Tampa Bay Lightning, Florida Panthers coping with NHL realignment travel nightmares

The proposed realignment of the National Hockey League into four divisions made a lot of teams happy. The Detroit Red Wings get the move to the East they were promised. The Columbus Blue Jackets also shift east, in a move that could significantly grow their fan base. The Minnesota Wild, Winnipeg Jets and Dallas Stars are all in a more time-zone friendly division.

And then there are the Floridian teams, practical afterthoughts in the process.

The Florida Panthers and Tampa Bay Lightning are slotted for what is essentially the Northeast Division, plus the Detroit Red Wings. According to the Panthers, it’s a realignment that means more travel for the Sunshine State teams.

Via the Sun Sentinel:

While the majority of teams are welcoming the league's proposal, Weaver said he's still worried it might not be the best solution for the Panthers. "Travel is, I think, by far the worst in Florida," Weaver said. "And they're saying that travel is going to go up 8 percent for us."

The Tampa Bay Lightning fare no better. From the Tampa Bay Times:

The Lightning would be weary travelers during the season. Except for Florida, its shortest trip would be 984 miles to Detroit. And don't discount the hassles of crossing into and out of Canada and dealing with border control.

The league has said it would try to mitigate Tampa Bay's travel as much as possible. But we also know the Lightning last year voted against a similar realignment proposal because of travel hardships.

GM Steve Yzerman told the Tampa Tribune that the travel inequity will be hard to deal with:

"I think just mathematically having 16 teams competing for a playoff spots versus 14 (western teams) competing for eight mathematically it's a little bit more difficult so obviously we are not crazy about that,'' he said. "And logistically if it gets done the way it appears to be proposed certainly having four original six teams in our division is something I think our fanbase would appreciate . . . but again the traveling crossing the border and flying above Carolina and Washington to play teams in our own division those are things that we don't like about it for our organization.''

Of course, as Stevie Y mentions, there’s also the fact that many of the teams that draw big crowds of snow birds and transplants in Florida – are now division rivals. So it’s not all travel headaches for these teams, which will make bank via their new rivals.

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