The NHL has spinal core issues that have demanded realignment. The extreme discomfort is caused by teams spending too many hours sitting on planes while crossing great distances and time zones. The most blameworthy culprit is the Winnipeg Jets, who are vexing NHL schedulers with their dislocation in Manitoba. Scheduling game times is suffering from Jets Lag.
These remote Jets are the former Atlanta Thrashers who may have moved north of the border but never decamped from the Southeast Division. This virtual denial of geographic remoteness poses serious travel issues for its divisional and conference teams. A franchise was saved, but with considerable discomfort to east coast teams who are forced to travel into the far reaches of lower Manitoba to play against their former Atlanta foe. So the obvious answer is to realign divisions to group teams into geographic and time zone proximity, thereby reducing the ill effects of travel. I suppose it makes sense to ease the travel pain for frequent intra-divisional play.
But, dear Doctor Bettman, you have cut out the heart to soothe the legs. It is overkill to rearrange an entire league for a team that is far removed from both other teams and a playoff spot. So Winnipeg is a haul. I get it. However, professional athletes make a more-than-decent buck and I won’t be made to feel bad for them. No. If my economic circumstances only permit me the pleasure of attending one game a year, I certainly don’t want to hear players whine about the trauma of a red-eye flight. Hell, put a team in Moscow for all I care (really, that’d be a red-eye that I’d happily pay to see). I just want the product to be decent. That’s all any of us fans care about. And for the most part the NHL is a solid product – one that can be tweaked somewhat without cause for alarm – but this realignment makes a mountain out of a transborder molehill.
The Blackhawks’ new division will gain the Jets but lose their arch-enemy Red Wings, who will join four other Original 6 teams in the Central Division – thereby leaving only the Blackhawks and Rangers on the historical outs. Bettman is trying to make games friendlier across the league while also allowing for newer rivalries to be forged, but all at the expense of one of the fiercest rivalries in sports.
As it’s currently proposed, the Blackhawks’ Mid-West Division would include Colorado, Nashville, Minnesota, Winnipeg, Dallas and St. Louis. The NHL is relocating Detroit to a different conference and replacing them with the Jets and Avalanche. While this reduction in competitiveness might be a boon for Chicago’s winning ways, the loss of at least half the regularly scheduled Detroit games overwhelms my blood-lust sensibilities. Yeah, there will still be a home and home every year between the two teams and we won’t have to overcome Detroit until the Stanley Cup Finals. But it is a sad day in Chicago nonetheless. I just can’t get jazzed up about a potential Blackhawks -Avalanche rivalry.
All this work and no play makes Gary a dull boy.