Jets say bring on new rivals
KEN WIEBE, QMI Agency
|Winnipeg Jets defenceman Mark Stuart and LW Andrew Ladd check Boston Bruins LW Shawn Thornton during first-period National Hockey League action in Winnipeg at the MTS Centre, Dec. 6, 2011.
(JASON HALSTEAD/QMI Agency)
WINNIPEG - The Winnipeg Jets seemed to land exactly where they wanted to and an informal poll of the dressing room on Tuesday barely brought a discouraging word.
Realignment was a hot topic going into the NHL board of governors meetings, but what some call a radical shift to four conferences passed with relative ease (26 to 4).
And once the proposal is rubber stamped by the NHLPA and the rest of the details are worked out, the Jets will find themselves in an eight-team conference with the Chicago Blackhawks, Minnesota Wild, St. Louis Blues, Nashville Predators, Dallas Stars, Detroit Red Wings and Columbus Blue Jackets.
“I can’t find anything that’s really wrong with it,” said Jets governor Mark Chipman. “It’s great that we’re playing Chicago and Detroit. I really like that, as kind of a purist, the fact we’re going to have that number of games against Original Six teams is great. There are some very strong newer teams.
“What that means to me is that you’ve got high watermark teams that are successfully run and that’s only a good thing. That’s what you want to compete against. In anything in life, you want to compete against the very best and that’s how you ought to be measured.”
The biggest thing for the Jets — who currently reside in the Southeast Division — is that they’ll be able to reduce their travel significantly.
“Obviously, for us it makes travel a lot easier,” said Jets captain Andrew Ladd. “I’m very familiar with that division, it’s going to be a tough (conference) but it’s going to be fun too. They’re tough, gritty teams and now you can build rivalries and get into that sort of thing.”
“I like being in the midwest a little more and being in the Central time zone,” added Jets winger Blake Wheeler, who hails from Minnesota. “It’ll be fun to play back home a little more often and more specifically, for our travel, it’s going to be huge to play the majority of our games in this area.”
The reduced travel — even in the days of charter flights — can be a big advantage.
“It’s a totally different lifestyle,” said Jets forward Kyle Wellwood, who has seen a wide variety of different schedules while playing for the Toronto Maple Leafs, Vancouver Canucks and San Jose Sharks during his career. “Playing in the East, it seems like you’re home every night and you can play a quick road game during the week and you hardly notice it. Out west, you get the long road trips and it’s a little bit more difficult.”
The proposed playoff format would see the first two rounds of the post-season played within the conference before re-seeding takes place for the four remaining conference champions.
“It makes sense,” said Jets winger Tanner Glass. “It’s fine with me. With the new playoff format and having to play the teams in your conference in the playoffs every year is going to make for some good rivalries. The fans love the rivalries and so do the players. It’s a heated time of the year and it’s good to play against teams you’re familiar with.”
“As a kid, I loved the division playoffs,” added Jets defenceman Ron Hainsey. “Being from Hartford, it seemed like (the Whalers) had cool match-ups all the time. Our conference is pretty neat, it’s pretty-well thought out.
“There are some things that aren’t perfect about it, but there are some things that aren’t perfect about it now.”
One of the benefits is that in addition to the prospect of building some new rivalries, each team will play two games against everyone outside of the division as well.
“If you play each other a lot, there could be some bad blood created during the season,” said Jets winger Evander Kane. “I like the fact you get a home-and-home with every team in the league. That’s a good thing.”