WINNIPEG - Hockey fans can expect to see plenty of Alex Ovechkin and Steven Stamkos next winter at MTS Centre.
NHL commissioner Gary Bettman confirmed Tuesday that Winnipeg’s new team will remain in the Southeast Division with the Washington Capitals, Florida Panthers, Tampa Bay Lightning and Carolina Hurricanes.
Winnipeg’s yet-to-be-named squad will play each of those teams six times, which means Ovechkin’s Capitals and Stamkos’ Lightning will both make three trips to the Manitoba capital. It also means the Winnipeg squad will have a tough travel schedule in its first year back in the league.
The team will move to the Western Conference for the 2012-13 season, but True North’s purchase of the Atlanta Thrashers was completed too late for that to happen for the upcoming season.
“For next season, in order to actually get a schedule out in any time that would be useful, the team will have to stay in the Southeast for one year,” NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said. “But for the following season the team will be in the West, and we’ll have to do some sort of realignment. And we’re contemplating that.”
Since the True North team will remain in the Eastern Conference, it means it will play squads in the Northwest and Atlantic four times — twice at home and twice on the road. As a result, teams like the Toronto Maple Leafs, Montreal Canadiens and Boston Bruins will each be making two trips to Winnipeg.
As for the Western Conference, Winnipeg will play three of those teams twice and the rest once. That means six Western Conference teams won’t be visiting Winnipeg next winter.
Sources told QMI Agency three teams — Detroit Red Wings, Columbus Blue Jackets and Nashville Predators — are going to want to move to the Eastern Conference for the 2012-13 campaign.
“This is going to be a huge fight,” said a league executive speaking on the condition of anonymity. “The only problem for the Wings is they are a huge draw for a lot of the teams in the Western Conference,” another NHL executive said. “They’re not going to want to give up those dates when the Wings come to town.”