With the topic of realignment scheduled to come up again at next week's Board of Governors meetings, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman discussed the matter at the opening of his weekly radio program Thursday night and stressed that a final decision won't necessarily be made by the close of the meetings.
"There's a lot of speculation about what's going to happen on realignment -- and the answer is, as I sit here today, I'm not sure," Bettman said during the early portion of the "NHL Hour with Commissioner Gary Bettman."
"From the Board perspective of making whatever decision they want to make, people are all over the place," he said. "If you ask each of the 30 clubs what their preference is, my guess is you'd get 30 different preferences. And as a result, what we really have to do is find the biggest layer of common ground. You're not going to get everybody's first choice, but as we go through this process, and there are many steps of the realignment process that have to be done in and outside the boardroom, the fact of the matter is the starting point is to figure out what the will of the board is."
There is probably more competitive balance in the NHL than ever, as Bettman pointed out the top 12 spots in the Eastern Conference are separated by just eight points, while the top 11 spots in the Western Conference are separated by only seven points. While the League doesn't want to turn things upside down as far as division and conference affiliations are concerned, the presence of the Winnipeg Jets in the Southeast Division dictates that changes must be made for upcoming seasons.
"We have a team up in Winnipeg that doesn't belong in the Southeast," Bettman said. "But then you have teams, a number of which think that the current setup as they've lived under it, while it's good overall from a League standpoint, nevertheless is tough for them.
"Dallas, who's in the Pacific, plays a lot of its road games very late at night -- and so younger people in particular have a tough time staying up to watch the games on a regular basis, like when they're in Anaheim or Los Angeles or San Jose. So that's an issue. Minnesota is in a place where they're playing a lot of their games west in the Northwest. And then you say, well, OK, if we put Winnipeg in the Northwest and we move Minnesota to the Central, isn't that great, and then Colorado says, wait a minute, then I'm the only U.S. club [in a division] with four Canadian ones. Crossing the border these days is rather time-consuming, and that puts us at a disadvantage. And you have the old arguments about the teams like Detroit and Columbus that are in the Eastern time zone, and they're saying, we're playing all of our teams or too many of our games west, from a TV standpoint.
"So it's not easy to balance the fact that, yes, things are go, we play to 94 percent of capacity in the regular season, and 101 percent of capacity in the playoffs, and that's great on a macro basis, but there are some clubs that say, this has been a little harder on us than on everybody else. That's why this is not an easy issue."
Bettman added that ideally the League would like to settle on realignment sooner rather than later because a schedule for the 2012-13 season needs to be made.
"If we don't get it done now, we're going to be in really tough shape if we don't get it done by the All-Star Game," he said. "I don't even think we can wait that long. But I haven't figured out what we'll do if it doesn't happen (next week)."
After next week, the Board of Governors isn't scheduled to meet again until the All-Star Game in Ottawa at the end of January, though Bettman pointed out he could call a special meeting before then if necessary.
What we expected is what we got. Very mature young individual that's focused. He is on the right track. He's not only a great hockey individual, but he's a good person off the ice. He seemed to take a leadership role with this group right off the hop and ran away with it, and was vocal, was respectful, was everything it takes to be a Panther. His future looks bright.
— Florida Panthers director of player development Brian Skrudland on defenseman Aaron Ekblad's performance at development camp