Detroit Points East
VANCOUVER--Nobody expects the new Winnipeg franchise to have any trouble gaining approval from the NHL Board of Governors next month despite the warnings of commissioner Gary Bettman.
In fact, a more contentious matter will likely be the fervent desire of the Detroit Red Wings to move to the Eastern Conference after Winnipeg plays in the Southeast Division for the 2011-12 season.
Detroit wants out of the west and it wants out now. Red Wings owner Mike Ilitch, one of the league's best and longest serving proprietors, was placated to some degree in the late 1990s when the Maple Leafs shifted to the Eastern Conference by being given two expansion teams, Nashville and Columbus, to beat up on.
But the Preds and Jackets are patsies no more, and from a business point-of-view, the Wings believe they need this shift to reduce the team's travel, stop being forced to feed their fans a steady diet of Central, Mountain and Pacific time zone road starts and to give their customers new teams to watch like the other members of the Original Six.
Ilitch, senior executive Jimmy Devellano and GM Ken Holland have all made comments in recent years stating Detroit's hope to eventually switch conferences, and now is their chance. Problem is, the league might see a better fit with Nashville or Columbus moving to the Southeast, even though it's believed Detroit would happily accept moving to that division with Carolina, Tampa Bay, Florida and Washington just to get more Eastern time zone games and extra matches with teams like the Leafs, Rangers, Bruins and Canadiens.
The Wings don't just want this move. They're willing to fight for it after years of being good soldiers and supportive of the Bettman adminstration. But teams in the west won't want to lose them as a gate. Could be an interesting scrap over this issue, with the Wings expected to need a two-thirds vote at the board level and right now facing opposition from every team in the Western Conference.
Look for a vote and decision in December.