By CHRIS DOBROWOLSKI firstname.lastname@example.org
Traverse City Record-Eagle
---- — TRAVERSE CITY — So long, Chicago, Columbus, Nashville and St. Louis.
Hello, Boston, Buffalo, Florida, Montreal, Ottawa, Tampa Bay and Toronto.
The Detroit Red Wings are moving to a new division and a new conference, one of three teams to switch conferences in the NHL under the league’s new realignment starting this season. After spending the last 21 years in the Central Division, the Wings have switched to the new Eastern Conference Atlantic Division.
If realignment has done anything, it’s created more opportunities for Detroit to play games against Original Six teams. Chicago was the only Original Six team that was with Detroit in the Western Conference, but the move to the new Atlantic Division puts the Wings in a division with old rivals such as Boston, Montreal and Toronto and in the same conference against the New York Rangers.
The Red Wings seem to be enthusiastic about the move.
“I think it’s going to be exciting for the fans to play four Torontos, four Montreals, four Bostons, three Rangers, Pittsburghs, Washingtons,” said Red Wings general manager Ken Holland.
Besides Detroit, the other NHL teams to switch conferences were Winnipeg, which jumped to the West’s Central Division, and Columbus, which moved to the East’s Metropolitan Division. The other teams in the Metropolitan Division are Carolina, New Jersey, the New York Islanders and Philadelphia.
Winnipeg essentially created the realignment after the franchise moved back to Canada from Atlanta three years ago. It made more sense for the Jets to be in the West from a geographic standpoint, with Detroit and Columbus moving over to give the East two eight-team divisions and the West two seven-team divisions. The West’s new Central Division includes Chicago, Dallas, Colorado, St. Louis, Nashville, Winnipeg and Minnesota. The Pacific has Anaheim, Calgary, Edmonton, Los Angeles, San Jose, Vancouver and Phoenix.
Being in the East should make travel easier on Detroit, eliminating so many Pacific Time Zone trips.
“Travel is going to be good,” said Detroit forward Justin Abdelkader. “We haven’t seen a lot of the Eastern Conference teams, but it will be fun. It will be something new, a change. I think it will be good for our fans.”
Last year’s lockout meant no conference crossover games, which has taken some familiarity with Eastern Conference teams from the Red Wings as they make the transition.
“We don’t really know what the East is like too much, especially not playing them last year with the shortened season,” said defenseman Brendan Smith.
Detroit had been playing in the Central Division — in its various forms — since the NHL started the division in the 1992-93 season. The division had undergone a few member changes over the years, but this is the first change since Columbus was added during its expansion year in 2000.
With the realignment comes a change in playoff qualification. The top three teams in each division will automatically qualify for the postseason and the next two best teams in each conference will qualify as wild cards. Holland said he doesn’t think Detroit’s move makes it any easier or harder to make the postseason.
“I think hockey teams are hockey teams,” he said. “It’s the NHL, there is lots of good players, lots of good teams. The West was a real tough conference. It was hard to make the playoffs. I’ve got to believe the East is the same. It’s a good conference and it’s hard to make the playoffs.”