Sizzling Jets sizing up new rivals in re-alignment

By: Adam Wazny | Friday, March 15

Jets players salute the fans at MTS Centre in Winnipeg after the home team downed the New York Rangers 3-1 on March 14. (Pat Kaniuga/CBC)

Finally, after two seasons of division play that made little sense geographically -- logistically and emotionally -- the Winnipeg Jets have some order in their lives.

The NHL announced the ratification of its re-alignment plan prior to Winnipeg's 3-1 win over the New York Rangers at MTS Centre Thursday night. Under the new configuration, the Jets switch over to the Western Conference and will open 2013-14 play in one of four new league divisions, joining Chicago, Minnesota, St. Louis, Nashville, Dallas, and Colorado (the only club outside the Central time zone) in what's known by the boring name of Division B (the groupings have yet to be named).

This re-alignment is locked in stone for at least the next three seasons, per the agreement between the league and the player's association.

Currently, the Jets are in the Southeast Division (with Florida, Washington, Carolina and Tampa Bay), a position that remained after the team landed in Winnipeg from Atlanta. The awkward configuration made for extra travel for all involved, and did little for the Jets in terms of establishing some blood feuds.

Thankfully, Winnipeg won't be stuck there anymore.

"We're very relieved, as much as we've enjoyed those trips down south, I think our team and our coaches are very pleased to know that we're going to be playing in the central time zone," Jets' chairman and owner Mark Chipman told a conference call Thursday.

And that's the crux of the new NHL order: keeping teams predominately in their own time zone for ease of travel. This is why re-alignment needed to happen for the Jets. In its Southeast existence, Winnipeg takes a 3,049 kilometre trip across a time zone to Miami to face the Panthers. The shortest trip is to Washington (1,812 km).

Next season, Winnipeg's longest flight within the division is a 1,900 km jaunt down to Dallas, while a straight line to Minneapolis, the Jets' closest NHL rival, is just 619 km. From this standpoint, the central move is certain to cut down on some of the air travel wear and tear for the Jets -- even if they have the pro-league luxury of chartered planes.

Other points of interest regarding re-alignment pertaining to the Winnipeg Jets:

  • Winnipeg plays 29 games against divisional opponents, on top of the possibility of playing those clubs in a modified divisional playoff. The Wild will be the most intense dance partner, obviously. It's only an eight-hour drive, so as the rivalry builds those games should see a healthy mix of fans from both sides. Don't discount the coming Blackhawks-Jets relationship, either. Look for Chicago captain Jonathan Toews to thrive in the role as villain.
  • Some feel the new division could be a killer for Winnipeg. Relax, folks. Yeah, the Blackhawks will be a division contender for the next three seasons and the Wild, Blues, Avalanche, Stars and Predators are solid teams, too, but if the Jets are building to be a more complete organization, there's no reason to fret about what's to come.
  • The one knock about re-alignment if you're the Jets: there's no other Canadian team in the division. That's a little unfortunate as it could heighten the rivalry building process. The eastern clubs (Ottawa, Toronto, Montreal) and the western teams (Edmonton, Calgary, Vancouver) get to continue their grudges. Oh well. At least the Jets will still see every team in the league twice a season. Beggars can't be choosers, right?
So that's coming up next year.

This season, however, is not done and the red-hot Jets (14-11-2, 30 points) are ascending quickly in the East. The win over New York pushed Winnipeg into sole possession of eighth, a point out of the division lead and the third place berth in the conference. Winnipeg is a sizzling 9-3-1 in their last 13 games and is just a point behind Toronto and New Jersey for sixth place.

The Jets are in Toronto Saturday night.

Opinion

Adam Wazny is a Winnipeg-based freelance writer who has covered sports in the city for over a decade. He has worked as a reporter for both the Winnipeg Free Press and the Winnipeg Sun, and now spends most of his time checking his Twitter. Did someone say Twitter? Find him here: @wazoowazny.

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