The easy part of the relocation is done (well, not easy for Atlanta, but you get the point). Now it's time to figure out what happens next, specifically the relocation issue.
As of now, all indications point to the Winnipeg Jets (that's what we'll use until we know the nickname for sure) staying in the Southeast Division for one season. It's too late in the process of getting next season's schedule laid out to realign the divisions. The Jets will be doing some serious flying.
But that's all short-term. Of course the Jets aren't going to stay in the Southeast permanently. It seems natural to put Winnipeg in the same division as the other Western Canadian teams -- Calgary, Edmonton and Vancouver. To do that, there will be some collateral damage.
It starts with booting a team from the Northwest, the most likely candidate being Colorado. The Avalanche get booted to the Pacific Division, sending the Stars into the Central. Alternatively, Minnesota could head to the Central, but it doesn't seem to be quite the geographic fit that would result from Colorado moving. Either way, a new team is entering the Central Division and that brings up the biggest question of all: Who moves East?
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It's no secret Detroit wants to be in the Eastern Conference. The organization and its fans -- who have a Facebook page dedicated to changing conferences -- have been very vocal about their desire to switch conferences, citing less travel, less road games in the later time zones (Detroit is one of two teams in the West sitting in the Eastern time zone), and renewing rivalries with Original Six foes Toronto, Montreal, Boston and the Rangers.
“Fingers crossed, toes crossed, saying prayers,” Red Wings senior vice president Jimmy Devellano said about a possible move.
"I've gone on record saying we'd prefer to be in the East, but I haven't heard anything and I'm just worrying about putting together our team for next season," GM Ken Holland said on Monday.
The Red Wings have long held the belief they had a promise from the NHL that they would be the next team to go East. Oh, if it were only that simple.
Yes, it makes sense to move the Wings to the East. But it also makes sense to move Columbus. Same goes for Nashville.
The problem for Detroit is it might be too valuable to move. Nobody in the Western Conference would want to see the Wings fly away -- well, maybe from a competitive standpoint -- because of the draw they are at the gate. They have as big of a fan base as you'll find in the States. Bottom line: it's guaranteed to be a big crowd on the road. The foes in the West don't exactly want to see that disappear.
Plus we have a little imbalance issue by swapping Atlanta for Detroit. You are sending a team that has made the playoffs once in its history to the West for a team that has made the postseason 20 consecutive seasons. You could make the argument that the conferences need a little balancing anyways, that the West has been the better half top to bottom for a few years, but that's a significant upheaval.
But let's have some fun here. Let's imagine a Detroit move to the East happens. You likely aren't going to send them to the Southeast, so some shuffling will be needed. Most likely scenario would be putting the Wings in the Northeast with Toronto, Montreal, Ottawa and Buffalo, dropping Boston into the Atlanta spot and moving either Pittsburgh or Philadelphia to the Southeast. Surely you see the downsides in that. Bruins-Habs in separate divisions? Breaking up the Keystone State rivals? Really, there's no way that makes much sense to put the Wings in the East while keeping important battles going without just dropping them in the Southeast -- which, again, makes little sense.
So it might still happen, but I'm thinking sorry Detroit, you're stuck where you are.
Geographically speaking, the simplest solution seems to be putting the Predators in the Southeast to fill Atlanta's spot. Everybody else in the East stays the same. But, despite its location being so far East, Nashville doesn't sit in the Eastern Time zone. Columbus does. And the Blue Jackets would prove a pretty comparable swap franchise-wise with the Thrashers.
In the end, while Detroit can hope and pray, Columbus and Nashville will be the odds-on favorite to swap conferences, with my thinking it will lean toward Columbus. But Detroit has a whole season to politick.
-- Brian Stubits