What’s that going to mean for the Red Wings?
Well, Detroit’s made no it no secret that it wants to move to the Eastern Conference for a number of reasons — mainly travel and the renewal of several classic, Original-Six rivalries.
But there’s been no indication that will happen. And a shift to the Eastern Conference is just one possible outcome for the Red Wings now with the rebirth of Winnipeg’s NHL team.
Here’s a look at what could be in Detroit’s future because of the Thrashers’ relocation:
Move to the Eastern Conference: The most obvious possibility, the Red Wings would probably make the best natural fit in the Northeast Division — bringing back the Toronto rivalry is a given and would be a huge boost for this plan.
How exactly this would break down is uncertain, though it’s possible, if Detroit joined the Northeast, that Boston would slide to the Atlantic and Pittsburgh to the Southeast.
The biggest downside of this plan is that the Eastern Conference would then hold five of the six original NHL teams (Chicago would stay in the West), and the West would be trading guaranteed-draw Detroit for tiny-market Winnipeg.
New-Look Central Division: If Detroit doesn’t get the Eastern Conference nod — and assuming Winnipeg eventually is moved to the Western Conference, as it should be — then the alternative options are likely a couple of the Wings’ Central Division rivals: Columbus and Nashville.
Nashville might make an easy transition into the Eastern Conference’s Southeast Division; Columbus could go there or to the Northeast under a similar scenario just laid out for Detroit above.
In either scenario the Red Wings would be looking at a new foe in the Central Division. Minnesota might make the most sense, especially geographically — especially if Winnipeg drops into the Northwest, as expected. But Dallas would be another option if a team like Colorado shifted to the Pacific Division.
Radical Realignment: Unless you’re talking about FOX’s glow-puck or Shea Weber’s beard, the terms “NHL” and “radical” don’t show up together often. So this one’s probably pretty far down the board.
Still, the issue with sliding teams around — and why Detroit wants to move to the Eastern Conference — is that there are some logistical nightmares in the league right now. So perhaps the solution is further breaking things up, like into eight four-team divisions. Or into four conferences, which would definitely dramatically change the look of the playoffs.
Neither of those proposals is likely to come to fruition, for a variety of reasons.
Nothing: This doesn’t seem very likely either, but it’s possible Winnipeg stays put or shifts somewhere in the West that doesn’t cause any turmoil in the Central Division.
Again, we’re talking about wild-card possibilities here … but say Minnesota’s the team tabbed to move into the Northeast Division, because the NHL wants to preserve what it has right now in the Central Division — the Wings’ dynasty, a budding Nashville franchise, Chicago’s market, and St. Louis and Columbus. It’s possible the league would simply ignore the requests of the teams there to move and slide the Wild to a less-convenient spot.
Considering right now Minnesota has to play in a division with three Western Canada teams and Colorado, it’s not a huge stretch.
It’s a bigger stretch that Winnipeg stays put in Atlanta’s Southeast Division spot — the travel requirements for the Jets/Whatever They’re Called would be nightmarish.
No matter the outcome, we likely won’t know anything until after next season. And by that time, it’s possible Phoenix or another franchise will be ready to ship out, meaning another set of scenarios.