Relocation Roulette: If the Thrashers Move, What Should the Divisions Look Like?

Jim Neveau, NHL Correspondent

With the Phoenix Coyotes and New York Islanders seemingly staying put (at least for the time being), all of the relocation talk in the NHL has now shifted full-bore onto the Atlanta Thrashers. Reports are popping up all over the place that the team is looking for owners to stay in Atlanta, and different reports are also coming in that they are on the verge of moving to Winnipeg. These conflicting stories have to be maddening for the team’s fans in Georgia, but they are an unfortunate consequence of the City of Glendale’s vote to subsidize the losses of the Coyotes.

The relocation talk surrounding the franchise has centered on True North Sports & Entertainment’s bid to bring a team back to Winnipeg. They are on a tight schedule to do so at this point for the 2011-12 season, as they would have to move the AHL’s Manitoba Moose from the MTS Centre in order to pave the way for NHL hockey. The NHL schedule for next season is currently being finalized, and if the Thrashers are going to move into the Western Conference, the divisional realignment would necessitate some tweaking to the schedule, and that decision would have to be made in a very short period of time.

If the Thrashers are to move to Winnipeg, the question of divisional realignment comes to the forefront. Obviously the Thrashers (or whatever they would be called if they move north) would move to the Western Conference, but which division would they find themselves in? Better yet, which other teams would have to switch divisions and conferences in order to keep the current configuration in place?

Here is the most likely scenario of what a divisional alignment with the Thrashers in the West would look like:

New Northwest Division:

Calgary Flames

Colorado Avalanche

Edmonton Oilers

Vancouver Canucks

Winnipeg Thrashers

The Thrashers would more than likely head to the Northwest Division, due to the easy geographical rivalries with teams like Calgary (who ironically also moved north from Atlanta) and Edmonton. This would mean that one of the current denizens of that division would have to switch out of it, and the two most likely contenders to be switched out of the Northwest would be Colorado and Minnesota. If the NHL wanted to move a team like Dallas to the Central, they would switch Colorado to the Pacific, but a more likely scenario would have Minnesota moving to the Central Division:

New Central Division:

Chicago Blackhawks

Detroit Red Wings

Minnesota Wild

Nashville Predators

St. Louis Blues

The Red Wings undoubtedly wouldn’t mind a move to the Eastern Conference, since they are one of two teams in the West (Columbus is the other) that plays its games in the Eastern time zone. The reality of the matter is that the NHL is probably not going to want to take away the rivalry between the Red Wings and Blackhawks, and they also won’t want only one Original Six team remaining in the West. It would weaken the conference substantially, so the more likely scenario would be to shift Columbus into the East instead.

New Southeast Division:

Carolina Hurricanes

Columbus Blue Jackets

Florida Panthers

Tampa Bay Lightning

Washington Capitals

It isn’t the most ideal scenario to have a team in Ohio being part of a division comprised mostly of Southeast teams, but the NHL would never dream of shifting the Flyers or Penguins into a different division from the other. The Keystone rivalry is just too strong, and even though having the Penguins and Capitals in the same division would be a huge boost to the rivalry between those two teams, the NHL wouldn’t divide Pennsylvania in that fashion.

Even though the city of Atlanta doesn’t have nearly the stake invested in the Thrashers as Glendale does with the Coyotes, there are still strong rumors that the league will try to keep the team in the south. Their aggressive moves to keep the Coyotes in Arizona have set the tone by which they will be judged for the foreseeable future when it comes to moving teams, but if it doesn’t appear that a group can get the money together to keep Atlanta in the fold, the league might cut ties and allow a move to happen.

Stay tuned to The Hockey Writers for all of the latest relocation news.

15 thoughts on “Relocation Roulette: If the Thrashers Move, What Should the Divisions Look Like?”

  1. Here’s what I see happening

    NW: Van, Cal, Edm, Win, Min
    Obviously makes sense geographically. Becomes a US ratings black hole but every team will sell out every game.
    Pac: SJ, LA, Ana, Pho, Col
    Again, this makes sense geographically.
    Cen: Chi, Dal, StL, Col, Nas
    There is believed to be a long-standing promise to the Dallas franchise to move them into the Central Division. Ratings-wise, Dallas certainly isn’t the Red Wings.

