Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Jets get ticket out of Southeast

Realignment puts Winnipeg in West; Chipman delighted with travel benefits

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It wasn't a good fit from the get-go and was one done strictly out of necessity and timing.

And so, as much as dead-of-winter treks to places like Sunrise and Tampa were good for the soul, the Winnipeg Jets will be ecstatic to say hasta la vista to the Southeast Division next season.

The NHL's board of governors rubber-stamped Thursday its plan for realignment and a division-based format for the Stanley Cup playoffs beginning with the 2013-14 season. And the Jets, members of the Southeast Division since the franchise relocated from Atlanta in late May of 2011, will be moved into a grouping of teams in their own time zone and geographic area.

The Jets will now be part of a seven-team yet-to-be-named Central Division that includes the Minnesota Wild, Chicago Blackhawks, Dallas Stars, Nashville Predators, St. Louis Blues and Colorado Avalanche.

"I thought this day would come... it perhaps took longer than expected," said Mark Chipman, Winnipeg's co-owner and governor.

"When we were negotiating to buy the team in Atlanta there was an expectation that ultimately we would end up in the Western Conference. It was far too late because the schedule was done, and I understood that, that it couldn't be changed for the first year. Then we had a challenging year last year with the work stoppage. I knew this day was coming and I'm glad it's here."

Critical

Critical to the Jets in the realignment was simply being in the same time zone as all but one team -- the Denver-based Avalanche are on Mountain time. And it's not just the kilometres travelled that have long been a concern, but the physical grind of crossing that many time zones getting to and coming home from all their road games.

"I don't know if everybody appreciates how hard an 82-game schedule is on players," said Chipman.

"There's so much parity in the league it often comes down to that last weekend in terms of getting in or not getting in (to the playoffs) and that could turn on two points that you did or didn't get in a back-to-back scenario after a long trip.

"Our coaches and our management are very mindful of all the little things it takes, that it is a game of a lot of little things that you have to have going right, including good fortune. But if you can mitigate the pounding that travel takes on your team, that's a good thing."

Factor

Asked if there was a financial factor in play here as well, Chipman added: "I haven't put a pencil to that. It wasn't so much a matter of financial concern as it's been a desire to have just less wear and tear on our players."

As for the suggestion the Jets would have been better served playing in a division with Canadian rivals, Chipman pointed out that the new schedule will see each team visit every arena at least once each season.

"It would have been nice, perhaps, to play Edmonton, Calgary more often," he said. "But we are going to play them. We're going to play the Habs and the Leafs, Ottawa and Van and all those teams. Is it perfect? I don't think anybody in the league would say it's absolutely perfect. But as the commissioner said, we were trying to cover a lot of ground here and I think we've done that. The fact that we're not seeing all the Canadian teams as often as we might have liked is a very reasonable compromise for us."

Chipman also gave an update on discussions to bring the Heritage Classic here in late February-early March of 2016.

"I don't see anything getting in the way, I really don't," Chipman said. "The conversations I've had with (NHL deputy commissioner) Bill (Daly) have been very positive. I think we've got a fantastic venue for it now that I understand has the capability of putting in additional seats to get a 40,000-seat venue. I think it would spectacular to do something in late February-early March when the weather's nice. It could be just a phenomenal event.

"The league has seen the reaction from this marketplace. My understanding is they want to get into a cycle of having those games with some regularity because they've been so successful, both the Winter and the Heritage Classics have been very, very successful league properties and they've been very successful in their own right in the marketplace.

"We're very interested. I've talked to Bill about it a couple of times. It's preliminary, but I'm very hopeful we'll be getting the Heritage very soon in the next cycle, once they establish it."

ed.tait@freepress.mb.ca Twitter: @WFPEdTait

 

WELCOME TO THE NEW NEIGHBOURHOOD

A look at how the NHL's realignment shakes down, beginning next season:

WESTERN CONFERENCE EASTERN CONFERENCE

Division A Division B Division C Division D

Anaheim Chicago Boston Carolina

Calgary Colorado Buffalo Columbus

Edmonton Dallas Detroit New Jersey

Los Angeles Minnesota Florida NY Islanders

Phoenix Nashville Montreal NY Rangers

San Jose St. Louis Ottawa Philadelphia

Vancouver Winnipeg Tampa Bay Pittsburgh

Toronto Washington

 

HIGHLIGHTS:

-- Winnipeg moves to the Western Conference; Columbus and Detroit to the Eastern Conference.

-- The new format ensures that all 30 teams play in all 30 arenas at least once a season.

 

REGULAR-SEASON SCHEDULE:

WESTERN CONFERENCE (7-TEAM DIVISIONS)

WITHIN CONFERENCE (DIVISION):

29 games: 5 games vs. five teams

(3 home/2 away vs. two teams, 2 home/3 away vs. three teams) AND 4 games vs. one team (2 home/

2 away). Teams rotated on a yearly basis.

WITHIN CONFERENCE (NON-DIVISION):

21 games: 3 games vs. each team

(2 home/1 away vs. four teams, 1 home/2 away vs. three teams). Teams rotated on a yearly basis.

NON-CONFERENCE:

32 games: 2 games vs. each team (1 home/1 away)

(Exception: one team from each division plays one less game inside division and one more game inside conference outside division)

 

EASTERN CONFERENCE (8-TEAM DIVISIONS)

WITHIN CONFERENCE (DIVISION):

30 games: 5 games vs. two teams (3 home/2 away vs. one team, 2 home/3 away vs. one team) AND four games vs. five teams (2 home/2 away). Teams rotated on a yearly basis.

WITHIN CONFERENCE (NON-DIVISION):

24 games: 3 games vs. each team

(2 home/1 away vs. four teams, 1 home/2 away vs. four teams). Teams rotated on a yearly basis.

NON-CONFERENCE:

28 games: 2 games vs. each team

(1 home/1 away)

 

NEW STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF FORMAT

-- Top three finishers in each division qualify for the first 12 spots and the first three seeds in each division.

-- Two additional wild card spots will be awarded in each conference to the next two highest-placed finishers in each conference, ranked on the basis of regular-season points and regardless of division.

-- The first-place finisher with the highest number of regular-season points in the conference will be matched against the wild-card team with the lowest number of regular-season points, and the first-place finisher with the second-highest number of regular-season points in the conference matched against the wild-card team with the second-lowest number of regular-season points.

 

PLAYOFF MATCHUPS:

* No. 1 vs. No. 4 / No. 2 vs. No. 3 with the winners playing each other for a berth in conference championship

* Conference Finals: Two advancing teams in the West and two advancing teams in the East meet in conference championship

* Eastern and Western Conference champions will meet in Stanley Cup final.

-- Tait

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 15, 2013 C2

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