Sooner or later, the NHL is going to stop punishing the Atlanta Thrashers for moving to Winnipeg and becoming the Jets, so realignment is going to happen. Hopefully sooner rather then later.
Realignment is needed because when the Thrashers moved to Winnipeg, it put them geographically in the Western Conference. However, they spent last season and this season still playing in the Eastern Conference Southeast Division, which is about as far away as possible for them geographically.
In 2011, the owners approved a plan that was simple. It allowed for Winnipeg to move to the Western Conference, giving them 16 teams while leaving the Eastern Conference with 14 teams. However, the player's union shot that down, while Detroit and Columbus were upset because they are both located in the Eastern Time zone.
Now, according to CBC's Elliott Friedman (h/t kuklaskorner.com), the NHL has come up with a new plan which they will reveal this week. The new plan will see Winnipeg go west while Detroit and Columbus will move east. This would leave the Blackhawks as the only member of the Original Six in the West.
The new alignment would also allow for each NHL team to play a home and away series with every team in the league, while still playing a majority of their schedule in the division.
Gone would be the six games against Detroit each year, but it would mean two games each against the Bruins, Rangers, Canadians and Maple Leafs. Could you imagine a Red Wings vs. Blackhawks matchup for the Stanley Cup?
It used to happen in the old days, so why not now?
While the Hawks would be saying goodbye to Detroit and Columbus, they would be saying hello to Winnipeg, Colorado, Minnesota, and Dallas in their new conference/division. They would also be retaining St. Louis and Nashville as division rivals.
It might be tough for the fans to let go of the Detroit rivalry, but I don't think anyone except Viktor Stalberg will be sad to see Columbus go. Also new rivalries will form. Remember, the Hawks had a pretty good rivalry with Minnesota when they were the Stars; there is no reason that can't happen now with the Wild.
The most important thing to learn about this realignment is how it will affect the playoffs. With only 14 teams in the West, will they really have eight teams (four from each conference/division) make the playoffs? Could two teams from the East make it to the finals? In turn, could two teams from the West make the finals? And finally, what does this mean for expansion?
In the 2011 plan, it was assumed that having 14 teams in the East allowed for expansion into Canada. However, with the ownership in Phoenix up in the air, it would seem like expansion is now only an option in the West. Hey, maybe an NHL team can join the returning Sonics in Seattle in a few years.
Overall, the realignment means little to the Blackhawks as a franchise, but it could mean a lot to the league. I know my biggest complaint over the years, besides lockouts, has been not being able to see teams like the Penguins and other Eastern Conference powers at the United Center each and every season. If I have to say goodbye to four games against the Wings to make it happen, I say God bless.
What do you think of the purposed realignment? Sound off below with your thoughts.