: Detroit, Columbus, and Nashville. The easy part of this equation would be what would happen to Winnipeg. The move that makes most sense for them would be to have them slide into the Northwest Division and take the place of the Colorado Avalanche. There they would have a local rivalry with the Minnesota Wild and be lumped in with the three other Canadian teams in the West.

The Avalanche would then jump to the Pacific Division where they would take the place of the Dallas Stars. The Stars would then jump into the Central Division where they would take the place of which ever team between the Wings, Jackets, and Predators that headed East. Of course, which of those teams would go is the part of the hot debate.

Detroit’s case that they would make to go is based upon location. They’re in the Eastern time zone and have historical rivals they could get reacquainted with very quickly in Toronto and Montreal. Travel is a major bugaboo for the Wings when they hit the road. After all, those west coast swings hurt. Red Wings senior vice president Jim Devellano says that a move won’t be happening next season for the Wings, but he hopes the NHL could cut them a break in the future.

What hurts Detroit’s case is their rivalry with Chicago. Red Wings-Blackhawks games are once again a must-see event with lots of their matchups ending up on national television. With both teams being perpetual playoff teams now, there’s a lot of money to be made off of these two teams duking it out a few times a year. Detroit and Chicago also represent the Western Conferences only original six teams. Leaving the Blackhawks on an island by themselves wouldn’t do the league any favors even in spite of Chicago’s budding rivalries with San Jose and Vancouver.

Columbus can make a similar case to Detroit in that they too are in the Eastern time zone. Geographically speaking they’re just a tad further east than Detroit and could develop an instant regional rivalry with Pittsburgh. The Blue Jackets have already asked the NHL about moving to the East so they’re at least on the record. Helping make their case is that Columbus has no real ties to the teams in the West. They’ve got a “rivalry” of sorts with Detroit thanks to locality and divisional ties but that would be traded out easily for Pittsburgh. A move to the East would also help lend a hand to the Blue Jackets to give them a better shot at the playoffs. Let’s face it, the Western Conference is a bit tougher than the East.

Something working against both Detroit and Columbus is that moving them to East throws the divisional setup way out of whack. Both teams would fit in well in the Northeast Division, but who slides out for them? Going by geographical set up, Boston would make sense to have them go to the Atlantic Division… But then someone needs to get out of there to go to the Southeast Division. Philadelphia is the southernmost team there and that doesn’t exactly jive well considering the Flyers’ rivalries with every single other Atlantic Division team. So what next? The logical move.

Nashville has established themselves pretty well in the Western Conference having made the playoffs more often than not over the last few years. They’re also a bit odd in that they’re stuck in a division that’s nasty year in and year out dealing with Detroit and Chicago. Moving Nashville to the Eastern Conference would give them another tough, nasty team and a seamless fit into the Southeast Division.

There they could strike up regional rivalries with a southern flavor with Carolina, Tampa Bay, and Florida. Nashville and Washington battling numerous times a year would provide some nasty and fantastic games. If the NHL wanted to help sell the game more in the south and get some great local rivalries to go with it, this would seem like a no-brainer because it doesn’t upset things quite as much. That move coupled with sliding Dallas into the Central Division where they could reinvigorate rivalries with Detroit and Chicago would give the NHL some dynamic divisional battles.

If this should come to pass with Atlanta getting bought and moved, there will be some tough choices to make here for the NHL. How they choose to go about it will be fascinating to see and how the politics of things play out would provide fodder for future conspiracy theorists. We want to know what you think though. Who do you think would move to the Eastern Conference if the Thrashers head west? Let us know in our poll and in the comments.

Mrazek vs. Reimer and other Hurricanes lineup questions readying for Rangers

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Beyond obvious outliers like the Penguins, the Hurricanes rank among the most legitimate of the NHL’s Qualifying Round teams. Yet as stable as the Hurricanes are compared to a field full of erratic teams, Carolina faces many of the same lineup questions as the Rangers, the team they’d face in a best-of-five series.

Some might argue that the Hurricanes face tougher questions than the Rangers. (Though, the Rangers aren’t off the hook in that regard.)

