Sunday, December 11, 2011

Geographic Sensibility

BY SCOTT MORGANROTH

Although it's a year away, I have to admit that I was very pleased the Detroit Red Wings will do much less traveling as the NHL begins realignment in 2012-2013.

Like most old school traditionalists, I was hoping for an "Original Six" Division!

Fat Chance. Commissioner Gary Bettman wasn't going to go that far.

But I'll settle for the Detroit Red Wings making at least one appearance to play the Tampa Bay Lightning and Florida Panthers in the Sunshine State.

I have no sympathy whatsoever for the whining East Coast teams that they have to travel to the Pacific Time Zone. The Red Wings won four Stanley Cup Championships and gobbled up tons of frequent flyer miles in the regular and post-seasons residing in the Eastern Time Zone.

When the Red Wings faced the Columbus Blue Jackets, Nashville Predators, Chicago Blackhawks and St. Louis Blues in the playoffs, it was less tiring. Those Western trips to Vancouver, San Jose, Calgary, Southern California and Phoenix were brutal.

When the Red Wings Conference was announced, there was no way that Detroit was going to be separated from Original Six buddy and I-94 Rival Chicago.

Bettman complied with the pleas from Nashville's ownership to keep Detroit so this small market team with Michigan transplants could pack their building a few times a year, in addition to the playoffs.

Although the Columbus Blue Jackets and Red Wings will never have the U-M VS Ohio State intensity, they're both in the Eastern Time Zone and in neighboring states. Like Nashville, Columbus needs Detroit's drawing power.

As for the rest of the conference rivals, there is the Dallas Stars playing in their old stomping grounds against the Minnesota Wild. How many Minnesota North Stars jerseys are out there?

St. Louis is always a good rival for Chicago, though not at the level of the Cardinals and Cubs.

The Winnipeg Jets renew acquaintances with Minnesota.

Detroit and Dallas, the two Thanksgiving cities known as "Big D's" play great games and are linked by Brett Hull and Mike Modano.

The only mystery left now is what will be the names of the conferences?

Will Bettman get creative or historical?

Here are some ideas. Bring back the Wales and Campbell Conferences. Once upon a time there was the Norris Division. Just ask ESPN's Chris Berman.

How about the (Gordie) Howe and (Wayne) Gretzky Conferences named after the two greatest players in NHL history.

Even the Big Ten considered (Bo) Schembechler and (Woody) Hayes before deciding to name their Divisions, The Leaders and Legends.

I realize that we've seen the last major realignment.

But I'll be curious to see where the Phoenix Coyotes land since the NHL owns them and expects to have a new owner in place within the next year.

I could see the Coyotes landing in Kansas City, Las Vegas or even Houston. I wouldn't be surprised to see the Coyotes relocate in Seattle once a new stadium is built to replace the departed Seattle Supersonics and fill that winter sports void. The Vancouver Canucks would be thrilled to create another Pacific Northwest rivalry.

There are two seven team conferences East, so if the Coyotes were to end up in Kansas City, this would be a natural rival for St. Louis. If they move to Houston, Dallas has their in state rival.

Then I could see Detroit shift into a conference with Boston, Buffalo, Florida, Montreal, Ottawa, Tampa Bay and Toronto, therefore creating more Original Six games.

Eventually, I could see Columbus landing with Carolina, New Jersey, New York Islanders, New York Rangers, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and Washington.

But in the meantime, I'm glad the NHL finally created some Geographic Sensibility. Those extra division games during the season will get made up in the playoffs when these teams face each other. The division rivalries are enhanced and the travel is greatly reduced.

Best of all, now the fans and media get to see at least each team's stars once a year, which will only bolster attendance along with increased television coverage.

In January of 2012, Versus becomes the NBC Sports Network. I could see this platform leading to more Original Six match-ups as we saw when NBC televised a Thanksgiving Week Classic featuring Detroit and the defending Stanley Cup Champions the Boston Bruins.

With the realignment, there will be more inter-conference games with Detroit and Chicago facing the other four Original Six teams.

The NHL is definitely headed in the right direction. The changes should also bolster interest in televising the Montreal Canadiens and Toronto Maple Leafs, thus giving them more exposure and marketing the NHL as North America's Sport.

I know a Detroit Red Wings VS Montreal Canadiens contest would be a great ratings draw. Detroit has 11 Stanley Cup Championships while Montreal has 24. Who can forget the numerous Hall Of Fame Players and retired numbers with these storied franchises.

I could only hope that this realignment does lead us to an Original Six Stanley Cup Final. I'm sure NBC would be thrilled with those potential ratings.

Scott Morganroth can be reached at scottsports33@aol.com and his blog can be seen at www.scottsports33.com.

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