With all the talk of the Thrashers leaving Atlanta (and both of their fans) in favor of Canada, speculation is running wild that the NHL may rearrange some of the divisions as part of the move.
How could that impact the Blackhawks? Let’s take a look.
On May 28, during his media availability before the Stanley Cup Finals started in Chicago, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman confirmed that True North was in the mix for an NHL franchise to head back to Winnipeg.
“There has been a lot of speculation about Winnipeg. Winnipeg did make a bona fide offer,” he said. ”We never concluded a deal. That offer was made by Mark Chipman and David Thomson as partners in True North”
The Winnipeg Free Press is pretty confident that there will be NHL hockey in Manitoba when the 2011-12 season opens, and even claims that the NHL has unofficially started working on a regular season schedule that would include games in Manitoba.
Winnipeg was a confirmed target for a team when Bettman spoke a year ago.
“If we’re going to move a franchise, there are a couple of places in Canada that I would like to give my attention first, because when both Winnipeg and Quebec lost their franchises, it was because — remember I always talk about three things for franchises: market, owner and building. And both of those teams were moved because two of the criteria went away: There was no building, and there was no owner. Nobody wanted to own the team there anymore. To the extent that those markets are in a position to deal with those issues, I would like to try and fix something that I wish might not have happened in the first place, not unlike what we did in Minnesota.”
As TSN’s Darren Dreger pointed out yesterday, though, this process will probably not come to a conclusion until at least the postseason is over, if not after the NHL Awards and NHL Draft. The league has never been a big fan of non-playoff news overwhelming the games in headlines, but it appears they can no longer control this freight train.
According to our friends at The Fourth Period,
“[It] appears the Columbus Blue Jackets are poised to make their way down to the Southeast, which is believed to be a temporary solution (though likely long-term, providing the Coyotes or the Islanders another team don’t move). As much as the Detroit Red Wings want to head back to the Eastern Conference, that doesn’t look like an option, right now, or in the near future. With the Blue Jackets heading to the Southeast, the Jets/Moose/whatever would actually jump into the Northwest, moving the Minnesota Wild to the Central.”
For Blackhawks fans of longer than 10 years, having Minnesota in the same division as the Hawks brings back great memories of the Norris Division. For all the attention that the Blackhawks-Canucks rivalry gets now, the old North Stars-Blackhawks rivalry of the 1980s was every bit as heated.
Nothing is finalized, but it appears there is a very good chance the Blackhawks will be playing in a new-look Central Division next year.
The Thrashers ranked 28th in the NHL, filling just 72.6 percent of their seats. They haven’t ranked higher than 23rd in the past four years, and haven’t been above 85 percent of capacity over that span.