Ah, the summer hockey doldrums. This is about the time, aside from arbitration hearings -- which won't rival a summer action movie for excitement -- where absolutely nothing happens. There are a few free agents, but they won't get signed until closer to camp. And there won't be much fanfare when they do. Maybe a trade or two after teams didn't get what they wanted in free agency. But they won't be blockbusters either.
So we're left to grab at the straws of anything that resembles news. Today, Minnesota GM Craig Leopold kind of let slip what realignment next year might look like. For those who haven't heard, with the Thrashers moving to Winnepeg to become the Jets, it's beyond even the ever-forgiving borders of NHL logic to keep them in the Southeast Division past this season. So things are going to get jumbled a bit.
Ah, but the NHL is using this time to not just punt one of Nashville, Columbus, or Detroit to the East, move Minnesota to the Central, and Winnepeg to the Northwest. No, the rumor is they're going to really alter things. Which shows actual creativity and originality, sort of, things long thought dead in the NHL world.
The story goes that the NHL will go back to four divisions, not six, with most thing being aligned by time zones. They will also return to divisional playoffs, though just for the first round. This is what made the NHL playoffs what they used to be, the fact that for the first two rounds you had to out-bludgeon a team that you'd already played 8-10 times in the regular season and had an all consuming blood-lust for anyway. Then you had to do it again the next year.
There's also been talk that the league will go to a balanced schedule, which means that every team will go to every arena at least once, meaning less division and conference games. But this would be less balanced, as it has to be worked by playing an odd number of games against some team. So it's not balanced if the Hawks get two home games with the Oilers say, but the Blues only get one. But whatever, small details.
The big news of this, or what passes as that on July 12th, is that Craig Leopold let it slip that the "Central" or "Midwest" division will be comprised of Minnesota, Winnepeg, Chicago, St. Louis, Dallas, Nashville and probably Columbus. His words, not mine. Who don't you see there? That's right, Detroit. The Wings, and owner Mike Illitch, have moaned for about a decade now to be switched to the East. That way a lot more games would come on earlier than 9pm Eastern for their fans -- though what jobs they have to wake up for the next morning is anyone's guess. It also greatly reduces the travel budget, not having to go to Vancouver and Western Canada twice, with only mostly 60-90 minute flights to other Eastern Conference cities.
This will probably happen. Illitch has enough pull with the other owners to get what he wants, though it makes more sense to build up a struggling market like Columbus with teams nearer to them. And with that, one of the NHL's strongest rivalries will shrivel, as the Hawks will be the only O6 team in the West. But the Wings will get more games with the Canadiens, Leafs, Rangers, and Bruins to make up for that, for them at least.
And I won't miss them. It's nice to have a rival, but Wings games are far too hard on me due to the bile I have built up. Maybe it'll help me grow up.
Sam Fels is the proprietor of The Committed Indian, an unofficial program for the Blackhawks. You may have seen him hocking the magazine outside the United Center at Gate 3. The program is also available for purchase online. Fels is a lifelong 'Hawks fan and he also writes for Second City Hockey .