MONTEREY, Calif.--Let the Great Realignment Debate begin.
At least, that's what is anticipated here in northern California. NHL commissioner Gary Bettman has mused aloud about the "30 different preferences" of his 30 owners, and most believe the debate will be contentious. A much larger contingent of media from the U.S. and Canada has gathered for this snynod of the NHL powers-that-be, and the hopes of the various members of the board of governors ranges from being ferociously dedicated to maintaining the status quo to looking for dramatic change.
Then again, with less than three hours of meetings scheduled for today and only four tomorrow before the meetings break off, there's only so much time that has been allotted to hash this out. Maybe because Bettman, always superb in organizing the vote beforehand, has the necessary two-thirds vote in place. Or maybe because this meeting is destined for deadlock and no decision on realignment, which is entirely possible.
From a Maple Leafs point-of-view, there's nothing to be gained here, only lost. While Leaf representatives, likely to include Brian Burke and Larry Tanenbaum, probably recognize the urgent hope of the Detroit Red Wings to either be allowed to move to the Eastern Conference or to a drastically revamped, four-division setup in which they'd be essentially in a mid-west grouping, any significant change to the status quo would cause team like the Leafs, Rangers, Canadiens, Sabres, Flyers, Devils etc. to assume significantly enhanced travel demands because of a balanced schedule. Naturally, after having it so good for so long, those teams would like to keep having it good for some time longer.
But there is a great good, right? A few teams - notably Detroit, Dallas, Colorado and Minnesota - have really carried a heavy burden in terms of both travel and TV/time zone issues, and it would be fair to help those teams out. Mike Ilitich with the Red Wings has been a good soldier for a long time, while in Dallas the new ownership group headed by Tom Gaglardi could use a hand rebuilding what was not so long ago a very strong franchise.
So I'm in favour of the four-division (conference?) set up. Don't care that two would have eight teams and two would have seven teams. A similar setup in MLB doesn't seem to be much of an issue. Really like the idea of playoffs within a division; it would make the standings and the playoff race that more interesting. As it is, nobody really pays much attention to the divisions. Only the conference standings really matter.
Under the drastic realignment scenario, rather than going for one of eight spots in a 15-team conference, a team like the Leafs would be fighting for one of four spots in a seven- or eight-team group. Having the four teams play off against each other would almost certainly enhance rivalries.
I like it, and it's time for a change. The simplest alteration would be to swap Detroit and Winnipeg, or Columbus and Winnipeg, either of which could happen.
But the big change promises bigger results. We'll see what the guvs decide.