    NE: Tor, Mtl, Ott, Buf, Det
    Four reasons Detroit makes the most sense to move to the east: As with Dallas it’s believed there’s a long standing promise to Mike Ilitch to move Detroit to the East. Detroit gains a ticket boost by playing Canadian teams 12 times at home. A huge ratings boost for having the large majority of their games broadcast at 7 or 7:30 ET. A huge ratings and ticket boost for playing 4 games a year against Bos, Phi, Pit, NYR and Was. This is probably the #1 reason.
    ATL: Bos, NYR, NYI, NJ, Phi
    Increased ratings for having Boston play NYR and Phi an extra 2 times a year rather than Canadian teams. Geographically this is by far the closest division.
    SE: Pit, Was, Car, Flo, Tam
    The southeast gets a bit of re-invigoration by having the Penguins rather than the Thrashers. Plus, you KNOW the NHL would love to see Crosby, Ovechkin and Stamkos in the same division. You can expect these guys to finish 1,2 and 3 in goal scoring for the next little while.

    • In other words, rejig the league into a US TV-market with most of the Canadian teams in a black hole.

    • I think you’re onto something…

      The only catch/hangup is moving Detroit away from Chicago and St. Louis. I’m not too sure that more regular visits from Eastern teams would make up the difference.

      • Detroit fans don’t care about St. Louis at all. Even when they were sorta good in the 90s.

        It would be a negative to lose the Chicago games. But worth it to gain Toronto, Montreal, Boston, and New York games.

        Most of the Detroit fanbase couldn’t care less about leaving St. Louis, Colorado, LA, San Jose, Anaheim, Dallas, and Chicago. Even though fans in those cities list Detroit as a major rival, from a Wings fan perspective only Chicago is thought of as a true rival.

        We want 7-7:30 start times, especially in the playoffs and we want to be in the conference with our O6 rivals and the other EST teams.

        Move the Detroit Red Wings to the east where they belong.

    • Yours is pretty much the only realignment that makes any sense. Would seem most everyone else either has a horse in the race or is ignorant. Even if he doesn’t agree, why Mr. Neveau doesn’t even mention a possible Nashville move instead of Columbus destroys most of his credibility as an “NHL Correspondent.”

  2. I’ve been assuming all along that moving Nashville to the Southeast is what would happen. The concept of Columbus, a decidedly Central market, moving SE instead of a Nashville team that’s already in the Southeast part of the US simply never crossed my mind. I guess you could argue time zones, but I can’t help but think travel is a bigger factor than time zones in conference alignment.

    Perhaps it’s my bias as a fan of a SE division team not wanting a Mickey-Mouse outfit like the Blue Jackets bringing even less respectability to a division that struggles to earn respect (despite winning 2 of the last 6 cups…), but Nashville seems like a better fit culturally and geographically.

  3. Dallas should move to the Central or the NHL should eliminate divisions. The Wild are geographically closer to the teams in the Northwest than Dallas is to the teams in the Pacific. Dallas has had a raw deal for years now… it’s time to fix the problem.

  4. You do realize that Pittsburgh was in the Northeast Division from 1994-1998 while Philadelphia has always been in the Atlantic Division?

    Furthermore, Pittsburgh was in the Norris Division for seven years before joining Philadelphia in the Patrick Division.

    There certainly is a precedent for splitting those two teams up.

    • I should also point out that should Atlanta move to either Winnipeg or Quebec, I can easily see the NHL moving Pittsburgh into the Southeast Division to take their place simply because the league and its TV partners would relish a chance to overhype a Crosby-Ovechkin matchup six times a season as opposed to four.

  5. If it was Winnipeg/Manitoba, obvious choice would be for the new team to join the NW division, and then the likeliest choice – with minimal movement otherwise – would be MN Wild to join Central (which would make way more sense than their being NW), and then the Nashville Predators moving to join the SE.

    That move would actually be quite beneficial to the SE division. Both the Caps and Bolts would face a gritty, hard-working, Central-division raised team that would make them further raise/improve their level of play. Dare I even say it would be beneficial to the EC as a whole?

    Detroit and CBJ might both want to move east, but can’t see either happening if ATL moves, because a move of CBJ or DET would be better suited geographically to the Atlantic division – and that would end up doing what, pushing Philadelphia to the SE? Won’t happen; and Columbus wouldn’t make sense to go to the SE, not with Nashville right there.

  6. Wouldn’t it make more sense, distance-wise, to move the Predators to the SE? On average, teams are 64 miles closer to NSH than they are CLS, and Nashville wouldn’t have to travel more than 887 miles (WSH) for a divisional game, where CLS would have two 1000+ mile trips (TBL and FLA, which are 1025 and 1130 miles away, respectively).

  7. You have no idea what you are talking about. The Red Wings will be the team to move to the Eastern Conference. Everybody knows that, except apparently you.

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