Spent some time on Sunday reading my Twitter feed, the Puck Daddy comments section and LetsGoPens.com. The stuff you guys are saying publicly about significant realignment is pretty similar to what teams are saying privately. You either really love it, passionately hate it or just decide, "I can deal with it."
In this discussion on Hot Stove on Saturday night you can see a chart with the new divisions. It's the last group, the one that says "I can deal with it" that is going to decide what happens.
(Think of them as "conferences" instead of divisions. You play
home-and-home against every team in the other three; the rest inside your
group. The first two rounds of playoffs stay inside your "conference" as well.
I do believe Detroit will stay with Chicago and not move to Toronto's side, but
I'm not 100 per cent positive.)
If Commissioner Bettman wants to push this through, he needs 20 votes when the Board of Governors convenes December 5 at Pebble Beach. (Easy place to get work done, I know.) Weeks ago this proposal was going nowhere. "Dead," one executive described it.
But things have changed. Understand that the vast majority of Western clubs want this to happen. They are tired of watching their Eastern brethren get all those extra days at home, spend so little time on planes and never leave their time zones after January.
And it's not just about the regular season. They want fewer cross-country flights in the playoffs, too.
So let's work backwards. Bettman needs 20 votes. There are 15 teams in the West. I can't say with certainty that he has all of them in his pocket, but if he doesn't, it's close. So, how many Eastern teams does he need? Five? Six? Maybe eight?
Can he get those votes? If he needs eight, it's barely half the conference. One team confirmed it has changed its mind (although, in return, said it did not want to be identified). "The next month is all about arm-twisting," one source said. And, it will happen at the ownership level.
Now, a couple of good questions people raised:
Q: What about Detroit's proposal to go west only once?
A: Well, here are the questions: How many teams will make only one trip instead of two? And, who do you play those extra games against? Because if, say, 10 teams are affected, and they play two extra times against everyone in their division, aren't you pretty much going Bettman's way anyway?
Q: Why not just switch Detroit and Winnipeg?
A: Well, we all know how everyone wants a piece of the Red Wings. Too valuable a visitor. And you're not helping Columbus and Nashville (same issues, especially when it comes to late-night TV viewing).
Q: OK, genius, how about...(some combination of Winnipeg, Nashville, Minnesota, Detroit, Dallas)
A: Guarantee, in whatever combination you put together, you have either one American team with four Canadians (not happening) or Dallas still in the Pacific. And the Stars are a very big part of this. Their travel is really bad as a member of the Pacific Division. Bettman listens to owners. For the last couple of years, the Stars really haven't had one. Now, it looks like they will (Tom Gagliardi).
The team looks good, but still needs momentum off the ice. Moving it into a more centralized time zone would really help. (So would moving them back into Reunion Arena, one of the great places to watch an NHL game.) The league is well aware of that.
Q: What about Phoenix?
A: You got me there... no one can answer that yet.
Q: Don't you want to see the Penguins play the Flyers six times a year?
A: Absolutely. And I understand why the Penguins are against this. The Washington Capitals felt their move out of the old Patrick Division was incredibly damaging to them. Some Penguins fans suggested moving the Florida teams or Carolina around instead. Maybe there will be some changes, who knows? But, not everyone is guaranteed to be a winner in this.
Back when I used to cover baseball, one Blue Jays executive explained how Bud Selig got what he wanted. He would build consensus behind the scenes, feel out who was on his side and try to sway the teams in the middle. He never brought anything to a vote until he knew he was going to win. And when he knew he was going to win, he would phone dissenting owners and say, "Look, I've got the votes. Are you willing to work with us on making this a best-case scenario for you?"
If the answer was yes, Selig would help those teams as much as possible. If the answer was no, he rammed it through anyway. I'm not sure if Bettman's going to pull this off. But he's closer than he was three weeks ago.
1. Another possibility: Next season starts one week later, so some of the U.S.-based teams spend a little less time battling for eyeballs with football and baseball.
2. Free PR tip for Gagliardi: get Jamie Benn signed. Joe Nieuwendyk was honoured before the game Saturday (for his upcoming Hall of Fame induction) and got a loud cheer when he said his son's goal "is to be on a line with Jamie Benn someday."
3. When you're a little thin on the blueline, two things can save you: great goaltending and players who stick to the system. We can all see what Nikolai Khabibulin's doing, but Edmonton is really getting that second thing. It doesn't hurt, one scout said, that this is also a team committed to working hard.
4. Want proof? Blocked shots. Last season, the Oilers were 21st with 571. So far, they are third with 184. That's a difference of nine per game. When you allow 30 shots a night, like Edmonton does, that really helps.
5. What was David Booth wearing during his After Hours appearance with Scott Oake and Craig Simpson? A sleep watch, of course. Vancouver indoctrinates these guys quickly.
6. I'm not the kind of person who really likes being told what to do, so if I was an NHL player and someone ordered me to wear a visor, I'd probably resist. As a non-partisan third party, though, I can't help but side with the GMs who want to eliminate "preventable injuries." There is so much at stake. Philadelphia won't win the Cup without Chris Pronger. Then there's the money. Not only salary, but also playoff revenues and how performance at that time of year determines next season's ticket sales.
7. We're talking Kevlar socks and long-wristed gloves, too. If Jason Pominville is wearing a sturdier stocking in Game 5 of Buffalo's first-round series against Philly, do the Sabres beat the Flyers? Teams pay for the equipment and don't get final say on what gets used. There's something wrong with that picture.
8. Pronger was asked about his stance on visors and said, "You don't want to know my stance. That's for another day." Translation: I don't want to wear one, partially because of the things I do on the ice.
