Finally, the Detroit Red Wings are in the proper conference. Finally, Wings fans won’t have to sit through those long, western Canadian, mid-week 10:30 p.m. ET starts. Finally, the Red Wings can go through the first rounds of the playoffs without having traveled thousands of extra miles already.
The Wings have long waited for this change to the alignment in the NHL — and it’s amazing it did not happen sooner. I understand why the league wanted to keep the Wings in the West, but other than boosting attendance at other stadiums, it was close to being the dumbest thing in all of sports. The Wings rarely complained about the challenges publicly, and they continued to win anyway.
But I really believe that a lot of the injuries the Red Wings have suffered over the past two decades are at least somewhat related to the extensive travel schedule they had to endure each regular season, followed by the even more grueling playoffs. Back and forth from Anaheim three times in last year’s first round? Who doesn’t think that affected the Red Wings play as the Chicago series went on?
This season will be different. The Red Wings should look more refreshed and energized come the dog days of January and February (even if the Olympics break adds some mileage). The players seem to be downplaying the switch, but I think they are giddy on the inside. They had to travel to the Pacific Time Zone five times last season, and that was in the shortened schedule. This season, they will go west twice.
What the difference will be only time will tell, but a team with less nagging small injuries (groin/hamstring/pulled muscles) and with more get up once the stretch run comes is the ideal result.
The Red Wings will have to get acclimated rather quickly to this Eastern Conference. I don’t know how much of a difference the game actually is — some say it’s more physical and scrappy game in the East, but I don’t see it. The biggest issue going into the season was the fact that the Wings don’t know any of these teams nearly as well as they know all the Western Conference foes.
True, the flip side is that they don’t know the Wings as well either, but Detroit is just one new team (and Columbus a second). The Wings have to deal with all new rivals, which could be cause for concern. The coaching and scouting staff has their work cut out for them to get these guys ready for all these “new” opponents.
I am going to view it like this: When a MLB pitcher gets through the lineup once, the hitters have a better chance at getting that hit, and I see this as how the Wings will go. Give them one game against the teams and let them get a feel for how the Eastern Conference likes to play.
It’s going to take some getting used, but really it’s the fans that will be unfamiliar with these teams. Mike Babcock and his team have been hard at work since the realignment was announced, and I do not foresee the Wings losing any ground just because they are switching leagues. I can’t wait to see them play play Montreal, Toronto and Boston on a regular basis — and it will be interesting to see who emerges as the Wings’ biggest rival.