“But you promised!” Mike Ilitch says Gary Bettman promised him Detroit would move East

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The NHL is going to be jumping into realignment next season in one form or another. Three teams want to move to the Eastern Conference from the West because the travel is a righteous pain in the rear-end and, let’s face it, having teams like Detroit, Columbus, and Nashville in the Western Conference makes as much geographic sense as having Winnipeg in the Southeast Division.

Detroit owner Mike Ilitch apparently has the inside line on what’s happening with the Red Wings in the realignment puzzle because he knows people, mainly NHL commissioner Gary Bettman. He believes the Red Wings are moving to the Eastern Conference no matter what next season. How is he so sure? Ilitch told Bob Wojnowski of The Detroit News in a Q&A session why he knows what’s up.

Q . OK, once and for all, are you gonna get the Wings out of the Western Conference or not?

A . The commissioner (Gary Bettman) promised me I was next. We even had a meeting over lunch this past season, and he had all his people here, and he goes, ‘Yeah, I promised Mike he’d be the next one to go in the Eastern Conference.’ So I expect to be in next year. Jimmy D (Devellano) is on the phone every other week reminding them.

To call this a game changer would be a massive understatement. With Detroit in the Eastern Conference, old rivalries with original six teams like Boston, Montreal, New York, and Toronto are back on in a big way. Throw in a regional foe like Buffalo and put the Wings in battles more often with the likes of Philadelphia, Washington, and Pittsburgh and the Eastern Conference becomes a nightly must-see war zone.

Moving Detroit out of the West does have one downside though as the Red Wings rivalry with Chicago that was reignited the last few seasons now gets kicked in the teeth. There is one saving grace to that situation, however, and it’s one that makes an conference changing easier to stomach: The rumored return of the balanced schedule. Fox Sports Tennessee’s John Manasso dug in about that topic with Predators GM David Poile.

However, there is a way of possibly making all three happy and it seems to be gaining currency. Predators general manager David Poile said as much on Thursday.

“We’re happy with where we are,” he said. “We’re open-minded to working with everybody in the league to do what’s best for the league. We’re always conscious, being a Western team, that there could be, in our minds, a more balanced schedule. Regardless of whether we stay or move, there could be a more balanced schedule. That’s an aspect I’m pretty sure you’d hear that from other 14 teams in our conference.”

Spreading out the travel burden to make those eastern-located teams that may get stuck in the Western Conference helps make it easier to stomach. It also can help to save that Chicago rivalry with Detroit by guaranteeing two games between the teams each year with one in each city.

If it’s true that Detroit comes to the East, however, how does that affect Columbus? The Blue Jackets also desperately want to move to the East and, let’s face it, they could use the assistance in trying to improve their shot at getting back to the postseason. Are they left out in the cold now or will the NHL have a realignment model in place that gets both teams into the East? It’s all part of the puzzle that waits to be figured out. A decision on how to realign will likely come by the end of December when the NHL Board of Governors meets to get the ball rolling for how things will go next season.