9. Last summer, the Montreal Canadiens hired two new assistant coaches, Randy Ladouceur and Randy Cunneyworth. They were given two-year contracts. The holdover, Perry Pearn, had one year remaining on his deal. GM Pierre Gauthier decided to extend Pearn by another season so everyone was in the same situation. If they thought he was a bad coach, they wouldn't have done that.
10. The one thing Gauthier deserves credit for was not making a panic deal that hurt the franchise long-term. He was trying to get a forward (in addition to Petteri Nokelainen) and a defenceman. Unable to do so, it looks like he felt he needed to show he was doing something. Coaches around the league were furious. ("No respect...We're sacrificial lambs.") I was surprised by the number who were disappointed because the Canadiens are considered the NHL's "class" franchise - even if the move worked in the short term.
11. Here's a good question a couple of people asked: let's say, for argument's sake, the Canadiens did decide to fire Jacques Martin. Who is the replacement? It's not so clear-cut. They've had several chances to hire Bob Hartley (now in Europe). There's Marc Crawford, who dabbles "en francais." Their AHL coach is Clement Jodoin, although there's some question as to whether or not he's ready for the firestorm. Would they ask Bob Gainey?
12. Saw Columbus in Buffalo last week, and the toughest challenge with that team is it expects the worst to happen. They played pretty well and got a good break to tie it 2-2. Three minutes later Patrick Kaleta bounces one off Rick Nash for the winner. The Blue Jackets collectively sagged after that. (Nash buried his face in the ice, as if defeated.) "Fear freezes you," head coach Scott Arniel said. Maybe the win over Anaheim will change that.
13. Mentioned the Ken Hitchcock rumours last week, but they continue even though the principals keep denying them. Is this some kind of weird attempt from ownership to motivate the team?
14. Hotstove traitor Pierre LeBrun quoted Wayne Gretzky last week as saying he was unlikely to play in the Winter Classic alumni game. Don't be surprised if the Rangers (Glen Sather, Mark Messier, etc.) at least try to persuade him otherwise.
15. Peter Chiarelli is one of those GMs who constantly checks the market, seeing who is available or who might be. But the sense is he wasn't looking to make a move, primarily out of loyalty to the players who ended Boston's 38-year Stanley Cup drought. Will back-to-back losses to Montreal change that?
16. One thing definitely happening with the Bruins? Opposing coaches are ordering their players not to engage them after the whistle. No team feeds off those scrums/battles/fights more than Boston (and its fans).
17. Brandon Worley, a really good Dallas Stars blogger, was the first to report that the team's biggest creditor (owed almost $52 million US) is a "listed affiliate of the NHL." I understand the league didn't want anyone knowing it was helping the Stars when it was running the Coyotes, so it used legalese to deny it in an interview with Ron MacLean two years ago. But when the truth comes out, people remember.
18. One more note about Dallas: there were rumblings the team was thinking of trading Brenden Morrow. I'd be shocked, but looked into it. He has a no-trade, and, unless things have changed in the last few days, he hasn't been asked to waive it.
19. Matt Stajan, healthy scratch the last two games. Even though the Flames are thin at centre. Wow.
20. Sam Carchidi of The Philadelphia Inquirer reported Monday morning that, from now on, Ilya Bryzgalov will only be talking after games in which he plays. Of course, his magnificent "I'm lost in the woods" proclamation came after a game, but let's not get in the way of a good narrative. Bryzgalov is no stranger to wild comments and his former teammates wondered how that would go down in Philly, where things wouldn't go under the radar like they did in Phoenix.
21. It should be pointed out, though, that if the Coyotes complained about one thing, it was Bryzgalov's tendency to blame defencemen for bad goals. This time, he blamed himself and no one else. That scores points on a new team.
22. A former teammate of James Neal's said that once Neal learned to "use his body to score," he'd become lethal. Neal is big and strong and is now dictating to defenders where he can go with that power.
23. That fits in Pittsburgh, where Dan Bylsma wants his top-line wingers putting themselves in positions where they can be dangerous. You don't need to carry the puck much because Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby (when he returns) will do that. Mike Colligan of The Hockey Writers points out that Neal is constantly going for the top of the left circle/bottom of the right circle in the offensive zones.
24. It's important to make sure guys who need to carry the puck are partnered with those who don't mind playing without it. Look at Brad Richards and Marian Gaborik. Both love to carry it, and that doesn't necessarily work.
25. Will John Tortorella stick with Richards/Ryan Callahan/Brandon Dubinsky? That line is similar to Richards/Loui Eriksson/James Neal in Dallas, and the centreman was very productive in that setup.
26. One GM on Tortorella: "Say what you want, but the Rangers play hard for him."
27. Thought Wojtek Wolski got away with one. That elbow was sneaky dirty.
28. The reason Toronto put James Reimer on injured reserve: the CBA allows you only two 48-hour emergency goaltender recalls per season. The Maple Leafs used their first last Monday because of Reimer's injury. If they didn't formally put him on IR, they were out of that option for the rest of the season.
29. You'll remember that, a few weeks ago, Eric Francis reported on Bob Nicholson's proposal to raise the draft age to 19. NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr went through Alberta on his fall tour last week and asked to meet with Nicholson in Calgary. Still doubt the players would back something like this, but thought it was interesting they chatted about it.
30. Met a teenage Leafs fan last weekend, Lucy Rogers, who travelled from River John, NS to see her favourite team face the Penguins. (She also loves Pittsburgh, because everyone in Nova Scotia is a Sidney Crosby fan.) Lucy was born with Down Syndrome, and her love of the Leafs helped her overcome some serious shyness. Angie Andreou and Kelley Rosset at the NHL, Toronto's Pat Park and Catherine Grey and Pittsburgh's Frank Buonomo (plus players on both teams) deserve a lot of credit for allowing her to attend practice and go into the dressing rooms. You can't quantify what that means to someone.
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