During Sunday’s epic game between the Chicago Blackhawks and Detroit Red Wings at Joe Louis Arena, there was one off-ice story that got almost as much attention on the interwebs -- the impact that the league’s proposed realignment could have on the storied rivalry.
Under the league’s plan
, the Hawks would get moved into a division comprised solely of Central time zone denizens (with the exception of the Colorado Avalanche), with the Jets, Wild, Blues, Predators, and Stars making up the rest of it. Meanwhile, the Red Wings would get their wish and get moved into a conference centered in the Eastern time zone, joining fellow Original Six teams the Bruins, Canadiens, and Maple Leafs, along with the Sabres, Panthers, Senators, and Lightning.
This conference setup probably makes the most sense out of any of the proposals floated so far, especially considering that they are predicated around the idea that teams would have to travel less being in conferences with fellow residents of their own time zones.
Under the proposal, every team would travel to every NHL arena in a given year, which has a great deal of support in the hockey community. The Hawks and Wings would still play each other, but only twice a year under this setup, with one game in Chicago and the other in Detroit. That would be a huge step back from the six times per year that the teams have been playing since the league adopted its latest divisional alignment several years back, and it doesn’t seem to be one that fans are in favor of.
Despite the nearly unanimous chorus of dissenting opinions
on the issue, there are several things to keep in mind about this rivalry. The first is that no matter how many times per year these teams play, the rivalry will still be there. Even head coach Joel Quenneville shares that sentiment
“The rivalry, I still don’t think it will go away. If it does happen that they’re on the other side…the Blackhawks and Detroit will always be a special rivalry and a special game.”
In addition to that notion that the rivalry would live on, the realignment could also enhance tensions between the Hawks and Blues, whose resurrection has made them a formidable foe once again. Add games with the Vancouver Canucks to the mix, and you have several teams who fans could easily grow to love to hate in a similar fashion to the way they feel about the Wings.
The fact of the matter in NHL realignment is that there isn’t a single way to structure things that will make fans of all 30 teams completely happy. When it comes to the Blackhawks and Red Wings, the perfect recipe would be to have an Original Six division, but in today’s NHL, that simply isn’t going to happen. Too many teams want to have those clubs come into their buildings for that to be a reality, so outside of that longshot possibility, the divisional alignment now being proposed is probably the best one that we can get.