NHL News: With Atlanta Thrashers Moving, How Could Re-AIignment Affect NHL?

Ryan DavenportContributor IMay 31, 2011

NEWARK, NJ - MARCH 15:  Dustin Byfuglien #33 of the Atlanta Thrashers skates against the New Jersey Devils at the Prudential Center on March 15, 2011 in Newark, New Jersey. The Devils defeated the Thrashers 4-2.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

On Tuesday, the NHL announced that the Atlanta Thrashers franchise has been sold to True North Sports and Entertainment, and the team's new owners confirmed their plans to relocate the franchise to Winnipeg, Manitoba.  

Assuming the move is approved by the league's owners in late June, the team would be slated to begin playing home games in Winnipeg immediately, starting with the 2011-12 season.  

The question is, what division would they play in? 

At least for now, it appears that the Winnipeg squad will take the Thrashers slot in the perennially lopsided Southeast Division, though that's obviously a temporary solution. Winnipeg is approximately 1,500 miles away from their closest division opponent, Washington, so the league must restructure or re-align the divisions in some fashion.  

The quickest fix appears to be placing Winnipeg back into it's previous division (before relocating to Phoenix in 1996), which was the Central Division. Among the teams in the Central Division, Detroit, Chicago and St. Louis are the three teams that seem untouchable in terms of re-alignment.  

Which leaves Columbus and Nashville. If the NHL were going forward with this re-alignment in order to restore more parity to the league, they'd bump Nashville to the Southeast, so teams like the Capitals and Lightning would have to play more meaningful games, because more often than not, by the time February rolls around, Florida, Carolina and Atlanta are out of the playoff hunt.  

Nashville also makes sense because geographically, they're the team that's most Southeastern. Tennessee is not nearly as Midwestern as cities like St. Louis or Columbus, and would be the logical choice to shift over to make room for Winnipeg.  

For fans of Eastern Conference teams, this re-alignment is more bad news than good, because if Nashville shifts to the East, that's one more team that's capable of upsetting a giant in the first round of the playoffs.  

In the Western Conference, fans will be pleased to welcome Winnipeg back into the league because at least on paper, they don't pose the same threat that Pekka Rinne and the Predators do. 

In any case, Winnipeg and their new Southeast Division opponents will be doing a great deal of unnecessary traveling for the first year, unless a re-alignment is proposed and agreed upon at the NHL owners meetings in June.