The Biggest Changes the Detroit Red Wings Face in Move to Eastern Conference
The Detroit Red Wings have gotten their wish: they've finally left the Western Conference and have been moved to the East.
The first thing you notice is that the Wings will basically say goodbye to the Chicago Blackhawks, their ancient rivals. However, by moving East, they will resume rivalries with the Montreal Canadiens, Toronto Maple Leafs, Boston Bruins and New York Rangers.
So, they lose one Original Six opponent and gain four.
There are several key challenges and changes that the Red Wings will have to cope with as a result of changing conferences.
Eastern Time Zone Hockey
The Detroit Red Wings had been lobbying the NHL for a move to the Eastern Conference for years.
The primary reason was to limit their West Coast trips and play more games in the Eastern Time Zone. They will finally get their wish this year.
While it seems logical that the team will be a bit fresher and sharper with the games at a better time for the players, coaches and fans, they have been used to frequent West Coast games and it may take some time to get used to playing at a time they said they always wanted.
Resumption of a Rivalry: Montreal Canadiens
While the Red Wings will welcome the return of rivalries with the Toronto Maple Leafs, Boston Bruins and the New York Rangers, it is the return of the Montreal Canadiens that will fill the hearts of old-school Wings fans.
During the 1950s, the Habs and the Wings were regularly the two best teams in the NHL. The Red Wings were led by Gordie Howe and Ted Lindsay, while the Canadiens came to the battle with Jean Beliveau and Maurice Richard.
The Canadiens seem to be improving after an excellent season in 2013, and they should be a top challenger for the Red Wings in the Atlantic Division in the years to come. Look for the kind of pitch battles the Wings used to have with the Chicago Blackhawks to resume against the Habs.
Detroit head coach Mike Babcock has heard from his former assistant Paul MacLean on the state of the Eastern Conference. MacLean, the Ottawa Senators head coach, told Babcock that he can expect a tougher and more physical brand of hockey than the Red Wings got used to playing in the Western Conference.
“He says it's more physically demanding from the get-go as far as fighting and physicality,'' Babcock told Ansar Khan of MLive.com. “But, he told me he just did what he always did, so that's what we're going to do."
The Red Wings can expect to engage in more fights than they did in the Western Conference. Four of the five most frequent fighting teams resided in the Eastern Conference this year, according to hockeyfights.com.
It's difficult to categorize either conference as playing any one particular style. However, Red Wings goalie Jimmy Howard thinks that there's a difference between the two conferences that he and his teammates will notice right away.
Howard said that Western Conference teams play a more structured brand of hockey, while Eastern Conference teams tend to be a bit more free-wheeling.
“The East is a lot of run-and-gun," Howard told MLive.com. "You watch playoff games and it's up and down the ice."
Babcock will be leading Canada again in the 2014 Sochi Olympics.
He will be put to the test when he matches wits with the best coaches in the Eastern Conference. He is certainly up to the task, but he is going to have to get to know his competitors. It's going to be a challenge for Babcock to get to know his competitors and learn their tendencies.
He will do that, but it will take him some time.
It's not just about Mike Babcock making an adjustment to his rivals behind opposing benches. The Red Wings' players and scouts will have to adjust to their new competition as well.
For example, Henrik Zetterberg may know the tendencies of Jonathan Toews of the Chicago Blackhawks, but what does he really know about Tomas Plekanec of the Montreal Canadiens or Patrice Bergeron of the Boston Bruins?
How will the Red Wings defense adjust to the explosive play of Steven Stamkos or the creativity of John Tavares?
It's going to take the Wings some time to adjust to their new competition.
The Detroit Red Wings have been the best team in the NHL over the last 20 years. That means they have gotten the attention of the hockey world.
That includes the teams in the Eastern Conference. They will want to show their new rivals that they are worthy challengers. It will mean something if they can beat the Wings. A team can build confidence by beating the NHL's most consistent team.
That means the Red Wings will get their opponents' best effort on an every-game basis. The Wings must be prepared to be marked men in their new surroundings.