The Thrashers complained vehemently when the original proposal was floated two weeks ago, a concept that would drop to four NHL divisions from the current six and send Atlanta to the Western Conference and Columbus to the East. The Blue Jackets didn’t mind since they’d rather be playing most of their games in their own time zone anyway.
But when the NHL’s schedule committee reconvened by conference call earlier this week, they decided to keep Atlanta and Columbus in their respective conferences if and when the realignment proposal ever got to a vote at the board of governors meeting in Dallas on Jan. 23.
The schedule committee was put together by commissioner Gary Bettman following the last board of governors meeting in West Palm Beach, Fla., in early December. It includes executives from Washington, Dallas, Edmonton, Montreal, Chicago and the New York Rangers – representing all six divisions.
Two other options were discussed during the conference call as the NHL continues to try and find a solution to the unhappiness some people have with the current unbalanced schedule – which came into effect after the lockout and features eight divisional games and only 10 games in total against the other conference.
One option that got some traction is to go back to the format the league had before the lockout, six divisional games instead of the current eight, and 18 games against the other conference.
Another option discussed was to drop the divisional games from eight to seven and play 14 against the other conference.
Teams will continue to debate the issue over the next few weeks heading into the board of governors meeting.
One of the major criticisms of the four-division realignment is that it cuts down the amount of division winners. While winning a division in the regular season isn’t much to write home about in Canadian markets or good hockey hubs like Boston, Philadelphia, and Detroit, owners from less traditional markets stress putting up a division banner in their building is a nice marketing tool they don’t want to lose.
The Thrashers are a perfect example this season. There’s a buzz in Atlanta right now thanks to its first-place standing in the Southeast Division. Second place in a larger division wouldn’t carry the same weight.
While the realignment proposal hasn’t caught fire in discussions around the league, a source also indicated that it’s not completely dead.