WINNIPEG - When the Sun first reported on the proposed NHL realignment plan back in June, it looked like a great idea, and now that it has been approved by the Board of Governors, it looks even better.
The move of the Atlanta Thrashers to Winnipeg after last season forced the NHL to consider realignment and it was the perfect opportunity to come up with a radical plan.
League governors chose to keep the Winnipeg Jets in the Southeast Division of the Eastern Conference for one year but put a scenario on the table in which the league would divide into four conferences in time for the 2012-13 season.
Tuesday in Pebble Beach, Calif., the Board of Governors rubber-stamped that plan after only about an hour of discussion and it’s great news for the Jets and their fans.
The Jets will play in the eight-team Central Conference, along with the Minnesota Wild, Chicago Blackhawks, Detroit Red Wings, St. Louis Blues, Nashville Predators, Dallas Stars and Columbus Blue Jackets.
They’ll play the majority of their games within the conference, which will make their travel schedule lighter, but will also play a home and home against every team outside of their conference.
That means every team in the NHL will make an appearance at MTS Centre at least once each season.
“What was presented and agreed to today was overwhelmingly supported,” Jets governor Mark Chipman told QMI Agency. “It’s going to be great.”
As it stands in the current two-conference, six-division league, teams play heavy schedules against division rivals and opponents in their own conference and generally play teams from the other conference just once.
So, had the Jets been placed back in the Western Conference for next season, they would have only faced Eastern teams once a year, meaning teams like Boston, Pittsburgh, Washington, Toronto and Montreal would only come to Winnipeg every second year.
Under the new plan, they’ll face those teams twice a year, along with old rivals like Calgary, Edmonton and Vancouver.
The downside to the new alignment is the Jets are the only Canadian team in the Central Conference, so their biggest rivalries will be forged with American teams like the Blackhawks and Red Wings, which is nothing new, as all three teams played in the old Norris Division back in the early 1980s, albeit briefly.
The Jets will play each of their new conference rivals five or six times a season and the first two rounds of playoffs will be played within the conference, much as was the case back when the league was divided into the Adams, Patrick, Norris and Smythe Divisions two decades ago.
Four teams in each conference would make the playoffs and the league will re-seed when it has four conference champions decided. The conference winners will be seeded based on total regular season points, first vs. fourth, second vs. third, so an all-East or all-West Stanley Cup final is possible.
While the new four-conference alignment was met with many a “WTF?” from fans on Twitter Monday night, this has been in the works for months and should not have come as a surprise.
And it’s easy to swallow for the Jets and their fans.
It might be a little tougher for more established teams, who are having to change divisions, or conferences, or whatever you want to call them, after many years, but it makes little difference in Winnipeg, which is hardly attached to its place in the Southeast Division.
Certainly, some people were holding out hope for an all-Canadian Conference or for the slim chance the Jets would go back in with Edmonton, Calgary and Vancouver, but those scenarios were highly unlikely.
This alignment is about time zones and establishing regional rivalries. It’s about making sure fans in every city get to see all the stars every year.
It’s a move we believe fans in this city will come to love.