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The Atlanta Thrashers are moving to Winnipeg and will stay put in the Southeast Division for one year. That much we do know. Past that, it’s anybody’s guess. Gary Bettman and the NHL will ponder realignment over the next year, taking everything in from all parties, rather than making impulse changes for 2011-12.
We take a moment today to go through an array of realignment possibilities for 2012-13.
Out of the teams that could trade places with the Thrashers, conference-wise, three are most likely to move out of the Western Conference: Detroit, Nashville and Columbus. All three are reportedly more than willing to go to the East.
The Detroit organization, which has more pull among the Board of Governors than Nashville or Columbus, has let it be known that they want to be in the Eastern Conference. While that’s all fine and dandy, most, if not all, of the 14 other teams on the left side of the map would object to losing those home games.
Geographically, Nashville makes the most sense as Music City is just four hours north of Atlanta. They are the closest of the three to the other Southeast Division teams. It would not be much of a change from Atlanta. One issue is that such a move would make the Predators the only team in the conference not on Eastern Time zone.
Columbus, meanwhile, might be the best option to go to the East. They don’t have nearly as much history or rivalries in the West as the Red Wings or Predators. If Dallas can be in the Pacific, why not have Columbus in the Southeast?
No matter what, someone (Colorado or Minnesota) is going to be bumped out of the Northwest to make room for Winnipeg. Most people feel Colorado should go to the Pacific and have Dallas stay closer to home in the Central.
If this scenario came to fruition, assuming Columbus is the team going east, here’s what the realignment would look like…
Here’s a look at it if Minnesota goes to the Central…
So what if Detroit actually DOES move? Not only does it weaken the West, but it’ll also throw off the look of the East. It would be tough for the league to take teams away from rivalries. Here are two different options for this scenario…
One thing that would throw a wrench into realignment is if the Phoenix Coyotes, who still doesn’t have ownership issues solved, happen to move to, for example, Kansas City (who has an NHL-ready arena) for 2012-13.
Obviously, there is no guarantee the Coyotes are moving.
Just when you thought I couldn’t confuse you enough, there have been whispers of a possible three 10-team conferences setup. For a full explanation, you can head over to Section 303 to see their thoughts on this (which came before the mainstream media picked up on it). They have the realignment looking like something similar to this…
However, a move to this would cause the format of the Stanley Cup Playoffs to be, uh, confusing. I would bet the league stays with the two conference setup, but I would not rule out this possibility.
The NHL has a year to ponder realignment for the 2012-13 season. As you can see, there are a lot of factors and possibilities that will be put in play.
UPDATE: The Chicago Tribune had an interesting article on this matter today, looking at yet another scenario.
Photo credit: Winnipeg Free Press
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