If the Atlanta Thrashers move to Winnipeg, but remain in the NHL's Southeast Division

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 LeBrunDarren 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 
 Anaheim Ducks 45,868 49 45,868 49
 Atlanta/Winnipeg 44,079 20 66,340 50
 Boston Bruins 35,673 20 38,267 22
 Buffalo Sabres 30,124 16 31,614 16
 Carolina Hurricanes 40,874 16 46,952 17
 Columbus Blue Jackets  44,600 56 45,668 55
 Calgary Flames 47,827 42 47,531 40
 Chicago Blackhawks 39,580 41 39,832 39
 Colorado Avalanche 44,190 42 46,180 44
 Dallas Stars 44,880 41 44,880 41
 Detroit Red Wings 39,793 49 40,581 51
 Edmonton Oilers 50,309 42 50,309 42
 Florida Panthers 40,601 14 45,601 20
 Los Angeles Kings 39,348 42 39,348 42
 Minnesota Wild 50,805 51 52,628 48
 Montreal Canadiens 32,910 14 34,601 18
 New Jersey Devils 27,152 10 29,455 14
 Nashville Predators 42,379 42 43,499 42
 New York Islanders 28,210 12 30,349 16
 New York Rangers 29,063 14 31,542 18
 Ottawa Senators 32,157 16 33,799 20
 Philadelphia Flyers 29,716 14 32,408 16
 Phoenix Coyotes 53,843 59 53,843 53
 Pittsburgh Penguins 28,948 12 30,551 15
 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
 Vancouver Canucks 51,213 55 52,001 57
 Washington Capitals 31,858 14 35,363 19
 Average 39,924 31 42,289 34

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. 

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