Friday, September 30, 2011

Do the Red Wings have an Eastern Conference move in the bag?

Nothing personal, Wings Fan.
I've got one of these for each team
in the Central Division not
named the Columbus Blue Jackets.
Slightly disturbing news out of Detroit, where Owner Of Everything Sports and Entertainment Related Except the Lions Mike Ilitch had this to say in an interview:
Q . OK, once and for all, are you gonna get the Wings out of the Western Conference or not? 
A . The commissioner (Gary Bettman) promised me I was next. We even had a meeting over lunch this past season, and he had all his people here, and he goes, 'Yeah, I promised Mike he'd be the next one to go in the Eastern Conference.' So I expect to be in next year. Jimmy D (Devellano) is on the phone every other week reminding them.
"I promised Mike"?  Gulp.

It's widely presumed that the movement of Atlanta - an Eastern Conference team - to central time zone Winnipeg meant that an "eastern" team in the Western Conference would shift East.  That would be Columbus or Detroit, although Nashville makes silly claims that it should go East while sitting in the central time zone.  And the Blue Jackets are open and honest in their desire to shift to the East for reasons of travel, television and further growing the fan base.

If Ilitch is correct - and he and his Wings are huge power brokers in the National Hockey League - that means that the single-team realignment shift possibility (the simplest and least overwhelming possible realignment plan) would go to Detroit.  Columbus would be out in the cold.

Of course, this is all Grade-A sausage making at this point, but every sign - especially a public one from a guy like Ilitch - has to be taken seriously.  It does place a couple of scenarios in perspective:
  1. The rumblings out of CBJ-land about an unbalanced conference lineup (16 East teams, 14 West - good for both Detroit and Columbus) or a wider realignment overhaul resulting in 4 divisions.  Shuffle the deck that hard, and Columbus has increased its number of opportunities to shout "Yahtzee!"
  2. The odd current obsession among the NHL intelligentsia with the Los Angeles Kings.  Should the Wings go East, the West needs a new power team.  The Canucks are in Canada (which is great for, well, Canadian TV ratings), the Sharks have shown themselves to be the Marv Levy-Jim Kelly Buffalo Bills of hockey, Chicago's going to be touch-n-go with its ongoing salary cap considerations and no one else is in position to make anything resembling a move toward the protracted dominance necessary to become a recognizable NHL power.  So why not make L.A. the team du jour?  They're in a big TV market, they got Mike Richards in the offseason and now brought Drew Doughty back into the fold.  If you can't have the Wings out West, why not those guys?  A bored journalist and desperate league P.R. guy can dream, right?
I suppose I should be surprised by the news out of Detroit.  I'm not.  The Wings are NHL bedrock.  They took one for the team and stayed in the West in the last realignment while Toronto went East.  They've been accumulating IOU's for years - probably longer than the Blue Jackets have been around.  Now it's time to collect.

Let's hope that Priest, Howson & Co. are as deft with the Board of Governors as they have been in acquiring and developing talent for the 2011-2012 season.  Because when you're David to Ilitch's Goliath, you're going to need all the help you can get.

UPDATE: Here's an alternate take from TSN's Darren Dreger.  Clearly, the situation is still fluid.
The Red Wings will continue to quietly campaign for a move, perhaps, seeking support from influential Eastern Conference teams like Toronto, Philadelphia and the New York Rangers to help sway the vote at the December board meetings. 
Detroit, however, has offered a concession. 
The Wings are willing to stay in the West, providing they travel to Western Canada once instead of twice and far West into the United States once instead of twice per season.
Not sure that's even possible, but scheduling is a funny thing...


  1. This was promptly followed up on Twitter by Scott Burnside's comment that "Guarantee Mike Ilitch's idea of what he was 'promised' by the league is different than the league's idea. Will be shocked if Wings go east."

    Honestly, how could the other non-Canadian Western Conference NHL owners even dream of voting to let Detroit out? They are a huge sell every time they go into another town (according to ESPN's attendance stats, they're the number 1 road team attendance in the NHL - and one of only 3 Western teams in the top 10). That kind of boost alone should be enough to keep them in the West. The Wings can argue about "paying their dues," but the rest of the NHL shouldn't let them move. They are not overwhelmingly burdened by being in the West, and they provide much more balance (both competitively and monetarily) by being here. Much like Burnside, I would be stunned if they actually moved.

  2. No matter what Pizza Man thinks he was promised, realignment takes a vote. There are 15 teams in the east who don't need the competition, and at least a handful in the west who don't need the competition but will take the ticket sales.

    Detroit certainly wants to move for all of the same reasons as the CBJ. But, where the CBJ can make a legitimate argument about their move being good for the league, Detroit's move brings little benefit. Some increased attendance at the cost of a huge competitive disadvantage.

    The smart move is to do at least an unbalanced format that makes both teams happy. Better yet, look into the more radical plans. Try something new for a few years. See if any teams change cities and screw up the system again.


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