In particular, the Hurricanes may need training camp to find answers in net and on defense. For all we know, Hurricanes lineup questions could even persist beyond “Phase 3.”

Let’s glance at both the goalie and defense questions for the Hurricanes.

Who should start in Hurricanes playoff lineup: Mrazek or Reimer?

Reimer, Mrazek, Hurricanes Rangers lineup questions NHL playoffs
(Photo by Greg Thompson/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

With Henrik Lundqvist jousting with two young upstarts, some might wonder if the Rangers have too much of a good thing in net. The Hurricanes don’t enjoy quite the abundance of options.

Even so, coach Rod Brind’Amour faces a decision, as they lack a clear No. 1. Should the Hurricanes go with Petr Mrazek — who helped them during the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs — or James Reimer (who boasts superior numbers this season)?

If Brind’Amour knows, he’s putting on a poker face.

“It’s easy to say right now, ‘OK, I’m going to go with Petr,’ but I don’t know,” Brind’Amour said in a recent interview, via NHL.com’s Dan Rosen. “He may be in rough shape. I don’t know until I get to see them and see what they’re like.”

It’s unclear if that last playoff run explains why Mrazek would be the “easy” choice, or if that came down to Reimer entering the pandemic pause with injury issues. (The Hurricanes may also be concerned about Reimer’s rather lengthy run of injury hiccups, too.)

Because, again, Reimer performed at a higher level than Mrazek in 2019-20. Reimer boasts a better save percentage than Mrazek this season (.914 to Mrazek’s .905) and over their careers (.914 to Mrazek’s .910). Reimer takes most/all goalie “advanced stats” between the two this season, as well. Generally speaking, we’ve seen more from Reimer over the past few seasons than Mrazek, whose career was teetering on the edge here and there.

(But, to be fair, Reimer’s had his issues, too.)

Regardless, just about every team should take a long look at how their goalies are performing during training camps. Even teams with clearer No. 1 options.

Honestly, with the NHL not expected to limit the number of goalies at training camps, maybe the Hurricanes should even look at options like Anton Forsberg or Alex Nedeljkovic?

An unexpectedly crowded defense

Dougie Hamilton Hurricanes Rangers lineup decisions playoffs
(Photo by Gregg Forwerck/NHLI via Getty Images)

During the 2020 NHL Trade Deadline, the Hurricanes acquired Brady Skjei and Sami Vatanen. As you may remember, those moves hinged at least partially on injuries to Dougie Hamilton and Brett Pesce. After the twists of those bad-luck injuries, the pandemic threw off Carolina’s rhythm once more.

The best news is that it sounds like Hamilton will be available. Don’t let the museum talk fool you. If Hamilton maintained his hot pace and didn’t get injured, he would have been a go-to choice for those making arguments against John Carlson‘s Norris credentials. Either way, Hamilton provides an enormous boost to the Hurricanes lineup — one they weren’t expecting during the deadline.

On the other hand, Brind’Amour told NHL.com’s Rosen that Pesce remains unlikely to return. However …

“It’s going to be a long shot, but the longer this goes the shot gets a little shorter,” Brind’Amour said.

(Anyone else visualizing that after that rather literal description from Brind’Amour? No? OK.)

So, Hamilton stands as probable while Pesce looks unlikely. Beyond that, the Hurricanes have two still-new faces in Skjei (just seven not particularly impressive games played) and Vatanen (who was injured and didn’t even get to suit up). Let’s say that represents three defensemen for the Hurricanes. Here are the other contenders for spots in the Hurricanes defensive lineup:

  • Jaccob Slavin, a lock.
  • Jake Gardiner, who dealt with a tough season, averaging only 16:40 TOI. Still, Gardiner is experienced, played in 68 games this season, and may have benefited from the break.
  • Joel Edmundson (68 GP like Slavin and Gardiner, averaged more TOI than Gardiner with 18:27 per contest).
  • Trevor van Riemsdyk (49 GP, less than 15 minutes per night; still, Hurricanes are very familiar with TVR).
  • Haydn Fleury (45 GP, averaged fewer than 15 minutes per game).

