What are the most likely scenarios for Southeast Division realignment?

25 Comments

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?