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New alignment thrills Wings' brass

by Bill Roose / Detroit Red Wings
ST. LOUIS, Mo. – For the first time in 13 years the NHL will undergo a radical new realignment based on geography that has the Red Wings’ organization thrilled for many reasons.

“It’s a dream come true for the Detroit Red Wings and its fans,” Wings senior vice president Jim Devellano told in a phone interview Monday night. “Our fans now will get to see every team in the NHL at least once every year. Our fans will have far fewer games starting at 10:40 at night, far fewer. And that will especially hold true in the playoffs because in the first two-rounds we will be playing teams relatively close to Detroit with Dallas or maybe Winnipeg being the furthest ones.”

On Monday, the NHL’s Board of Governors overwhelming approved the new four-conference alignment and Stanley Cup playoff structure with a 26-4 vote during their meetings in Pebble Beach, Calif. The new alignment is set to begin with the 2012-13 season.

The four new conferences will be named Pacific, Central, Northeast and Atlantic. The Wings will be in the eight-team Central along with current divisional rivals Chicago, Columbus, Nashville and St. Louis. The Central will also include Winnipeg, Minnesota and Dallas.

When the most recent discussion of realignment first surfaced after the Atlanta Thrashers moved to Winnipeg, the Wings originally wanted to be based in a conference or division with other Eastern Time Zone teams.

One suggestion was that the Wings and Jets switch places with Detroit moving to the Southeast Division and Winnipeg heading closer to home in the Central.

“Six-months ago our thought was that we wanted to be in the east,” Wings general manager Ken Holland told the NHL Network. “But after looking at this alternative and the four regions, and after talking with Mr. and Mrs. Ilitch, and Jimmy D, and Tom Wilson and Chris Ilitch, we felt that this was a great compromise, and I would say that we’re happy.”

The Wings currently play 16 regular-season games in the Mountain or Pacific time zones. In the new alignment that number will be cut in half.

The two western conferences – Pacific and Central – consist of eight teams each, while the two eastern conferences – Northeast and Atlantic – each have seven teams.

The other three conferences are:

Pacific: Anaheim, Calgary, Colorado, Edmonton, Los Angeles, Phoenix, San Jose and Vancouver.

Northeast: Boston, Montreal, Toronto, Ottawa, Buffalo, Florida and Tampa Bay.

Atlantic: New Jersey, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, New York Rangers, New York Islanders, Washington and Carolina.

“This is better and it’s better for a lot of teams because it’s based on geography,” Devellano said. “You’re going to have more games closer to home and everybody kind of shares in the travel, because everybody’s got to go everywhere now. So it’s a good deal for the fans, it really is.”

The new alignment also creates balance in scheduling, meaning that all 30 teams will now play each other at least twice every season – once at home and once on the road – which is a win-win, Devellano said.

“I think the fans will really like the fact that they’ll see Pittsburgh, and they’ll see Montreal, and they’ll see the New York Rangers and the Toronto Maple Leafs and Boston, instead of having to see them once every two years,” Devellano said.

In the eight-team conferences, each team, including the Red Wings, will play 38 conference games while playing their rivals either five or six times in a season on a rotating basis. In the Wings case, the remaining 44 games will be home-and-home series against each of the other 22 clubs. 

The playoffs will also have a new look with the top four teams in each conference qualifying for the postseason. The first-place teams in each conference will play the fourth-place teams in their conference; the second-place teams will face the third-place teams. The four conference champions will be seeded in the third round, with the series winners reaching the Stanley Cup finals.

This is where the Wings really like the ideal of not playing in the Mountain and Pacific Time Zones, because there’s nothing fan-friendly about hockey games ending after the late local news. This season the Wings have 11 road games that start between 9 and 10:30 p.m. And only two of those are on a Saturday night, meaning fans either don’t stay up late to watch the games or to go work or school the next day exhausted.

“We’ll have a handful of West Coast games through the year, but just a handful by just going out there once and a few of them will be on the weekends, so the late start wouldn’t be so difficult,” Devellano said. “But at least we won’t be going out there twice.”
Of course, the new playoff setup means the Wings will never have to face a playoff year like they did in 2007 or like they have the previous two years with elusive Pacific Time Zone series. In ’07, the Wings faced Calgary, San Jose and Anaheim.

“We played a lot of road games last year in Phoenix and San Jose and the games are on at 10-10:30 at night,” Holland said. “I would talk to fans and they would watch one or two periods and they would wake-up in the morning to get the score.”

Devellano added, “Last year if we had beaten San Jose, we’d have had to play Vancouver. So we would have had in three consecutive rounds, Phoenix, San Jose and Vancouver. That’s awful.

“Now they’re only one time zone away and the games there will start at 8:30 (p.m. ET), not at 10:40. So we’re really, really pleased about that. I think the fans will like it.

“But anyways, those old days are done. A dream comes true and it all starts next October.”

Follow Bill Roose on Twitter | @RooseBill

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