Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Format a win, win for Winnipeg

Jets governor one happy man

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PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. -- Mark Chipman may or may not have a poker face but it was easy to read his feelings on Monday night as he walked out of a board meeting that will change life for his NHL franchise.

Chipman had a smile on his face and wanted to tell a short anecdote before getting down to the business at hand and discuss the move of his Winnipeg Jets from the Southeast Division to what is temporarily named Conference B as part of a larger league realignment.

This was the composure of a man that had just cashed in a win for a still-fresh franchise. Time was in the NHL that newcomers suffered until they had enough ammunition to fight back. Not this day as the Jets won on any number of fronts including travel, time-zone convenience for broadcast scenarios and in instant rivalries with a pair of Original Six franchises and a geographic neighbour.

Commissioner Gary Bettman said the ratification of realignment, which will see the league morph into four conferences, adopt a schedule where all clubs play one another each season and change its playoff format to a system where teams will play within their conference until reaching the Stanley Cup semifinals, took less than an hour.

"I didn't sell one concept over another. I laid out the pros and cons of both options. I wanted the will of the board to speak on this issue," said Bettman, who has been authorized to adopt the new format pending discussions with the NHLPA.

Bettman said the other option that was not adopted was to move Winnipeg to the Western Conference and either Columbus or Detroit to the Eastern.

The Jets will now play in an eight-team conference with Chicago, Detroit, Minnesota, St. Louis, Dallas, Nashville and Columbus and will see each team in the NHL at least twice a season.

"We're very excited about this. There are three things about this that I really like. Central time zone will be important for us from a travel standpoint and from a broadcast perspective. Our fans will be able to watch our games at a regular time," said Chipman, now a veteran of two whole NHL board of governors meetings. "If we had gone into the Northwest there would have been a fair number of games coming from the West Coast and starting later. Two, we get two Original Six teams. I don't even know how to quantify that. Those are high-watermark organizations that you aspire to play and be like. So that's great. The other outcome is our fans will get to see every team, every year. We like that."

Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff has been firm in his support of the team playing as many games as possible in the same time zone, contending its physically easier on the players.

The Jets will play each team out of their conference twice a season, once at home and once on the road. The club will play the seven teams in their conference five or six times in a season on a rotating basis.

"It's a good day. I judge it to be a positive development for our franchise," said Chipman. "We didn't have a real strong view coming in. Other teams had a bigger stake in the outcome. We would have been very happy playing in the Northwest against Edmonton, Vancouver and Calgary. It was very thoughtfully presented and the thoughts from the teams that weighted in also took a thoughtful approach. It wasn't the least bit acrimonious. People made their case but I got the feeling that what was agreed to was in the best interest of everyone. You can't satisfy everyone and everyone knew that coming in."

Bettman said he will leave it to the league GMs to determine the direction of the playoffs after the four conference champions are declared. Reseeding the teams according to regular-season statistics is one possibility.

"I'll leave it up to the GMs to make that call in terms of competitive integrity," said Bettman.

Bettman was asked if the unbalanced number of teams in the conferences would make it easy for the league should the Phoenix Coyotes need to relocate.

"There is some flexibility in this format," he said, later adding. "We have no plans to move a club."

gary.lawless@freepress.mb.ca Twitter: @garylawless

Meet the rivals

 

The Jets will play each conference rival five or six times in a season on a rotating basis; three teams would play each other six times and four teams would play each other five times. This process would reverse each season. Teams playing each other six times would play three at home and three away.

 

CONFERENCE B

Chicago: this is a slam dunk for fans with the chance to see Jonathan Toews three times a season in Winnipeg and all six times on TV.

Columbus: Rick Nash is one of the best young players in the league and former Winnipeg Jet and Manitoba Moose player/coach Scott Arniel is coach of the Blue Jackets.

Dallas: a team on the rise with great management in Joe Nieuwendyk and fresh new ownership in Tom Gaglardi.

Detroit: the Red Wings juggernaut six times a year; tough on the standings but great to watch.

Minnesota: a natural geographic rivlarly. Jets fans will boost Wild ticket sales making trips to St. Paul to watch games.

Nashville: great talent with Manitoban Barry Trotz behind the bench.

St. Louis: Alex Steen, son of Jets legend Thomas Steen, leads a Blues squad capably managed by John Davidson.

 

 

 

 

What's new

Here's a look at the new conferences the NHL voted to approve and schedule format:

 

Schedule format: Under the format, every team would play every other team outside its conference twice -- once home, once away. In the seven-team conferences, teams would play six times -- three home, three away. In the eight-team conferences, teams would play either five or six times in a season on a rotating basis; three teams would play each other six times and four teams would play each other five times. This process would reverse each season.

Conference A

Anaheim

Calgary

Colorado

Edmonton

Los Angeles

Phoenix

San Jose

Vancouver

Conference B

Chicago

Columbus

Dallas

Detroit

Minnesota

Nashville

St. Louis

Winnipeg

Conference C

Boston

Buffalo

Florida

Montreal

Ottawa

Tampa Bay

Toronto

 

Conference D

Carolina

New Jersey

New York Islanders

New York Rangers

Philadelphia

Pittsburgh

Washington

video player to use on WFP

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 6, 2011 D1

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About Gary Lawless

Gary Lawless is the Free Press sports columnist and co-host of the Hustler and Lawless show on TSN 1290 Winnipeg and www.winnipegfreepress.com
Lawless began covering sports as a rookie reporter at The Chronicle-Journal in Thunder Bay after graduating from journalism school at Durham College in Ontario.
After a Grey Cup winning stint with the Toronto Argonauts in the communications department, Lawless returned to Thunder Bay as sports editor.
In 1999 he joined the Free Press and after working on the night sports desk moved back into the field where he covered pro hockey, baseball and football beats prior to being named columnist.

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