a·cu·men [ak-yuh-muhn] noun: keen insight; shrewdness

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Tuesday, 31 May 2011

05/31/11 30.0 What Does the Return of the (Jets?) Mean for the Oilers?

The logo may or may not be the same, but the City of Winnipeg will be the home of a 7th Canadian team. Pending approval by the NHL board of governors, that is, which probably amounts to mere formality at this point. Among other things, Gary Bettman is quoted as saying "we get to be back in a place we wish we hadn't left in 1996," which means that the deal is done and the move will happen.

A season ticket drive will now take place in the Manitoba capital, which is a key element to the process. The city has to show that it can fill the MTS Centre night in and night out, but that shouldn't be a problem for a city that is partying in the streets at the return of the NHL.

Bettman has already come out and said that the new team will play in the Southeast Division in 2011-12, which will make for some hellish travel on all the teams of that division. Tampa Bay, Florida, Washington and Carolina are each going to have to fly to Winnipeg three times next year, and the Winnipeg team will have to make the long flights to those cities three times each as well. The distance between Winnipeg and Miami - which are the furthest Southeast Division cities from each other - is around 3500 kilometers. It's around 2500 to Raleigh North Carolina, 3200 to Tampa, and more than 2000 to Washington. Let the Airmiles jokes begin.

But, more importantly than all that: what does this move mean for the Edmonton Oilers?

Zach Bogosian
 First of all, this news probably all but kills any chance that the Oilers (or any team) have of signing Zach Bogosian to an offer sheet. Bogosian may still want out of the organization for whatever reason, but the entire organization could look very different after the dust settles on Winnipeg's new team. Add to that the fact that Winnipeg now boasts the wealthiest owner in the entire NHL, and you have a situation where even if Bogosian signed an offer sheet the ownership would be able to match. David Thomson is worth $23 billion and he can pay Bogosian without batting an eyelash, whereas the ownership group in Atlanta had imposed a tight internal budget.

At the same time, Mark Chipman said today that the new team will not immediately be spending to the cap, and that they will be building through the draft instead of going after the free agent market. It's probably a sensible move until the team can get a sense of how much revenue they can expect to pull in from the community, and they won't have all that knowledge until the team has been in place for at least a year. Also, Oiler fans know that building through the draft is really the best way to build a competitor. The team will have some good, solid building block already in place, but expect them to draft a scoring forward 7th overall at this year's draft. The team is without a real definitive offensive weapon at this point in its development. In other words, don't expect the Oilers to be able to trade for Winnipeg's pick.

The divisions will be the same for the 2011-12 season, but one has to think that there will be some major shifts of the league in 2012-13. Winnipeg will probably eventually join the Northwest Division, which means that Oilers won't be the only team building from the bottom up in this neck of the woods. It will be interesting to see who gets good first, as the race will most definitely be on.

Bob McKenzie said today that in a perfect world, (without a move of the Coyotes) Colorado would go to the Pacific Division, Dallas would join the Central Division, and one of Nashville, Columbus or Detroit would go to the Eastern Conference. It would be Detroit's dream come true to go to the East, and it would make a lot of sense. The new divisions could look like this:

Northwest: Vancouver, Edmonton, Calgary, Winnipeg, Minnesota
Pacific: Anaheim, Colorado, Los Angeles, Phoenix, San Jose
Central: Chicago, Columbus, Nashville, Dallas, St. Louis

Southeast: Carolina, Detroit, Florida, Tampa Bay, Washington

The Southeast division isn't ideal for Detroit, but it's much better than being a part of the Western Conference, considering that the city is in the Eastern Time Zone, and the majority of its opponents in the West are not. Imagine living in a city where many of the away games start at 9 and 10 o'clock local time. And, naturally, it's still a lot less travel.

Having a good team like Detroit out of the West will certainly help the Oilers come out of the basement, but the plan is still for the team to be able to beat the best one day anyway. It will be interesting to see how it all unfolds.

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