COLUMBUS, Ohio – It’s official: the Blue Jackets are moving to the Eastern Conference.
While rumors and speculation were abound over the past few weeks, the final rubber-stamp of approval was applied today as the National Hockey League’s Board of Governors voted to implement a new realignment plan for the league. The plan, consented to last week by the Players’ Association, goes into effect beginning with the 2013-14 regular season.
Several factors went into the league’s decision to proceed with realignment, including (but not limited to) the Winnipeg Jets competing in the Southeast Division the past two seasons and a need to balance travel schedules for clubs like Columbus and Detroit competing in the Western Conference. The Blue Jackets have long desired to move east, and now, it’s going to happen.
For the Blue Jackets, the first thing that appeals with a move to the East is more favorable travel. Regular trips out west to California and western Canada will be replaced by swings through Florida and New York and Ontario, much easier for Blue Jackets fans to access for traveling purposes and also for television broadcasts.
Blue Jackets president of hockey operations John Davidson said team president Mike Priest has spearheaded the club's realignment efforts, dating back to an "exceptional" past presentation Priest made to the board that detailed the team's travel situation.
"We all thought there was going to be change but we weren't sure it was going to be (Columbus) in the Eastern Conference," Davidson told BlueJackets.com. "It's terrific for us in so many different ways. It's about the fans, their opportunity to see the team and listen, watch and see different teams come in here.
"It's a huge, huge, huge plus for the franchise itself and for our fans. Along with that, in talking with the players, this is also going to be beneficial to them."
In this 48-game shortened NHL season, Columbus’ first seven road games were played outside of the Eastern time zone and they make four road trips (including 12 games) beyond the Central time zone, which accounts for 25 percent of their schedule. The numbers aren’t too dissimilar for a standard 82-game schedule, where the Blue Jackets make two trips to California, two to Colorado/Phoenix and two to western Canada each season.
In their 12-year history, the Blue Jackets’ only divisional opponent in the Eastern time zone has been the Detroit Red Wings, who are also headed East as part of the new realignment plan.
As part of the plan, the league will divide into two conferences comprised of two divisions each; the Eastern Conference will hold 16 teams while the West holds 14, and a wild card playoff system will determine the fourth and final playoff spots in each of the four divisions.
There’s another added allure to this Eastern Conference move for the Blue Jackets and their fans, and that’s the opportunity to see some of the top players in the NHL on a regular basis. The Pittsburgh Penguins, Philadelphia Flyers, New York Rangers and Washington Capitals (among others, which are detailed below) will be making a handful of stops at Nationwide Arena each season, bringing names like Sidney Crosby, Claude Giroux, Alex Ovechkin and others through Columbus.
"The difference will be habitual change, but when you play different teams more, you get used to how they play and that whole process," Davidson said. "There's change, but it's still hockey. We're going to have Pittsburgh, we'll still have Detroit...and there are a lot more clubs that are geographically close, which makes a big difference.
"There will be a lot more hours in your own bed. It's going to be fun."
On top of that, other East opponents like Buffalo, Boston, Toronto and Montreal will also visit the Blue Jackets annually.
Here are the new divisional breakdowns:
Division D - Carolina, Columbus, New Jersey, New York Islanders, New York Rangers, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Washington
Division C - Boston, Buffalo, Detroit, Florida, Montreal, Ottawa, Tampa Bay, Toronto
Division A - Anaheim, Calgary, Edmonton, Los Angeles, Phoenix, San Jose, Vancouver
Divsion B - Chicago, Colorado, Dallas, Minnesota, Nashville, St. Louis, Winnipeg