The eyes of Winnipeg are affixed firmly on the Atlanta Thrashers. After the City of Glendale dropped an additional $25 million to keep the Coyotes for another season, the Winnipeg spotlight turned east.
The Coyotes are safe for another season and the Thrashers are drowning in debt. So much so that their owner is looking high and low for prospective buyers. However, most sources have identified True North Sports and Entertainment as the group that will step in to purchase the Thrashers. Now it appears as if it is only a matter of time before hockey returns to Winnipeg.
This entire situation is tough to digest. On one hand I thought the poetic justice would have been perfect had Phoenix gone back north. Not to mention the fact that the Coyotes are struggling so much in the desert. I also have a similar opinion on the Thrashers. They have no fan support and are just draining money from the league, it is time for a change. However, you hate to see any of the 30 teams struggling, no matter how silly their location is.
So, as Winnipeg prepares to embrace the return of the NHL I feel at ease with the situation. It is a city that should never have lost their team to begin with and well suited to support an NHL franchise (at least from a fan perspective). The lack of corporate sponsors is an issue, but I hope it is something that can be overcome. If hockey is to return to Manitoba, I am ready to applaud the move. The next question is, who fills the vacant spot in the east?
My answer is simple, move the Columbus Blue Jackets to the Eastern Conference. They already play in the eastern time zone and they are a short drive from Buffalo and Pittsburgh. The complicated part is realigning the divisions. Columbus leaves a hole in the Central and adds another team in the Great Lakes/Mid-Eastern region. Here is how I see it shaping up:
Atlantic Division – NY Rangers, NY Islanders, NJ Devils, Pittsburgh Penguins, Boston Bruins. Southeast Division – Washington Capitals, Tampa Bay Lightning, Carolina Hurricanes, Florida Panthers, Philadelphia Flyers. Northeast Division – Buffalo Sabres, Toronto Maple Leads, Montreal Canadiens, Ottawa Senators, Columbus Blue Jackets.
Central Division – Detroit Red Wings, Nashville Predators, Chicago Blackhawks, St. Louis Blues, Dallas Stars. Northwest Division – Vancouver Canucks, Calgary Flames, Edmonton Oilers, Minnesota Wild, Manitoba Moose. Pacific Division – Los Angeles Kings, San Jose Sharks, Phoenix Coyotes, Anaheim Ducks, Colorado Avalanche.
I wanted to keep my realignment plan simple. If I were to truly sit down and make a fantasy league set-up, it would involve multiple teams moving throughout the league. With this example I thought of the most feasible solution available. That did not include plugging Columbus in the Southeast and Manitoba in the Central.
Putting Manitoba in the Northwest is an easy choice. Geographically and for rivalries. They can play in a division with the other three Canadian teams. Then it is a game of musical chairs to bump the Avalanche to the Pacific and the Stars to the Central. My reasoning is because of the time difference for most teams. Aside from moving Vancouver away from the other Canadian teams, Colorado made the most sense for me. It works with the time zones and keeps the most rivalries intact.
Rivalries will be a major issue in the East if it is realigned. You are likely to lose one of the following : Pittsburgh vs. Philadelphia, Boston vs. Montreal, Toronto vs Montreal and Ottawa or the New York area triangle. By adding Columbus there is a surplus of teams within three hours of the Great Lakes. However, there aren’t enough teams to play in the Southeast (HINT HINT).
I think it would be silly to put Columbus in the Southeast for two reasons. 1. The division is already fairly weak, it would add to the stereotype that it is just Washington and four other teams (although the Lightning are doing a hell of a job this postseason). 2. It is going to look dumb (like in the NFL) to have a team in Ohio playing in a conference for teams in Florida. Example. Indianapolis playing in the AFC South.
So, I moved Philly to the Southeast because of proximity. They are close enough to D.C. and are on the southern end of the Atlantic Division (New Jersey fits here as well). This way I kept the Canadian teams together along with the New York trio, all while moving Boston closer to the teams they play in-division. Maybe New Jersey would be a better choice because they have become an afterthought. Maybe Columbus makes sense because it is the easiest solution.
When it comes down to the final decision I just hope the NHL makes the right one and keeps the potential realignment fairly simple.