December 06, 2011
By now, you're probably well aware that the NHL has announced a fullscale realignment that will see the dissolution of the 2 conference, 6-division system in favour of 4 conferences, officially bringing an end to months and months of speculation, lobbying, and discussions.
As a West Coaster, I couldn't be happier with how these discussions ended, primarily because they ended. My God.
On Twitter, some have pointed to the results of this alignment as evidence that the NHL cares very little for the West. There's a case to be made. The league broke up their best rivalry -- Vancouver and Chicago -- with seemingly little remorse. Worse, the two conferences with 8 teams just happen to be the westernmost conferences, leading to the assumption that this was done to ensure that the marquee Eastern teams have a better shot at playoff spots.
But, to me, this is silly. The lost rivalry was a necessary casualty in a geography-based realignment. And as for the conferences, this seems more an indication that the league believes Phoenix is headed East in a year or two and left a space for them. Convenient, that.
So no, the realignment announcement is not evidence that the league doesn't care for the West. But good grief, the lobbying throughout this process sure was.
Ever since the Thrashers moved to Winnipeg, necessitating some kind of rearrangement, every report on the subject has focused on the teams that refused to go West for their games. Heck, it's been one of the major issues.
This whole thing could have been a simple one-for-one swap, say, Winnipeg for Nashville, were it not for the teams in the Midwest taking the opportunity to bitch about the raw deal that saw them traveling back through time for all their games.
It was all lobbying with an eye towards getting a lighter travel schedule, but some of it was downright ridiculous. You'd think everyone west of the Rockies had skin lesions and syphilis. Rumour had it Eastern GMs called the entire Pacific Coast "Isla de la Muerta".
My personal favourite was Detroit, clamouring that they were owed something by operating in the Western Conference for the last 18 years. Yes sir, it must have been a major sacrifice for them, what with how they only won 6 conference championships, 6 Presidents' trophies, and 4 Stanley Cups. I tell you what, those two decades in the West were rough -- the stuff of nightmares. Maybe now they can finally breathe.
It was incredible the way that playing in the Pacific timezone was suddenly blamed for every financial and operational difficulty Western Conference teams east of were facing. Sure, the Red Wings might have lost a few viewers to sleep in the late stages of playoff games, but I'll bet you the crap economy accounted for far more lost revenue.
I thoroughly enjoyed the load of garbage spewing from Columbus and Nashville, as both franchises blamed the late start times for their struggles with attendance. Really?
In Columbus's case, I'm willing to wager that a marketing department that could come up with a better mascot than a walking, moustachioed phallus or a front office capable of building a team through the draft might have helped too. Thank goodness that they're out of the West now — I'm sure everything else will fall right into place.
And as for Nashville, winning a playoff series sure seemed to help.
Not since I last played Oregon Trail have I heard so much about the horrors of going West. Heck, the settlers were better sports about it, and they were in covered wagons, dying of consumption. Hockey teams are simply forced to spend more time barefoot on their luxury jet. Oh woe.
Now I'm no conspiracy theorist. I don't think the league is out to get the West, and I don't think Gary Bettman is setting things up to make it easier for the East. But throughout realignment, it became perfectly clear what many in the NHL think of the West, and you can see why the tin foil sells a little better out here.