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Realignment Rivalry Ready

By: Miranda Martin

With games against Minnesota and Dallas this week, Nashville Predators fans got to see what may be a regular sight if the proposed NHL conference realignment goes into effect…

…They weren’t disappointed, either.

In February, just as the last bits of the Collective Bargaining agreement were being swept up, the NHL embarked on its next trial—conference realignment. Last week, the NHLPA approved the tentative alignment, as long as it will be reviewed before the 2014-2015 season. This new realignment proposal would have 4 conferences, 2 with 8 teams and 2 with 7 teams. Both Columbus and Detroit would find themselves in one of the two eastern conferences, while Winnipeg would be placed in a mid-west conference with other central division teams. Essentially, the “former” Eastern Conference would have 16 teams, divided 8 and 8, and the “former” Western Conference would have 14, divided 7 and 7. They had proposed a similar realignment just last year, but it was shot down for having issues with travel. The main difference? The “Western” conferences had 16 teams, instead of the East.

If this alignment occurs, the Predators would be in a conference with Chicago, St. Louis, Minnesota, Dallas, Winnipeg, and Colorado. Though many are concerned about the Detroit rivalry disappearing, there are also many opportunities for great rivalries to be created with this new divisional conference.

Many big rivalries already established from the Central Division will stay intact. The St. Louis Blues always have been a thorn in our side, especially with their buses and droves of fans coming into the arena. The fan rivalry will continue and probably get more intense. The Chicago Blackhawks have a playoff past with the Predators, and that past will have a chance for redemption with this new realignment. Not to mention, the fan rivalry has definitely intensified since the history-breaking streak by Chicago, which was (finally) broken last week.

But quite possibly the most exciting rivalries will be between the Minnesota Wild and the Dallas Stars. Of course, Minnesota is now house to Ryan Suter, and the fans reaction to his first game back proves that the bitterness won’t be over for several years. Barry Trotz even requested that the fans keep “welcoming” Suter like that “for the next fourteen years.” Every game against Minnesota this year has been fairly intense, with the last two going into either overtime or shootout. The physicality between the two teams was very apparent Saturday night, as many scrums (generally involving the Wild’s Justin Falk) embraced the grit of the game. Though there were no fighting majors in this game, there were definitely big hits and a lot of trash talking—some of the better qualities of NHL hockey.

As for the game against Dallas Tuesday night, the summary is easy: “If you can’t beat them, beat them up.” Dallas and Nashville have already had a physical past (does anyone remember the Tootoo/Robidas incident from 2007?), but this game proved that there will definitely be a physical future. After the Predators took a decisive 3-0 lead against Dallas, the Stars began looking desperate. With about six minutes left in the game, 6’1, 193 pound winger Eric Nystrom decided to drop gloves with “5’10” (with skates on) 173 pound defenseman Ryan Ellis. Ellis held his own decisively, even laughing on his way to the penalty box. Not even 45 seconds later, Mike Fisher and Stephane Robidas dropped gloves after Fisher took a high stick to the head by goaltender Kari Lehtonen, followed by 3-4 cross-checks by Robidas in the slot. Shea Weber and Antoine Roussel followed suit, dropping the gloves and earning fighting majors and 10-minute misconducts. Even newly acquired Bobby Butler would get a roughing penalty in the scrum for his scrap with Brenden Dillon. Suddenly, there was a party in the Preds penalty box, especially after Gabriel Bourque made it 4-0 just 33 seconds after the fights.

This realignment has a lot of potential to be beneficial for the Preds. Yes, Detroit and Columbus are leaving, which sucks, but the great hockey against teams like Chicago and St. Louis will continue. The Suter rivalry in Minnesota will continue and intensify, and Dallas… well, there better be some ice packs ready in the locker room.

It’s going to be a fun realignment.

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