NHL Returning to Winnipeg: What Does This Mean for the NHL's Realignment?

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NHL Returning to Winnipeg: What Does This Mean for the NHL's Realignment?
Glenn Cratty/Getty Images
The Boys are Back in Town!

While Manitobans revel in the official news of the Atlanta Thrashers moving to their Canadian providence, the NHL now has some logistics that they must face; realignment. As was discussed in a previous piece, here, the possibilities and options are endless as to what the league could do.

Yet, many agree that what they will do will probably not be what is best for the entire league, but only a select few owners who have the ear of NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman.

The league and team representatives will have to consider some pretty significant factors when deciding on realignment.  Thankfully, it appears that they are not going to institute a realignment plan for the 2011-12 NHL season. 

Kudos to them for being smart and taking the time to think things through and give those tasked with this realignment to cross all the t’s and dot all the i’s.  Let’s hope that they come up with a killer plan that evens the playing field and corrects some of the wrongs that the present system has.

First, the powers that be need to take a look at some of the geographical inequalities that make Vancouver’s appearance in this year’s Finals more remarkable than most other teams.  The Canucks are, without a doubt one of the most traveled teams in the NHL. 

Being on the far west coast in a Western Conference that spans three time zones and in a Northwest Division that is the sparsest division in the league; if they flew commercial, they would have some killer frequent flyer miles.

Vancouver's Henrik Sedin - On the road again

This geographical inequity along with the Eastern Conference’s Northeast and Atlantic Divisions being extremely dense geographically must be addressed by the league. Not only are teams all in the same time zone but each has the largest distance between two of its teams being 313 and 376 miles, respectively.  The Canucks on the other hand, have to travel two times zones and some 1428 miles to play the Minnesota Wild, a team in their division.

You can expect a lot of static from owners of many of these East Coast teams if the league attempts to correct this geographical faux pas and rumor has it, the longer your team has been in the league, the more weight you carry with the league’s front office. 

Some are looking at the NHL map and simply saying, well, since the Eastern Conference is losing Atlanta for Winnipeg, then the simplest thing to do to correct it would be to just move Detroit out of the Western Conference into the Eastern Conference. 

While that move would be expedient and cause the least upheaval across the league, there is much more that the league needs to do to make this pending NHL realignment effective and constructive and most importantly, a positive impact for all the teams in all divisions.

These decisions should be made devoid of emotions and many are giving an incredible amount of weight, some even giving all the weight of these decisions on the need to maintain existing rivalries across divisions and conferences. Rivalries cannot be the sole decision-making tool that the league uses to determine what realignment will look like.

Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
Lidstrom and Hossa - Hawks v. Detroit - The Definition of Rivalry

Rivalries, while a significant part of the joy of the game, do change over time and—in some cases—one game or series can ignite a rivalry that lasts decades.  By giving too much consideration to the “loss” of present-day rivalries, the league may miss out on the opportunity of developing new rivalries and might also be ignoring the fact that rivalries are born from competition, physicality and the deep-seeded desire to win—every game is potentially the start of a new rivalry. 

Historically, the league has tried to piecemeal realignment doing minor changes every few years.  It might just be time to make some dramatic and sweeping changes now that the move to Winnipeg has been made official and the loss of the Phoenix Coyotes looms on the horizon as well.  

While a huge amount of attention, and rightfully so, has been given to Winnipeg having their team back, the Phoenix situation cannot be overlooked.  Making accommodations for these moves now, may make the league stronger as it attempts to gain additional fans and TV audience from the NBA, NFL and MLB. 

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