It's still a little premature to state for sure that the NHL landscape will change next season with the Phoenix Coyotes being moved back to Winnipeg - there is a key meeting today between the city of Glendale and Goldwater Institute that will possibly shed a lot more light on the current situation and if it is salvageable - there has been talk that the NHL has a plan of attack drawn up and ready to be executed to move the Coyotes back to their former Winnipeg home in the event that current issues with the sale of the Coyotes to Matthew Hulsizer not be dealt with.
Part of those plans one would have to believe would be what to do with the divisional alignment since we all know having
a team from a central time zone play in a division with three teams in the pacific time zone a team from Manitoba play in a division with three teams from California is not a smart idea at all. Of course moving teams around divisions will affect other NHL teams including the Stars...
While we don't have the NHL's playbook in regards to divisional realignment in our hands, that won't stop us from speculating on the possibilities. The following is four possible scenarios the NHL could be looking at from most likely to happen this summer should the Coyotes move to Winnipeg - to least likely:
Scenario #1 - One for one swap with Colorado
The most likely - and most discussed option in the last couple of seasons that this whole Coyotes issue has been with us - is that the NHL will simply have the Winnipeg team play out of the Northwest division and move the Colorado Avalanche to the Pacific. It's the easiest option available, doesn't significantly hurt the teams in the pacific travel wise (what's an extra few hundred miles in air travel right?) and moving Winnipeg to the Northwest would give the Minnesota Wild a team in their same time zone leaving the Stars as the only team in the NHL to be a division where no other team shares their time zone.
(Three more possibilities after the jump)
Scenario #2 - 1 for 1 swap with Vancouver & change balancing of schedule
It's possible the NHL may want to move a team sitting on the coast of the Pacific Ocean to the Pacific division and can do so should the Coyotes be moved. The real issue here is that you would take away games from Vancouver's rivalries with Edmonton and Calgary, but that could be easily fixed if the NHL gets creative with the schedule. It wouldn't be overly difficult to change the schedule up so that each NHL team could take three to four games for outer-divisional rivalry games - think along the lines of Toronto vs Detroit, Nashville vs Atlanta, Dallas vs Minnesota. Travel wise things would start getting tougher for the other Pacific division teams - especially Dallas - but having another team in the same time zone would be a benefit to the California clubs.
Scenario #3 - Do nothing
Lets be honest, this is the NHL and thus a "do nothing" option seems a little plausible right? Remember that back in 96/97 and 97/98 the NHL allowed the new Phoenix franchise to remain in the same division with the Toronto Maple Leafs as they waited for new expansion teams to come in before changing up the NHL map. It's possible that the NHL could expect more team relocations to happen over the next few seasons (Thrashers? Islanders?) or that even the whole Winnipeg move might be a one year deal. The NHL would rather not have to move teams around divisions every summer so standing pat may be an option. While the travel would go from poor to horrendous for the remaining pacific clubs, it would at least give the Stars a team in their time zone. Would the NHL offer some sort of financial compensation to the teams for all the extra travel? Not likely.
Scenario #4 - A three team swap between Vancouver, Winnipeg and Dallas.
This is the Stars fan pipe dream as a move to the Central division would obviously be welcomed by the team and fans alike. It's no secret that the Stars were less than thrilled in 1998 to have to move out of the Central division and this would be an ideal chance to fix that problem. Move Vancouver to the Pacific, Winnipeg to the Northwest and then again restructure the schedule so that Vancouver gets extra dates with their fellow Canadian clubs. Compared to the situations where there would be a simple 1 for 1 trade off, this scenario seems like an easy extension of that plan and kind of an obvious way to go the more one thinks about it... Which is probably why the NHL won't consider it.
A meeting between Goldwater, the city of Glendale, the NHL and the Hulsizer group today might render all this talk moot, and for the sake of the passionate Coyote fan, we hope they get that good news they're looking for. "There's always next season" is a horrible, horrible thing to lose.