Puck Daddy offers a concise overview of the two options on the table and suggests a possible outcome. One is the "swap" of Winnipeg and either Detroit, Columbus or Nashville. The other looks something more resembling this:
My sense of the scenario (drawn from reading media reports and listening to public utterances by media and NHL leadership, no inside information) going into next week's meeting is as follows:
- The Eastern Conference teams appear satisfied with the way things are. They don't travel as much (cheaper to operate a team with less travel), they get more marquee matchups (better ticket sales)...all is well. Well, except for Winnipeg, for whom it is presumed a move to the West is a given.
- The Western Conference teams are dissatisfied, each in their own way.
- Detroit, Columbus and Nashville all want to go East - or at least play the majority of their games in the Eastern Time Zone.
- Dallas wants out of the Pacific and into a more Central/Midwest division.
- Minnesota wants something more resembling the NFL's NFC North.
- The West Coast teams are getting more insular in their outlooks.
Commissioner Bettman's four-conference format tries to address the needs of the West while not offending the East THAT much. (And yes, I acknowledge that it will deeply offend some teams, like Pittsburgh.) It's an intriguing format, one that makes sense as a problem solving device. But what happens when half of the league doesn't see a huge problem, and you need a two-thirds vote of the Governors to make a change? Will five Eastern teams join a dissatisfied and unified West? Can the West unify itself to only need five Eastern Governors' votes?
In the end, here are the scenarios I see:
- BIG-TIME REALIGNMENT HAPPENS ONCE IN A BLUE MOON: I just can't see the league overhauling its conferences twice in a short period of time. As such, Phoenix holds the cards for the more radical of the two realignment plans. If the Governors "go radical," that's a signal that either the Coyotes are staying where they are for the foreseeable future or the NHL has a relocation destination up their sleeve and a sequence of subsequent realignment tweaks already in the bag. (Ex: If Phoenix is planning to move to Eastern Canada - Quebec or a Toronto suburb - then the league would have teams lined up to move into Western conferences.) And don't be surprised to see Eastern Governors hide behind the turmoil in Phoenix as a rationale for not changing the conferences.
- KICKING THE CAN IS EASY: Barring a Phoenix relocation plan and a radical realignment, the swap of Winnipeg for Detroit seems like the most probable outcome next week. As I've said, Detroit has years of IOU's to call in. Then the Governors can put off big-time realignment until the dust settles on the Phoenix saga.
- A LOVELY PARTING GIFT SEEMS UNLIKELY: The scheduling revisions in number 3 above smell like a last ditch bone to throw the disgruntled West. And seeing as scheduling revisions sans radical realignment means that a discussion of the latter took place and those advocates lost the argument, I'm dubious that Eastern teams who would have already put their self-interest above the league would then say, "We feel sorry for the losers, so we'll take on a whole bunch of new travel costs to keep them happy."
So I see Phoenix as the fulcrum for any meaningful discussion of total realignment. Fix Phoenix, then talk about realigning the league with no guarantee of any change. Otherwise, the can likely will be kicked, and we'll wait another few years.
By the way, don't forget that the Edmonton-CBJ game starts at 9:30 EST tonight. Ugh.