WINNIPEG - If the NHL follows through with reported realignment plans for the 2012-13 season, Winnipeg fans are in for the best of both worlds.
The Jets will play the 2011-12 season in the Eastern Conference’s Southeast Division, meaning Winnipeg fans will get to see a great deal of teams and players that normally only travel west once every two seasons.
It’s a prospect that has an already ecstatic fan base that much more intrigued about the return of NHL hockey to Winnipeg.
The even better news is Winnipeg fans may never have to endure a season without any visits from popular opponents and big-name stars.
Under the proposed realignment plan, which was first reported by QMI Agency’s Bruce Garrioch last week and is still in the discussion stages, the NHL would create four regional divisions, with either seven or eight teams in each.
Winnipeg would likely be placed in the Western Conference’s Midwest Division (a modern version of the Norris Division) with Chicago, St. Louis, Nashville, Dallas, Minnesota and either Colorado or Columbus and would play each of those teams six times per season (36 games)
That means they would play every other team in the league twice (home and home, 46 games).
The trade-off is not bad.
Though fans might not be overly excited by the prospect of the Jets playing Minnesota and Nashville six times a year, those with season tickets would at least know they are guaranteed a visit from Montreal, Toronto, Boston, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Washington, Vancouver and Phoenix each season.
The bad news is the Jets traditional rivalries with the Edmonton Oilers, Calgary Flames, and Vancouver Canucks will suffer under the new format, and the proposed playoff structure is reportedly more like the one the Jets toiled in during the 1980s than the current format.
Though not remotely set in stone, reports indicate the NHL board of governors is discussing a plan that will have the top four teams in each division make the playoffs instead of the top eight in each conference. I’m not a fan of that structure, as it could allow teams from a weaker division to make the playoffs while teams with better records from a stronger division miss out. The league is reportedly also discussing having the teams play within their division in the first round of the playoffs and then re-seeding for the second round.
It would be nice if the governors could figure out a way to balance the schedule, which is great for the fans, but not mess too much with the playoff structure, which is great for the game.
Either way, Winnipeg fans are not likely to be too choosy. Not when they are still pinching themselves and being careful not to wake up from this dream that not only features the return of the NHL but even the beloved Jets nickname.
They’ll enjoy the opportunity to get their fill of Sidney Crosby, Alex Ovechkin, Steven Stamkos, the Habs, the Leafs and the Bruins in the coming season.
Then the Jets will start establishing new rivalries, with the Blues, Stars, Wild, Predators and Blackhawks.
We doubt people will complain too much about having Jonathan Toews come to town three times a year.
Possible division alignment
Detroit goes to Eastern Conference, Columbus could wind up in either Western or Eastern Conference and Colorado could play in Pacific or Midwest Conference
Los Angeles Kings
San Jose Sharks
Columbus Blue Jackets
St. Louis Blues
Detroit Red Wings
Toronto Maple Leafs
New Jersey Devils
New York Islanders
New York Rangers
Tampa Bay Lightning