In what may have seemed like a small sub story to the tremendous start to the Stanley Cup finals, the NHL announced the completion of a deal which will relocate the Atlanta Thrashers to Winnipeg, Manitoba. While this may seem like just another relocation similar to the Sonics in the NBA, it has the potential to change the face of hockey.
With the relocation from the southeastern United States to central Canada, division realignment talks are already underway for next year. Winnipeg is currently slated to take Atlanta’s place in the Southeastern division for now, but changes are imminent. Many Western Conference teams are jumping at the opportunity to jump to the east. Detroit has been the most notable teams lobbying for a change. A switch to the east would be highly beneficial for a team like Detroit for travel concerns. It would cut down on the number of trips that they would have to take to the west coast cutting down traveling distances greatly. Also, it would be beneficial for television ratings as road games out east would be primetime games in Detroit while games on the west coast do not start until 10 P.M. eastern time.
While this change would benefit the Red Wings, it would mark the end of an era for Blackhawks fans. The rivalry which these two teams share would be hampered as the number of meetings each year and the importance of each game would shrink. While many see Detroit as the most logical team to move, I disagree. In an easier move, the NHL could simply allow the Nashville Predators to take Atlanta’s spot in the Southeastern Division and send Winnipeg to the Western Conference. Next, they could simply put the Minnesota Wild in the Central Division (like every other sport) and put Winnipeg in the Northwest Division. This solution would keep classic rivalries intact and geographically make sense.
However, division realignment will have to wait at least a year as a second domino may be soon to fall. Talks have been on-going all year between owners of the Phoenix Coyotes and an ownership firm in Quebec. That’s right, another team could be moving to Canada before it is all said and done. While teams have had success in the south such as the Dallas Stars, teams like Phoenix and Atlanta have been hard pressed to fill their seats night in and night out. If this second change happens, the NHL could find itself in need of more drastic changes. Currently there are rumors that the NHL may abandon divisions all together and simply have conferences. With the first domino having fallen, hockey fans need stay tuned, more is to come.