|National Hockey League Commissioner, Gary Bettman.|
(Harry How/Getty Images)
The major issue in need of a quick resolution is travel time. During the 2010-2011 regular season, the Buffalo Sabres traveled a total of 30,124 miles, which was sixth least in the league. The San Jose Sharks led the league in distance traveled with 56,254 miles. It's no joke that a travel-heavy schedule can make a team feel like they are playing every day, which in turn drains everyone involved mentally and physically. In the 2010-2011 regular season, the Atlanta Thrashers traveled a total of 44,079 miles. If the Thrashers would have played their home games in Winnipeg Manitoba instead of Atlanta Georgia with the way the divisions are currently aligned, they would have had to travel 66,340 miles, which is an additional 22,261 miles. The proposed plan to realign the divisions is a necessity to decrease the travel burden on the Winnipeg Jets and the rest of the league.
This is what the divisions would look like for the 2012-2013 season if the plan works out:
The teams would remain divided in two conferences, but would be realigned into four divisions instead of the current six. The divisions would be based on each cities geographic location and would be dubbed the East, South, Pacific and Midwest. Each team would play teams from the other divisions once at home and once on the road. The remaining games would be divided among the divisional match-ups. In the Buffalo Sabres' case, they would play 46 games against non-divisional opponents and 36 within the division. The Sabres would see each divisional team six times, three home and three on the road. They would keep their rivalries with Toronto, Boston, Montreal and Ottawa, but they would lose some games within the always-entertaining Philadelphia rivalry. Philadelphia would only see interstate rival Pittsburgh for two games a year, which has both owners worried of the rivalry diminishing. While those two clubs might oppose the change, West-coast clubs would support it as their cross-country flights would be cut down.
Looking towards the postseason, the top four teams from each division would advance. Round One would feature divisional play with the one-seed hosting the fourth and the two-seed hosting the third. Teams would then reseed for conference play in Round Two.
With the new format, Winnipeg has to move to the Western Conference without question. The conundrum facing Gary Bettman is deciding who to move East. This proposed plan would move Winnipeg to the Western Conference and either the Columbus Blue Jackets or Detroit Red Wings to the Eastern Conference. Looking at both hockey clubs, I think the Blue Jackets are in much more need of some help from the league than the Red Wings. Moving them East would make much more sense as it plays out almost perfectly geographically. Columbus is hurting right now. Although they don't have the league's worst attendance figure, they are averaging only 13,000 fans (71.7% of capacity) per game through their first seven games this season at Nationwide Arena. Their home opener was sold out, but it was followed by three games of 51.7% attendance or less. They currently hold the league's worst record at 2-11-1, which is good for a measly five points. A team like Columbus could use a refresher from the league before the franchise spirals too far out of control.
Detroit on the other hand has completely sold out all eight of their home games at Joe Louis Arena so far this season which happens to be one of the largest arenas in the league. Since they were founded in 1926, the Red Wings have won the Stanley Cup a total of eleven times and have built a more-than-solid fan-base. If Columbus played in the East (where they are geographically located) then their games would have more 7:00pm starts rather than so many 9:00pm and 10:00pm starts. That would make it much easier for fans to follow the team on the road hopefully boosting the fan-base in Columbus, which needs all the help it can get.
In my eyes, Bettman should carry on welcoming Columbus to the Eastern Conference and Winnipeg to the West. What is your take? Let it fly with a comment below.