February 25, 2013 at 12:37 pm

Gregg Krupa

Red Wings heading to NHL Eastern Conference? Let's wait and see

The tantalizing prospect that the Red Wings may return to the Eastern Conference of the NHL, where worn, battered and bruised bodies can sometimes rest during the season and, believe it or not, even in the Stanley Cup playoffs, was enough to displace the Wings ending a five-game winless streak as big news over the weekend.

Playing the Canadiens, Maple Leafs and Bruins several times each season is equivalent to the stars returning to alignment for some fans.

Fewer West Coast and western Canada trips for the players might lead to more success in the standings and playoffs, longer, more successful careers and happier young families. Little wonder that when they were informed Saturday of a report about the proposal by reporters, the Wings seemed almost happier about the plan than winning in regulation for the first time since Feb. 10 — and then winning again by defeating the streaking Canucks.

Fans would not need to stay awake until 2 a.m. to see overtime victories for the Red Wings in the playoffs against teams like the Canucks and Kings.

The problem with all the happiness is that it could be illusory, once again, as it was a year ago when the league announced a realignment scheme far less beneficial to the Red Wings, but without checking with the players union, which rejected it.

A proposal, even one reported by the credible Elliotte Friedman of the CBC, is only a proposal.

The issues must be resolved by the same officials who brought you yet another owners' lockout, distressed NHL finances despite record revenues and the epic ownership fiascos in Phoenix and Atlanta.

Both the NHL Board of Governors and the NHL players' association must vote to approve realignment.

Complex issues

As usual, when big news about how the game is organized or played is under consideration by the league, fans are holding their breath.

Unfortunately, the NHL still has the reputation for messing up important things.

NHL officials obviously want to change that, especially after this latest lockout. And they have two huge opportunities to put a lot of bad feelings behind them, if they can address both realignment and participation in the 2014 Winter Olympics.

Both issues are enormously complicated, requiring cooperation between owners, players, their organizations and, in the case of the Olympics, the prickly International Olympic Committee.

And both issues require resolution, presently, if the realignment is to occur next season, as hoped, and if NHL players are to skate in the Russian Caucasus precisely 12 months from now.

Some owners must put aside personal wants and desires for realignment for the good of all. And the players must be satisfied that they have had fair input into a reasonable resolution that is fair to as many teams as feasible. For just as there will be some winners and losers among owners in realignment, some players will travel less, others more.

Imbalance

Moreover, some mechanism must be instituted to resolve the problem of having two eight-team divisions and two seven-team divisions, with the obvious variance in the chances to make the playoffs.

On the Olympics, both the NHL and the players' association are intent on wrestling more use of their participation from the IOC for their own marketing, and Olympics officials are determined to protect their property. It will take a lot of give-and-take for the NHL to participate in the Winter Games.

There are some encouraging signs, on both fronts.

Having just messed up the first attempt to realign, the NHL knows not to make mistakes. In that vein, if the leaked proposal comes as a complete surprise to some members of the Board of Governors and to the players' association, the league is making all the mistakes it made last year, and more.

Which is why many observers were taking the reported proposal as genuinely substantive, perhaps already vetted by the governors and shared with the leaders of the players' association.

There was a sense at the end of the lockout that Gary Bettman and others understood that the fractious relationship with the players' association simply can not continue.

In that sense, realignment and Olympic participation are ready-made opportunities.

Everyone wants the NHL at the Olympics, except maybe for some owners who wonder why players worth tens-of-millions of dollars should be allowed to risk playing for someone else and why their building should be empty for two weeks when there is so little measureable return.

There is doubtlessly work left to do. Things could yet unravel.

But it is nice, for once, to hope the NHL is poised to resolve two significant issues properly, in the interests of the league and the fans.

Proposed alignment

Eastern Conference, Division 1: Carolina, Columbus, New Jersey, Islanders, Rangers, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and Washington.

Eastern Conference, Division.2: Boston, Buffalo, Detroit, Florida, Montreal, Ottawa, Tampa Bay and Toronto.

Western Conference, Division 1: Chicago, Colorado, Dallas, Minnesota, Nashville, St. Louis and Winnipeg.

Western Conference, Division 2: Anaheim, Calgary, Edmonton, Los Angeles, Phoenix, San Jose and Vancouver.

gkrupa@detroitnews.com

A move to the Eastern Conference for Detroit would rekindle Original Six rivalries with Toronto, Montreal, N.Y. Rangers and Boston. / David Guralnick/Detroit News