Boclair: New rivals

Monday, May 9, 2011 at 9:05pm

Here’s hoping that everyone has enjoyed the Nashville Predators’ best Western Conference playoff run to date. After all, it might be one of, if not the last. 

That’s right. There’s a decent chance the Predators could move fairly soon. 

No, not out of town. Shame of you if enough doubt still exists in your mind that you jumped to such a conclusion. 

Lead owner Tom Cigarran and his group, along with CEO Jeff Cogen and his staff, have made clear their intention to keep the franchise here for the long term. Not only that, they’ve shown they can sell tickets and maintain a vibrant atmosphere inside Bridgestone Arena for pretty much all of an 82-game season.

But what no one’s really talking about is that the Predators could go from the NHL’s Western Conference, where they’ve resided from the day they entered the league in 1998, to the Eastern Conference.

It’s big news throughout Canada that Winnipeg, Manitoba, wants to land an NHL franchise. There’s a building in place (The MTS Center) in that town already and a mayor eager to make it happen. In the minds of many, it’s not a question of if but when.

Winnipeg once was home to the franchise currently known as the Phoenix Coyotes, and the Coyotes have been the prime target in Winnipeg’s quest pretty much since the moment the NHL had to assume control
of that financially crippled franchise.

It came out during the early days of Nashville’s Western Conference semifinal series, when they were in Vancouver (a five-hour flight away) that Winnipeg’s next choice, if it can’t get the Coyotes out of Phoenix, is to bring the Atlanta Thrashers north.

That’s where things get interesting for the Predators. The Thrashers currently reside in the NHL’s Southeast Division. Winnipeg is about as far from the Southeast United States as you can get. So if it’s the Thrashers who move, realignment becomes necessary. There is no better geographical fit for the Southeast Division’s other teams (Washington, Carolina, Tampa Bay and Florida). 

Thus, the possibility exists for the Predators to end up in the Eastern Conference. It’s likely that the initial reaction would be that such a change is bad. Folks around here have gotten used to hating the Detroit Red Wings, Chicago Blackhawks and — more recently — the Anaheim Ducks, and no one wants to give up real rivalries.

The truth is, though, that such a move would be good for the franchise. 

Keep in mind that the majority of Eastern Conference games are finished before most Predators fans go to bed. That means more opportunity to watch on television.

The travel demands would be greatly decreased, which would benefit the players, who right now have to make repeated trips to California and Western Canada throughout the year. Not to mention the fact that Predators’ fans could get to more road destinations in the East more economically.

Then there would be the exposure gained by playing a couple times a year in New York and Toronto. Yes, Nashville players gained national profile this year, but this would be a whole different level.

Finally, there’s the fact that the Eastern Conference — at least right now — pales in comparison to the Western Conference in terms of overall depth.

To put it simply: It’s easier to win games in the East. The Predators have drafted and built an organization to withstand the rigors of the West, which means they might actually be monsters if they switch sides. 

Yes, there is a chance the Nashville Predators could move. For once, that’s a good thing.

David Boclair is sports editor of The City Paper. Follow him on Twitter @BoclairSports, or email him at dboclair@nashvillecitypaper.com.

7 Comments on this post:

By: PKVol on 5/10/11 at 8:50

With 18 of 32 NHL teams in the Eastern Time Zone, it will never be easy to balance the Eastern and Western conferences, geographically. Currently, all 16 Eastern Conference teams are in the Eastern Tim Zone, but Nashville would be the most logical team to move to the Eastern Conference, moreso than either Columbus or Detroit, the two Western Conference teams in the Eastern Time Zone. Ironically, it is the Southeast Division that gives the Predators more trouble than the other two Eastern Conferece's Divisions.

By: Radix on 5/10/11 at 9:09

Its also possible that Winnipeg will get a new franchise outright rather than a relocated one. That would eventually require another new franchise in the East to balance the conferences.

By: BigPapa on 5/10/11 at 12:35

The NHL would be foolish to NOT move the failing phx team back to canada, and allow the Preds to generate new rivals. Look at the NFL re-alignment, new divisions create new rivals w/o missing a beat.

By: ZMan on 5/10/11 at 4:07

Actually, there are 30 teams in the NHL. As far as time zones:

Eastern Time: 17 (all of Eastern Conference, Columbus, Detroit)
Central Time: 5 (Chicago, Nashville, St. Louis, Minnesota, Dallas)
Mountain Time: 4 (Phoenix in winter months, Colorado, Calgary, Edmonton)
Pacific Time: 4 (Anaheim, LA, San Jose, Vancouver)

Moving to the East would keep 41 home games a year at a 7:00pm start time or earlier, as well as an additional 32 Eastern Conference away games a year at a 6:30pm start time or earlier.

You'd be left with 9 Western Conference road games with potential later starts. Sounds like a huge win for the team's travel, as well as for the fans.

By: ZMan on 5/10/11 at 4:08

Papa, the Preds would potentially change conferences only if Atlanta moved to Winnipeg.

If Phoenix moves, they stay in the West. So do the Preds.

By: LFCRed on 5/11/11 at 1:45

Given yesterday's vote in Glendale, the Coyotes will be out West at least one more season. Even if Winnipeg gets Atlanta, you still would have Detroit that's been itching to get back in the East w/ old rivals Toronto & Montreal; and Columbus - who's ever further East & in Pittsburgh's backyard.

However, I always thought, given the SEC/football ties, it may have been an easier sell if the NHL had placed the Pred's in the same div with other southern-based teams like Atlanta, Florida & Tampa Bay.

Stay tuned...

"Beer is proof God loves us and wants us to be happy." Benjamin Franklin

By: LFCRed on 5/11/11 at 1:47

Radix - if Winnipeg gets a new club, instead of a re-lo, you can bet your croissant that Quebec City will be clamoring for one, too...

"Beer is proof God loves us and wants us to be happy." Benjamin Franklin