Realignment would add to Preds' travel time
MAR 08, 2013 2:59p ET
Yes, the plan needs the approval of the league's Board of Governors, but when it was scuttled last time, it was because the union did not agree to sign off on it. This time it has — although with an opportunity for the union to review it after the 2014-15 season.
For the Nashville Predators, that means the new format might soon become a fact of life. As with everything, there are winners and losers. For the Preds, the plan is not exactly ideal.
Competing in the Western Conference's Central division, Nashville already plays in one of the league’s more geographically compact divisions with Detroit, Chicago, Columbus and St. Louis. Detroit, at 537 miles, is the farthest city away.
The new Midwest division reportedly will include two of the former Central teams, St. Louis and Chicago, but Nashville loses Detroit and Columbus — two Eastern Time Zone teams moving to the Eastern Conference.
Colorado, Dallas, Minnesota and Winnipeg — whose move from Atlanta necessitated the realignment — will join the proposed new division. With the exception of the Avalanche, each club is based in the Central Time Zone.
The closest of the new members is Dallas, which is 616 miles from Nashville. St. Paul is 691. Winnipeg and Denver are each more than 1,000.
The Predators' David Poile has the second most years under his belt of any active NHL general manager; as a result, he has a long history with such issues. He has served in both the Eastern and Western conference.
Poile also is a man whose words are about as mild as they come. On Friday, he was trying to be diplomatic, but it’s not hard to read between the lines here.
"There’s a little bit, you know, hopefully, in it for everybody. And in some respects, I always think when you’re dealing with the West because of all the travel and time zones, it's going to be less than satisfactory," Poile said.
He added the loss of the Red Wings, whom the Predators have played three times in the playoffs and built a rivalry — not to mention how Detroit usually guarantees three strong games per year at Bridgestone Arena — would not be ideal for the Predators. Still, the new scheduling format calls for every team to play each non-divisional club twice, one home and one away.
"Losing Detroit and Columbus, especially Detroit, with all due respect, because they’ve been a big rivalry, that’s not perfect for our fans or our rivalries," Poile said. "But having said, under the proposal, we had them (at home) three times in a normal season and now we get them once. So it's down two games, if you will.
"I was in Washington for a lot of years. Travel was never a factor. Having to change divisions was never a factor. It's always more important how it’s done in the West, so it's the best they could come up with. It's probably the fairest they could come up with. Does it answer everybody’s desires? It can't."
Reduced travel during the playoffs stands as one of the prominent rationales for the new plan. The playoff format that the union scuttled last season called for teams to earn their way out of their divisions, with the first seed playing the fourth and the second facing the third, a similar format used in the 1980s and 90s.
The players primarily shot down that proposal, citing an imbalance in the chance to make the playoffs in the two eight-team divisions in the East versus the two seven-team divisions in the West. To solve that, the league guaranteed playoff spots to the first three teams in each division. After that, the last two spots in each conference reportedly will go to wild-card teams (based on points).
Therefore, in the West, it's possible Nashville could end up playing Vancouver, 2,000 miles away, in the first round.
"It sounds good on the surface to say playoffs are going to be in your division," Poile said. "I think we all would like that and that’s because of travel. As has been pointed out, for example, if we made it as the wild card and, say, were the fifth-place team in our division and, say, Vancouver was the first-place team, you’re going to Vancouver for the first round — which is also not fair for Vancouver, who is the overall best team.
"Like I say, you can’t cover off for every situation."
That is the truth. For Predators fans, the chance to see Eastern stars like Pittsburgh’s Sidney Crosby or Tampa Bay’s Steven Stamkos more often could counterbalance the loss of Detroit.
But for the Nashville players, it could mean a lot more time on a plane.
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