Despite Added Travel For Florida Teams, Most Are Happy With NHL Realignment
Lightning Owner Jeff Vinik "would not reveal whether he voted for or against next season's four-conference realignment," but acknowledged yesterday that for his team, "the additional travel in a conference with Boston, Buffalo, Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto and Florida is 'a definite minus,'" according to Damian Cristodero of the ST. PETERSBURG TIMES. NHL VP/Communications John Dellapina said, "I'm sure our guys will work hard to make the schedule as efficient for the Florida teams as possible." Vinik "likes that every team will visit the St. Pete Times Forum, and said preliminary numbers for next season's travel budget show an increase 'virtually insignificant from this year.'" He said, "The league is going to do their best to schedule our away games, try to hop from one city to another. They promised to do everything in their power to make that as efficient as possible for our travel" (ST. PETERSBURG TIMES, 12/7). But in St. Petersburg, Gary Shelton writes, "Unless Tampa Bay has been sold to Canada ... this realignment roulette makes no sense." This is "evidence the big offices of the NHL consider the Lightning only as an afterthought." Shelton: "Tampa Bay is like that leftover piece of a model airplane that you just helped your kid assemble. No one can quite figure out where it is supposed to go" (ST. PETERSBURG TIMES, 12/7).
PANTHERS LOOKING AT GLASS HALF FULL: In Ft. Lauderdale, Craig Davis notes despite the longer trips the Panthers will have to take under the new alignment plan, coach Kevin Dineen "sees the arrangement enhancing the appeal of hockey in South Florida." Dineen said, "You like being associated with those teams, and I think that's something with the presence that you get of Canadians and people from Buffalo in the area. I think that bodes well for our attendance and the enthusiasm we'll have in the building." Davis notes the "downside for the Florida teams is a greater burden in travel within the conference as well as to every Western city." But Panthers GM Dale Tallon said, "If this is what is best for the overall competitive league balance, then I'm OK with it. … From the business side, getting Toronto and Montreal and Boston to come to our building is really good for us" (South Florida SUN-SENTINEL, 12/7).
EXECS ON BOARD: In Chicago, Chris Kuc reports Blackhawks Chair Rocky Wirtz was "pleased with the radical change, citing the fact the Hawks still would have traditional rivalries while travel to the West Coast will be reduced, TV ratings will benefit from not as many late starts and the other five Original Six teams are guaranteed to play in the United Center at least once per season." Wirtz: "It's good for the league and selfishly it's good for us" (CHICAGO TRIBUNE, 12/7). Stars Owner Tom Gaglardi said of the new conference alignment, "We may benefit as much from this change as any team in the NHL -- it's that important to us." In Dallas, Mike Heika writes, "By making things a little tougher on teams in the East, the NHL now makes things a lot easier on teams in the West. And that's fair" (DALLAS MORNING NEWS, 12/7). Flyers Chair Ed Snider said the team "liked what we had, but it hurt a lot of other clubs." He added that teams "like the Flyers 'sacrificed' -- they will have to travel more -- and went with the new format for the overall good of the league." Snider: "It's not perfect, but it helps a lot of clubs" (PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER, 12/7). In Minneapolis, Michael Russo notes Wild COO Matt Majka "is excited that Wild fans will get to see every team annually." Majka said, "Sidney Crosby has played in Minnesota exactly twice in his 420-game NHL career. (Alex) Ovechkin has played here three times in 501 games" (Minneapolis STAR TRIBUNE, 12/7). Oilers GM Steve Tambellini: "I like the fact that you see Sidney Crosby in your rink every season, and Ovechkin. I think that's really important as a hockey fan" (EDMONTON SUN, 12/7).
PLAYERS LIKE THE CHANGE: The GLOBE & MAIL's Mirtle & Duhatschek note NHL players yesterday "seemed to be mostly onside with the plan." Some were "in favour of the fact that travel will be lessened" for Western Conference teams, while others "questioned the conference-only format of the first two rounds of the playoffs." And most "liked the idea of seeing every NHL city, even if only once, in every season." Devils RW Ilya Kovalchuk said realignment is "better for teams in the West because some of them have horrible travel schedules" (THEGLOBEANDMAIL.com, 12/6). In California, Eric Stephens notes Ducks W Bobby Ryan is "looking forward to playing more games within the same time zone." Ryan said, "It cuts down on the travel. I'm definitely in support of that" (ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER, 12/7). In DC, Tarik El-Bashir notes Capitals RW Mike Knuble "likes the fact that every team will face each of the other 29 clubs at least twice." He said, "Every city should have a chance to see Sidney Crosby, Alex Ovechkin and the other young stars every year. That’s a good thing for the fans and for the league" (WASHINGTON POST, 12/7). Blues C Jason Arnott: "You get to see all the stars around the league and they come to your building and you go to their building. That's the way we used to do it when I first started and everybody seemed to enjoy it" (ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH, 12/7). Flames LW Alex Tanguay said, "It's really nice that every team goes everywhere -- it's fun for the fans. Everybody wants to see Sidney Crosby, (Alex) Ovechkin, (Jonathan) Toews in their building." Flames RW Lee Stempniak: "The one thing I like is that you get to go to every city in the league. ... I think everyone should play in Montreal every year, Boston, New York -- historic cities like that" (CALGARY HERALD, 12/7). Sharks LW Ryane Clowe: "It was open-minded, it’s different. Probably interested to see when the schedule comes out, how your schedule is going to be, how the travel is going to be and how after next year, how it will all play out” ("Chronicle Live," Comcast SportsNet Bay Area, 12/6).
PLAYOFF PUSH: ESPN.com's Scott Burnside noted at March's GM meetings, teams will discuss "what to do with the four teams that emerge as conference winners." The "logical process would be to seed them based on regular-season points: No. 1 versus No. 4 and No. 2 versus No. 3." But there has been "some suggestion that the league might want to preserve a traditional East-West final series." Leafs President & GM Brian Burke said that he "would be against predetermining which two conference winners were going to face each other." He said, "Teams should be reseeded after every playoff round." He added to do otherwise "just cheapens the regular season for me." Blues President of Hockey Operations John Davidson: "Do you want an East-West final or do you want the better two teams to play in your final which is your centerpiece?" (ESPN.com, 12/6).
MEDIA REAX: NBC’s Darren Pang said, “The more I look at it, the more impressed I am with how well prepared Gary Bettman and the Board of Governors and the general managers have been with this. ... The general managers that I spoke to were thrilled with it” (“NHL Live,” NHL Network, 12/6). The GLOBE & MAIL's Eric Duhatschek noted there is "a lot to like -- and maybe one small objection to raise -- about the NHL's realignment plan." Under the "new scheme, teams in the east will need to travel more, adding costs." But it creates a "more equitable playing field: they’ll now get to see what the current Western Conference clubs have been dealing with" (GLOBE & MAIL, 12/7). In N.Y., Larry Brooks writes, "It is impossible to think of a single benefit that will accrue to the Rangers, Islanders and Devils -- and by extension, their respective fan bases -- under this new plan that does seem to have the potential to be a boon for clubs in the central time zone." But Brooks added there is "one way it can get worse for our three teams, and it is this: If they will be forced to play in a conference named for Mario Lemieux" (N.Y. POST, 12/7). The Boston Globe’s Kevin Paul Dupont said, “We’re going to be confused in the terminology now. What they’ve got is four ‘divisions.’ They’ve got two conferences and four divisions. They’re calling them four ‘conferences’” ("Sticks & Stones," NESN, 12/6). Both ESPN.com's Craig Custance and GRANTLAND.com's Katie Baker named their realignment "winners and losers."