SUN Hockey Pool

NHL realignment good for the West

TERRY JONES, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 2:47 AM ET

EDMONTON - Someday soon, when Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle and the rest of the young Edmonton Oilers grow up, maybe the fans in the NHL East will be happy this happened.

Maybe, like a long time ago when Wayne Gretzky, Mark Messier and hockey’s greatest road show used to come to town, there will be a buzz in their building.

Someday soon maybe the players from the bus-league division will also appreciate visiting every NHL city, every season, instead of having all their out-of-time zone games played by Halloween as has been the situation on occasion.

OK. Probably not.

But in the meantime, in between time, as broadcaster Ed Whalen used to put it, the franchises east of the Mississippi that Gary Bettman convinced to buy in to his grand plan for realignment should understand that they’ve made the NHL a better league.

And they’ve made the Western Canadian heartland of hockey — which produces a significant percentage of players for every franchise in the league — a much more equal partner.

Now every player in the league from these parts can play games close to home every year.

That probably wasn’t even a thought when the new four-conference, everybody-plays-everybody home-and-away concept took NHL Commissioner Bettman the remarkable time of only about an hour or so to get passed Monday in Pebble Beach.

As any Western Canadian can testify, it’s not often something good for the West and maybe not-so-much for the East gets approved for the greater good for all.

But for a season ticket holder of the Winnipeg Jets, Calgary Flames, Edmonton Oilers and Vancouver Canucks, having every team play your arena every year is value added.

Sydney Crosby has played Edmonton, for example, twice in his career so far, and wasn’t due again ‘til maybe after the Brier in 2013.

The way it’s been has produced some stupid statistics, such as Ryan Smyth having played the New Jersey Devils a mere 15 times in his 1,096-game career.

“It’s wonderful,” said Edmonton Oilers’ coach Tom Renney Monday in anticipation of the vote.

“I think it’s good. The time has come, with geography being what it is. I think we can really generate more interest right now if we do this right.”

It’s hardly shocking that Edmonton, Calgary and Vancouver end up in the same division as Colorado, San Jose, Los Angeles, Anaheim and Phoenix.

Being in an eight-team conference in which the first two rounds of the playoffs feature conference teams isn’t ideal. That’s a 50% chance of making the playoffs, instead of a 57.2% chance in a seven-team division. But anybody really believe the Coyotes will stay much longer in Phoenix?

Having Chicago, Columbus, Dallas, Detroit, Minnesota, Nashville, St. Louis and Winnipeg in a division together, with the extra games against Eastern opposition, is a decent deal for Detroit and Columbus because it dramatically reduces the late-night TV starts from Mountain and Pacific time zones. Their TV numbers just got better and TV and radio deals worth more money.

Winnipeg doesn’t play but one game at home and away against any other Canadian team, but the trade-off is the time zone.

Carolina, New Jersey, the New York Islanders, New York Rangers, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and Washington is a nice tight division with fabulous playoff potential.

The only thing goofy about any of it is Florida and Tampa Bay being in with Boston, Buffalo, Montreal, Ottawa and Toronto.

In the seven-team donferences, teams would play six times — three home, three away. In the eight-team conferences, a bit more schedule stickhanding would be required, with teams playing either five or six times per season on a rotating basis.

In the Oilers’ conference, that could be streamlined with Vancouver, Edmonton, Calgary and Colorado in one group and Anaheim, Los Angeles, San Jose and Phoenix in the other, playing the extra games within their areas.

But for fans in the West, it’s all good, no matter how it shakes down.

Follow me on Twitter.com/sunterryjones

terry.jones@sunmedia.ca


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