COMMENTARY | The Detroit Red Wings have been clamoring to be moved to the Eastern Conference for years. They, along with the Columbus Blue Jackets, are the only two teams in the Eastern time zone who currently are in the Western Conference.
Their wishes finally may be granted.
On Saturday, February 22, a new realignment plan was presented to the teams. The new plan puts all 16 teams in the Eastern time zone into two conferences.
The Red Wings would be in a conference with Boston, Buffalo, Florida, Montreal, Ottawa, Tampa Bay and Toronto.
Last year, the NHLPA rejected the four-conference plan that would have put the Red Wings in a conference with Chicago, Columbus, Dallas, Minnesota, Nashville, St. Louis and Winnipeg.
The other "Eastern" conference the NHL is proposing this year also would have eight teams. That means the two conferences for "Western" teams each would have seven teams.
While this presents an obvious advantage for "Western" conference teams as far as making the playoffs -- the top four teams in each conference are planned to make the playoffs -- there are talks of a wild-card playoff system being implemented for the "Eastern" conferences.
As far as the season schedule goes, it would allow the "Western" teams to play each other six times and the "Eastern" teams would play each other five or six times on a rotating basis. Three teams would play each other six times and four teams would play each other five times.
So what does all this mean for the Detroit Red Wings? Well, there are two reasons why they should hope the realignment plan is approved.
Less west coast road trips
Being in the Western Conference, the Red Wings currently have to make multiple road trips to San Jose, Los Angeles, Anaheim and Vancouver. Oftentimes, they will play four games in three days, which can be a grind coming form the Eastern time zone.
This new conference means they would play more teams in the same time zone. Trips to Boston, Buffalo or Montreal wouldn't take nearly as much time as a trip out west.
Obviously, the Red Wings still would make one trip out west to see the Kings, Ducks, Sharks and Canucks, but one west coast road trip is a lot easier on the body than multiple road trips.
A seven-game series means a lot of back and forth plane rides with only a day's rest on most occasions. Eastern Conference teams currently never have to leave the time zone for the playoffs until the Stanley Cup final. Detroit, on the other hand, is guaranteed to have to leave the time zone.
More Original Six Matchups
The Red Wings and Chicago Blackhawks currently are the only two Original Six teams in the Western Conference. That means matchups against Boston, Montreal, Toronto and the New York Rangers come twice a year and zero times this year due to the lockout.
Imagine seeing Detroit/Boston, Detroit/Montreal or Detroit/Toronto five or six times a year. Not to mention, Detroit would most likely play the other "Eastern" teams multiple times a year, which would mean more Detroit/New York Rangers, Detroit/Pittsburgh and Detroit/Philadelphia matchups.
There are a lot of markets that don't get to see the Detroit Red Wings on a consistent basis. These new opponents would spark new rivalries, as well as showcase more Original Six matchups.
There are a couple things I don't like about the realignment plan. One is the eight teams in two conferences and seven teams in the other two conferences.
I've never liked how the MLB -- until the 2012 season -- had six teams in the NL Central and four teams in the AL West. The teams in the AL West had a significant advantage to win their division.
The wild-card playoff system is a good way to level the playing field, but it doesn't solve the problem. Why should the fourth seed in the two "Eastern" conferences have to play one more game to make the playoffs when the other two fourth-seed teams in the "Western" conferences automatically make the playoffs?
The only way to fix this is to eliminate two teams or add two more teams. Knowing Gary Bettman, there is no way he'll eliminate two teams. In fact, we will probably see two "Western" teams added in the coming years if this proposal is approved.
While the realignment plan isn't perfect, it is leaps and bounds better than last year's proposal as far as the Red Wings are concerned.
Tom Mitsos is a Michigan native who has followed the Red Wings and the NHL since the 1993-94 season. He is a high school sports reporter at MLive Media Group. You can follow Tom on Twitter @tom_mitsos.
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