With the NHL Players Association’s veto of the proposed realignment plan last Friday, the Board of Governors will now go back to the drawing board in the coming weeks and months to conceive a new schedule that will meet the demans of teams and players alike for the 2013-14 season. However, their options for a new realignment plan remain limited and they may be forced to go with the easiest solution – move one team East.
The original problem came about because the Atlanta Thrashers, an Eastern Conference team, moved to Winnipeg where they should be a Western Conference team. Thus, an easy solution for this problem would be to move one team East to replace Winnipeg. That’s likely the route that the Board of Governors will attempt to take with a new realignment plan. But which team should move East?
The Detroit Red Wings, Columbus Blue Jackets, Nashville Predators and Dallas Stars all expressed interest in switching conferences. Of all of these candidates, Dallas is the western-most team, which makes it unlikely that they will move to the Eastern Conference ahead of teams that are physically located further east than Dallas.
Winnipeg would likely join the Central Division, meaning that Detroit, Nashville or Columbus would have to move to accommodate the Jets. Supposedly Detroit was promised a spot in the East if the opportunity came about. But with such a big fan base spread country-wide, several franchises in the West would be reluctant to lose Detroit and the fans they draw when they come to play. Much to the dismay of Detroit fans who have to endure late-night playoff games against Western Conference foe, Detroit probably will not move East any time soon.
This leaves Nashville and Columbus. If Columbus moves, it would make sense to put them in the Northeast Division or the Atlantic Division where they would be physically closer to their division opponents. But this move would create a chain reaction that displaces teams and causes each division in the East to realign until someone can fill the spot vacated by the Thrashers in the Southeast Division – most likely Philadelphia or Pittsburgh, two teams the NHL won’t want to split up thanks to their long standing, in-state rivalry.
The most likely option then would be to move the Nashville Predators directly into the Southeast Division. The Predators are currently the closest team to the other teams in the Southeast Division, and their travel to Florida to face the Lightning or Panthers wouldn’t be any worse than what Washington currently endures. The move would keep the two-conference, six-division format that the players are used to and would keep the same playoff format. Plus, this would be an easy implementation for the league by basically plugging Nashville into Winnipeg’s old spot. There’s no reason why this couldn’t be approved and implemented next season with the schedule makers basically swapping Nashville for Winnipeg on the schedule.
With a complete, league-wide realignment plan vetoed by the NHLPA, the Board of Governors will probably look to make a simple switch that brings one team East and moves Winnipeg West where they ought to be. In terms of travel and location, moving Nashville into the Southeast Division of the Eastern Conference makes the most sense.