Say goodbye to long plane rides and adieus to the west coast. Bid farewell to the rivalries with the Chicago Blackhawks, San Jose Sharks, Anaheim Ducks and Colorado Avalanche. It looks like Detroit will soon be packing their bags and moving to the Eastern Conference.
Rumors have been circulating recently that the Detroit Red Wings will soon be part of the Southeastern Division, joining Washington, Tampa Bay, Carolina, and Florida. As we all know, this is due to the Thrashers moving to Winnipeg, where they’ve continued their long and proud tradition of sucking royally. If this new alignment is approved by the NHL Board of Governors (who I always picture as Time Lords with Canadian accents), the Wings will no longer have to endure an arduous travel schedule.
So, this would be a good thing for Detroit, right? Maybe not.
Let’s analyze the teams in the Eastern Conference. Aside from the reigning champ Boston Bruins, there are loads of Stanley Cup contenders. I would even state that, by comparison, it possesses more talent than the West. The Pittsburgh Penguins look unstoppable, the Tampa Bay Lightning are on an upswing, and even the Buffalo Sabres seem invincible.
The scoring depth is bottomless in the East. Yes, the West possesses current Hart Trophy winner Corey Perry and past Hart winners Henrik and Daniel Sedin (am I the only one who thinks they resemble the scary twins from The Great Outdoors?). But the East houses Evgeni Malkin, Martin St Louis and Claude Giroux. And let’s not forget the three faces of the NHL: Sidney Crosby, Alexander Ovechkin and Steven Stamkos. All of who (aside from Sid the Kid, who I’m convinced will return within the month) will be significant threats to Detroit’s defense.
Then there’s the talent in net. The Eastern Conference is littered with star goaltenders: Ryan Miller, Marc-Andre Fleury, Tim Thomas, Carey Price, and Henrik Lundqvist to name a few. And the West? Only two come to mind: Pekka Rinne and possibly Roberto Luongo (There can also be a strong case made for Jonas Hiller, but his reoccurring vertigo has branded him as a big question mark). Good goaltending always equals lower goal production for the Wings, and it might cost them games.
Another thing to consider is the increase in elite opposition in their new division. The Central division isn’t as a competitive as the Southeast. The Wings would trade the lowly Columbus Blue Jackets and St Louis Blues for the staunch Capitals and Lightning (which would mean more visits from Detroit’s beloved Steve Yzerman…This could get awkward). Sure, the Wings would also be losing the Blackhawks and Predators in favor for the Canes and Panthers. However, considering that both of these teams are in a rebuilding phase (especially for Florida) it’s only a matter of time before they pressure their division rivals.
What concerns me most is how this’ll affect the overall revenue for the NHL. Like it or not, Detroit has an established fan base in the West. Watch a game in Phoenix, Los Angeles or San Jose, and you’ll likely see a mass of red jerseys in the stands (and sometiimes calamari on the ice). Detroit’s absence could cause some arenas to drop in attendance and lose money. Already struggling organizations (like Phoenix and Dallas) might fold and hinder the league’s success.
All these potential consequences doesn’t mean that Detroit should stay in the West, however. It’s neither fair to the players who endure the arduous travel nor the fans at home who are forced to watch 10pm games. A more logical solution would be to relalign the entire league, rather than doing a half-ass swap of two teams. Doing so might preserve the established rivalries as well as disperse the Original Six thoughout the two conferences instead of hording them all in the East. A total realigment would preserve the league, revenue and fanbase.
As the Wings load the wagons, let’s hope that Gary Bettman and the Board of Govenors pick an ideal spot for the team to colonize. And maybe encourage others to load their wagons as well.