EDMONTON -- It's a significant matter to the Winnipeg Jets that the NHL's realignment has at long last sent them to the Western Conference.
It's what the Jets have wanted since the franchise was relocated from Atlanta in 2011, but be careful -- and prepared for -- what you wish for, says one well-rounded former player and coach who watches both sides of the fence.
"I don't think there's any doubt that the Western Conference is a quicker conference than the East from top to bottom," said former Jets sniper Eddie Olczyk, who had 342 goals and 794 points in more than 1,000 NHL games. Olczyk also coached the Pittsburgh Penguins for a spell and now watches and works games almost nightly as the TV analyst for the Chicago Blackhawks and nationally in the U.S. for NBC Sports.
'From top to bottom, I think the West is a way quicker conference, so that's going to be the overall challenge... What I watch, I see a quicker pace. You've got to make quicker decisions'
Jets forwards Olli Jokinen and Devin Setoguchi have extensive experience in the Western Conference and have spoken about the tightness of play and the size of opponents.
Olczyk doesn't debate that but says the nature of the conference requires the Jets to move faster to overcome those obstacles.
"You do have teams in the East that do play a fast game, obviously Pittsburgh and Montreal, and I'd even say the Jets when they were there to a certain extent," Olczyk said. "But from top to bottom, I think the West is a way quicker conference, so that's going to be the overall challenge.
"Can they adapt to the quickness of the conference from top to bottom on a regular basis? It will be more than what they've seen in the past. Andrew Ladd would be one guy who can really speak to that, too. It's been a few years for him but he played in Carolina and Chicago and the Jets in the East, so he'll know.
"What I watch, I see a quicker pace. You've got to make quicker decisions."
Ladd was presented with the theory on Monday.
"To be even more specific, it's a quicker game on the defensive side of the puck," Ladd said. "Your time and space is taken away, breaking out of your zone and stuff like that. (Western teams) have their forechecks down, they take away time and space and if you're not quick you're going to be spending a lot of time in your own end.
"I think he's definitely on the right track. I think the East is pretty quick offensively but not quite as quick as some of these groups in the West defensively."
Inside the Jets' new home in the Central Division, they'll find any number of challenges in the Chicago Blackhawks, Minnesota Wild, St. Louis Blues, Dallas Stars, Nashville Predators and Colorado Avalanche.
The Hawks deserve to be favoured again this year, coming off their second Stanley Cup win in four years. But Olczyk said the division is very deep.
"When you have a team in St. Louis that has proven in the last couple of years that they're on the verge, when you play against the St. Louis Blues in a playoff series, there's a pretty good chance that when you come out of it you're going to feel like you played a nine-game series," he said. "Look at L.A. last year. At some point it just catches up to you.
"Now, can St. Louis be the team to eliminate somebody rather than just put the hurt on somebody? That's going to be an interesting dynamic in the Central, how the teams will be able to handle the style St. Louis plays in the playoffs, the physical kind of punishment they play with. You'll know you've been in a series or a game with them."