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“But you promised!” Mike Ilitch says Gary Bettman promised him Detroit would move East

Sep 30, 2011, 10:10 AM EDT

Mike Ilitch Getty Images

The NHL is going to be jumping into realignment next season in one form or another. Three teams want to move to the Eastern Conference from the West because the travel is a righteous pain in the rear-end and, let’s face it, having teams like Detroit, Columbus, and Nashville in the Western Conference makes as much geographic sense as having Winnipeg in the Southeast Division.

Detroit owner Mike Ilitch apparently has the inside line on what’s happening with the Red Wings in the realignment puzzle because he knows people, mainly NHL commissioner Gary Bettman. He believes the Red Wings are moving to the Eastern Conference no matter what next season. How is he so sure? Ilitch told Bob Wojnowski of The Detroit News in a Q&A session why he knows what’s up.

Q . OK, once and for all, are you gonna get the Wings out of the Western Conference or not?

A . The commissioner (Gary Bettman) promised me I was next. We even had a meeting over lunch this past season, and he had all his people here, and he goes, ‘Yeah, I promised Mike he’d be the next one to go in the Eastern Conference.’ So I expect to be in next year. Jimmy D (Devellano) is on the phone every other week reminding them.

To call this a game changer would be a massive understatement. With Detroit in the Eastern Conference, old rivalries with original six teams like Boston, Montreal, New York, and Toronto are back on in a big way. Throw in a regional foe like Buffalo and put the Wings in battles more often with the likes of Philadelphia, Washington, and Pittsburgh and the Eastern Conference becomes a nightly must-see war zone.

Moving Detroit out of the West does have one downside though as the Red Wings rivalry with Chicago that was reignited the last few seasons now gets kicked in the teeth. There is one saving grace to that situation, however, and it’s one that makes an conference changing easier to stomach: The rumored return of the balanced schedule. Fox Sports Tennessee’s John Manasso dug in about that topic with Predators GM David Poile.

However, there is a way of possibly making all three happy and it seems to be gaining currency. Predators general manager David Poile said as much on Thursday.

“We’re happy with where we are,” he said. “We’re open-minded to working with everybody in the league to do what’s best for the league. We’re always conscious, being a Western team, that there could be, in our minds, a more balanced schedule. Regardless of whether we stay or move, there could be a more balanced schedule. That’s an aspect I’m pretty sure you’d hear that from other 14 teams in our conference.”

Spreading out the travel burden to make those eastern-located teams that may get stuck in the Western Conference helps make it easier to stomach. It also can help to save that Chicago rivalry with Detroit by guaranteeing two games between the teams each year with one in each city.

If it’s true that Detroit comes to the East, however, how does that affect Columbus? The Blue Jackets also desperately want to move to the East and, let’s face it, they could use the assistance in trying to improve their shot at getting back to the postseason. Are they left out in the cold now or will the NHL have a realignment model in place that gets both teams into the East? It’s all part of the puzzle that waits to be figured out. A decision on how to realign will likely come by the end of December when the NHL Board of Governors meets to get the ball rolling for how things will go next season.

  1. comeonnowguys - Sep 30, 2011 at 10:41 AM

    Bring back the four larger, geographically divisions, and divisional playoffs in the first four rounds. You can have a division similar to the old Norris that will cut down west coast games for teams in both the Great Lakes area and Mississippi River basin area. Not only will it lessen the impact on existing rivalries, but it can likely enhance them.

    • comeonnowguys - Sep 30, 2011 at 10:41 AM

      geographically-arranged*

    • comeonnowguys - Sep 30, 2011 at 10:42 AM

      two rounds*

      For crying out loud. Time for a second round of caffeine.

  2. deadpooldx - Sep 30, 2011 at 11:59 AM

    how about 2 conferences, 3 divisions in each conference like it is now, but have the conferences evenly balanced geographically.

    • greatminnesotasportsmind - Sep 30, 2011 at 4:04 PM

      Your not going to get that to happen. Heck the western conference spans all 4 times zones, even if Detroit does go east

  3. sippindasyzurp - Sep 30, 2011 at 12:36 PM

    I have gave this some thought for a while, and I think for the best interest of the game they should go to two split conferences like the NFL. ( IE; don’t use geographical location to determine the conferences, but within the conferences you can have divisions that are based around geographical location… I think this would add a nice little twist as you could have a West, East, South and North Division in each conference… Therefore you would get a more balanced exposure of some these teams from the east that don’t get to travel west as often and vice versa. I don’t know how viable this would be in the NHL but it would be interesting to see what a draft of this might look like… Any thoughts??

  4. quizguy66 - Sep 30, 2011 at 3:39 PM

    I think they are going to the 4 conference set-up anyway and you’ll have 3 essentially eastern conferences and 1 western conference with 8 teams (SJ-ANA-LA-PHX-VAN-COL-CGY-EDM)

    -QG

  5. greatminnesotasportsmind - Sep 30, 2011 at 4:07 PM

    For the good of the game, they need to go back to 2 divisions in each conference. The west is easy.

    Calgary, Vancouver, Edmonton, San Jose, Los Angeles, Anaheim, Phoenix, and Colorado

    The other

    Winnipeg, Minnesota, Chicago, St Louis, Dallas, Columbus, and Nashville

    • comeonnowguys - Oct 3, 2011 at 10:05 AM

      You can’t have what basically looks like the old Norris without Detroit.

      Columbus needs eastern rivalries like Pittsburgh, Buffalo, Philly, and Washington much more than Detroit right now.

  6. nottheimpostergrizzlygriz - Oct 5, 2011 at 11:29 AM

    The title of this article says it all. No matter whether or not the wings make the most sense as to moving conferences, they have been demanding it for years. Atlanta moving is the only good reason they’ve had, other than thinking that moving to the Eastern Conference would allow them a better position in the league, as they assume that all Eastern Conference teams are inferior, and by a long shot. The fact of the matter is, they had no defense last year and a lot of offense. That made them almost equivalent to the prior year’s Washington Capitals, but with not as good a record. They will find that it wasn’t greener on the other side of the fence. They will find that rivalries are lost and new ones won’t be as good. They will find themselves an also-ran among the Eastern Conference, much like they are now in the West.

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