Realistically, Brind’Amour could have eight options on defense, and possibly nine if Pesce makes unexpectedly rapid progress. Being that some of those options are quite good, there are worse problems to have.

But it still adds to the notion that training camp could be quite important for Hurricanes lineup decisions. With both goalies and defense, Brind’Amour emphasized a wait-and-see approach. So … we’ll see?

More on the Hurricanes, Rangers, return to play, and similar subjects:

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.

Flyers’ Oskar Lindblom rings bell after final cancer treatment

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A week after hitting the ice with his teammates for the first time in six months, Oskar Lindblom got to ring the bell marking the end of his chemotherapy treatments.

The 23-year-old Flyers forward was diagnosed in December with Ewing sarcoma, a form of bone cancer, and played only 30 games this season.

On Thursday, Lindblom walked down the hall at Abramson Cancer Center at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia to ring the bell and celebrate with the nurses who took care of him.

“I can’t even explain how I feel,” he told the Flyers website. “It feels I’m having a birthday, Christmas and all those holidays at the same time. It feels awesome to be done. I can’t wait to just get back to normal life again and start feeling like I’m living.”

(Lindblom will not play for the Flyers later this summer if the NHL resumes the 2019-20 season.)

Since being diagnosed, Lindblom received support from all over the hockey community. Players from the Flyers and around the NHL wore#OskarStrong” shirts and he was given a standing ovation when shown on the Jumbotron during a January game.

“From family to friends to fans, I can’t explain how much they’ve meant to me,” said Lindblom, who is the Flyers’ Masterton Trophy nominee. “Especially at the start when it was a rough time and I got all those kind words. It just made me feel so much better, calm, and it really helped along the way.”

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

PHT Morning Skate: Top free agents; O’Reilly up for ‘unique’ challenge

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Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from the NHL and around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit? Email us at phtblog@nbcsports.com.

• A look at the top 50 free agents who could hit the market at some point in the next few months. [TSN]

• Which UFA moments have defined the NHL’s salary-cap era? [Sportsnet]

Ryan O'Reilly is up for the “unique” challenge of helping the Blues defend their Stanley Cup title. [NHL.com]

• “There are health risks for the players who will be quarantined in hub cities for the Stanley Cup playoffs, but their concerns don’t end there. It’s possible the players will be paying for the lost revenues caused by COVID-19 for years.” [The Hockey News]

• On players potentially opting out of playing if the NHL resumes this summer. [NBC Sports Washington]

• It’s not looking good for Alexander Romanov, Kirill Kaprizov, and Ilya Sorokin in their attempts to play this season. [Hockey Wilderness]

• The NHL should thank college hockey for producing so many impactful young defensemen. [Grand Forks Herald]

• What Alexis Lafreniere would mean to the Blackhawks. [NBC Sports Chicago]

• Why Shane Doan should be in the Hockey Hall of Fame. [Five for Howling]

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Hurricanes losing Dudley, still in talks with TV’s Forslund

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RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — Carolina Hurricanes president and general manager Don Waddell said Wednesday that executive Rick Dudley won’t return and the team is still in talks with longtime TV play-by-play announcer John Forslund on a new deal.

The 71-year-old Dudley had worked as Carolina’s senior vice president of hockey operations since 2018, part of nearly five decades in professional hockey. That included serving as general manager for four NHL franchises, and he also played and coached the Buffalo Sabres.

“Rick and I talked months ago and he said that at the end of his contract, he was going to move on,” Waddell said in an interview with The Associated Press.

Waddell said the team has reached agreements with all employees whose deals expired Tuesday so far except for Forslund, who is in his 25th season with the franchise and also does national broadcasts with NBC.

“We’ve had multiple talks: I’ve talked to the agent numerous times, I’ve talked to John a couple of times,” Waddell said. “We’ve laid it out. They didn’t yesterday ask for anything other than some time.”

Reached by the AP on Wednesday evening, Forslund said: “I’ve said it (before), the door’s always open until it’s completely closed. And as of right now, that’s where it stands.”