While Stephen Brunt of the Globe & Mail reported this evening that the deal to sell and move the Atlanta Thrashers to Winnipeg is "done", with an announcement scheduled for Tuesday, numerous other respected hockey reporters (including Pierre LeBrun, Darren Dreger, and Bob McKenzie) are reporting from their sources that there are still issues being negotiated and that while this move is still likely to occur, it isn't a sure thing yet.
One interesting development, however, is Dreger's report from yesterday that the NHL's plan for the upcoming 2011-12 regular season is to keep the Winnipeg team in the Southeast Division for the time being:
...rather than rush in to making drastic changes, doing nothing for one season other than insert Winnipeg into Atlanta's spot in the Southeast will be the short term approach to give the NHL and its owners ample time to consider all of its realignment options.
Sources say NHL commissioner Gary Bettman is telling league owners nothing is going to change for one year, which confirms the theory above.
As Paul McCann joked on yesterday's SlapShot Radio show, Winnipeg isn't even in Southeast Canada! The impact of a team in Winnipeg participating in the NHL's Southeast Division creates a huge travel issue for not just the relocated team, but their division rivals as well.
Follow after the jump as we dig into the details...
The following table shows side-by-side the travel data from the just-completed NHL regular season (derived from my NHL Super Schedule which I publish each summer), along with a what those numbers would look like if the Thrashers had played their home games in Winnipeg, rather than Atlanta. As you can imagine, their travel burden increases significantly, both in terms of mileage, and Time Zone changes:
|2010-11||ATL to WPG|
|Team||Distance||TZ Diff||Distance||TZ Diff|
|Columbus Blue Jackets||44,600||56||45,668||55|
|Detroit Red Wings||39,793||49||40,581||51|
|Los Angeles Kings||39,348||42||39,348||42|
|New Jersey Devils||27,152||10||29,455||14|
|New York Islanders||28,210||12||30,349||16|
|New York Rangers||29,063||14||31,542||18|
|San Jose Sharks||56,254||57||56,254||54|
|St. Louis Blues||41,473||42||42,239||40|
|Tampa Bay Lightning||40,522||14||47,485||20|
|Toronto Maple Leafs||33,470||16||33,686||18|
The TZ Diff column shows the number of time zones crossed for a given team over the course of the season, i.e. playing one game in Boston, with the next in Los Angeles, is a shift in 3 time zones (Eastern to Pacific), and those values are summed up over the course of the season here.
The "Winnipeg Thrashers" would travel over 66,000 miles, over 10,000 more miles than any team has gone in the last 3 seasons. That would rank right up there in terms of difficulty with the 1992-93 Tampa Bay Lightning, who played in the old Norris Division before moving to the Eastern Conference the next season.
Their rivals in the Southeast would all face increased travel as well, since they'd have to make the required 3 trips to Manitoba rather than nearby Georgia. That said, given the continuing lack of a long-term solution to the Phoenix Coyotes issue, this may be the prudent path to take for the upcoming season.