With all the bitching and moaning about late games in Vancouver and Calgary over the years, you would think that Red Wings fans were being pushed to pull some extreme airline gymnastics themselves. That, instead of sitting on their couch past their bedtime with a Labatt in hand, the fans were being herded like cattle and forced to fly under duress before suiting up in cold, wet hockey gear.
The truth is, the Western Conference wasn’t really all that bad for the Red Wings. Hell, the team won an impressive number of division championships (13), Presidents’ Trophies (6) and Stanley Cups (4) over the past 20 years. However, aside from goalie problems and questions of toughness, the idea of a relentless travel schedule has always been the excuse du jour for many grieving Red Wings fans. Can’t deal with another shortened season because of the San Jose Sharks? Blame it on the travel, baby.
After much talk about a potential move for the team, NHL Commissioner (and Occasional Wish Granter) Gary Bettman rubbed his grimy hands together and made the dreams of many a reality: the Wings have finally moved to the Eastern Conference, along with sometime rivals, the Columbus Bluejackets. No more red-eyes to the West Coast. No more dealing with doubleheader games on Hockey Night in Canada (Writer’s Note: Boo!). You got what you wanted … or at least you think you did.
Twenty games into the young 2013-14 NHL season, the Detroit Red Wings have nearly an identical record when comparing games played against Eastern Conference (5-2-3) and Western Conference (4-3-3) teams. While still too early in the season to make any concrete statements about the move, I can’t help but feel unsettled about how the conference change could drastically change the team’s Stanley Cup ambitions.
The Western Conference has long been the dormant half of the NHL. Despite long being bolstered by dynasties like the Wings and the Edmonton Oilers, the lower half of the conference has seen some atrocious records. Sure, there are stinker teams in the Eastern Conference (here’s looking at you, Buffalo Sabres), but what happens when you drop five easy wins against the Phoenix Coyotes from your schedule? You know who the Wings play instead? A more robust conference filled with teams that actually scrap 90 points every single season.
While the Wings can blow by some of their divisional competition, the fact is that they face much scarier opposition in the new conference overall. The East’s other set of teams, the oddly named Metropolitan Division, is stacked with some of the biggest playoff powerhouses of the last five years. So, yes, the Wings will make the playoffs, but they will have a much harder time getting to the Stanley Cup Finals than in years past.
Think you’re tired of Sidney Crosby’s stupid face now? Wait till he bounces you from the playoffs for the next five straight years.