With the subtraction of the Atlanta Thrashers and the re-born Winnipeg Jets coming to the 2011-12 season, the NHL has a problem on its hands. Following this year, the Jets will move out of the Southeast Division and join the Western Conference, creating a conference unbalance with the West having 16 teams and its East cousin sporting just 14.
Three teams have been rumored to make the leap from the West to the East: the Detroit Red Wings, Nashville Predators and Columbus Blue Jackets. Geographically, Nashville could make the most sense and be the easiest transition, jumping right into the Southeast division where the Thrashers and now Jets once called home.
If the league adjusts by timezone, which is appears it is, Columbus and Detroit are the more viable options, since both cities are in Eastern time zones, whereas Nashville is on Central time.
The problem is who jumps? Columbus is pulling hard because they believe they’d be more competitive in the Eastern Conference. Detroit doesn’t enjoy traveling out West for 40 games a year, but the NHL doesn’t want to lose the Red Wings and Blackhawks rivalry.
According to various reports, though, the NHL may be looking to complete re-align the league, doing away with the current divisions in favor of four new divisions based around timezones. Two divisions (Pacific and Eastern timezones) will have eight teams, while the other two divisions will house seven teams.
Rumors are also surfacing the current playoff format may change as well, with the first round being exclusive to division matchups.
I still believe the easiest way is to bring the Blue Jackets to the East. The problem, though, is finding them a division to call home. There’s no room in the Atlantic, unless either the Penguins or Flyers migrate south to take the spot left vacant by the Jets. Separating the Pennsylvania rivalry is tough, but I can already see the NHL and the networks salivating over Sid the Kid against Alex the Great six times a year.
The Jackets can then move to the Northeast, and the Bruins down to the Atlantic division.
Detroit- though tired from traveling- have faired decently the last decade-and-a-half in the West, winning a handful of championships and even more division and conference titles.
As stated earlier, the Predators would also be a smooth transition based on the ease of getting them a division. The team’s timezone could pose a problem, though.