Return of the Jets: If an NHL team returns to Winnipeg, which Division should it play in?

Posted by David Minuk in Columns,Jets Columns,Return of the Jets,Winnipeg Jets on April 28, 2011 — 12 Comments

The IC team was having an interesting discussion while watching playoff hockey, based on what the league might do if required to move one of  the two most troubled franchises (Atl & Phx) in the United States to Canada.  As it currently stands the likelihood for the 2011/12 season is that only 1 of these 2 teams will be on the move, with the likely destination being Winnipeg.

If Phoenix was to move back to Winnipeg, then clearly the team could no longer play in the Pacific Division, and unfortunately there is no longer any Smythe Division to return to.  The question then becomes where would an NHL squad playing in Winnipeg best fit?

The NHL’s Western Conference currently sits as follows;

Central Northwest Pacific
Detroit Vancouver San Jose
Nashville Calgary Anaheim
Chicago Minnesota Phoenix
St. Louis Colorado Los Angeles
Columbus Edmonton Dallas

Despite rumours that the Red Wings are itching to get out of the Western Conference (due to the horrendous travel schedule for a team based in the Eastern time zone), if the team on the move is indeed the Phoenix Coyotes, then the Wings would likely be forced to stay in the West.

Two factors we used in placing a team in a division are rivalry and travel schedule.   These would appear to be tied together since most teams which are close in proximity, generally form a rivalry.  Of course going back to the days of old, the Jets primary rivals were whomever was winning the West (Oilers in early/mid 80′s, Flames in late 80′s and Canucks in early 90′s), since they never seemed to be able to get over that hump.

In terms of proximity to teams in the West, a team based in Winnipeg is a 7 hour drive from the Wild, 12 hours from the Blackhawks and about 15 hours from the Flames.  Not exactly the  1 hour from Anaheim to Los Angeles or the 2 hours  between Calgary and Edmonton.  So we can’t exactly use proximity to create a rivalry for an NHL team in Winnipeg.

One likely move, would have the Colorado Avalanche move from the Northwest Division, into the vacancy left by the Coyotes exit in the Pacific.  This would be a return to its roots for the Avalanche which joined a 7 team Pacific Division for the 1995/96 season when they moved from Quebec to Colorado.

Then you move the new team (let’s call them the Jets for arguments sake) into the Northwest, and you basically have an all Canadian division (plus Minnesota, which is close enough).

For the Vancouver Canucks the difference between venturing to Denver, Colorado and Winnipeg, Manitoba is a grand total of 56.8 km’s or 35.3 miles.  Actual flight time difference is 5 minutes in favour of Denver, but when you factor in the international travel, Winnipeg would likely require less time then Denver.  Of course the problem with Winnipeg is that it is two time zones over from Vancouver, whereas Colorado is just one.

So the newly formed Western Conference for the 2011/12 season might look like this;

Central Northwest Pacific
Detroit Vancouver San Jose
Nashville Calgary Anaheim
Chicago Minnesota Colorado
St. Louis Winnipeg Los Angeles
Columbus Edmonton Dallas

Of course if it turns out that the team on the move is the Atlanta Thrashers, then you could really switch things up.  It’s funny how short our collective memories are.  The idea of Toronto in the East seems sacrosanct but remember that from 1981-91 the Leafs used to play in the Norris Division with the Wings, North Stars, Blackhawks and Blues.

With Atlanta moving West, the most likely candidates to fill the void in the Eastern Conference are the Detroit Red Wings, Columbus Blue Jackets and Nashville Predators.  Both Columbus and Detroit sit in the Eastern time zone, whereas Nashville is in the Central time zone.  But if you take a look at the NHL map, there are already a glut of teams filling the Northeastern zone.  In terms of proximity to the Southeast Division, the closest team would be the Nasville Predators.

Since the move itself will be causing waves, I can see the NHL wanting to do this with as little impact as possible, and will in my estimation just switch things up within the following 3 divisions;

Central Northwest Southeast
Detroit Vancouver Washington
Minnesota Calgary Tampa Bay
Chicago Colorado Florida
St. Louis Winnipeg Carolina
Columbus Edmonton Nashville

Which would look like so;

Of course if you did things based on time zones a future NHL could look like this;

So there you have it. Will any of this happen? From the sounds of things, we will know soon enough.  How do IC readers see division realignment happening?  Sound off in the comments section.