Spector on NHL: Realignment evens the scales

The Oilers have seen the Penguins just three times in the past nine years.

When the National Hockey League owners locked their players out, Gary Bettman apologized to you, the fan.

When the players bargained hard, refusing to give up those percentage points that we all knew would inevitably forfeit, the players told you, the fan, “We’re sorry. But this is business.”

When it was all over, after two lockouts in eight years, both came into this truncated 2012-13 season trumpeting the “best fans in sports.”

Because this is the most gate-driven of the major sports in North America.

They need your love, because they need your cash.

So if realignment is what the majority of the “best fans in sports” want, and we believe it is, then it was high time the league and the NHLPA stopped giving the fans lip service, and started delivering.

No league, no players’ union, has treated its fans worse than the NHL and NHLPA have.

As such, no league — and no league’s players’ union — owes its fans more than these two.

Now, if you reside in the Eastern Time Zone and your team plays in the Eastern Conference, chances are you don’t have much use for a realignment.

That’s because the vast majority of your team’s games start at 7 or 7:30 p.m., and your team doesn’t have to navigate through three time zones to play a playoff series, the way Detroit, Vancouver, Los Angeles, Anaheim and San Jose have for so many years.

You’ve got to open your heart to the Dallas fans, whose team plays in a Pacific Division where all four other teams are two time zones to the West — depending on what time zone Phoenix is in that day.

He gets a steady diet of 9:30 starts for road games, and Minnesota fans have similar issues playing in the Northwest. Columbus fan also have to put their kids to bed before many of the Blue Jackets’ road games start.

Winnipeg, for Pete’s sake! How long were the Jets supposed to play in the Southeast?

A reader tweeted saying he doesn’t want to see all those Western Conference teams coming through New York. He’d rather have Sidney Crosby more often.


Do you think Canucks fans prefer to see more of Columbus and Minnesota?

What about the Oilers fans, who have seen the Penguins visit just three times in the past nine years?

And to the argument among players that it is seven per cent less likely they will make the playoffs — read: earn a playoff cheque — in the East, we say, “Cry me a river.”

There are no train or bus trips out West, the way the Rangers, Islanders, Philadelphia, Washington and New Jersey get to for so many of their games.

Outside of a Kings-Ducks game, every road game in the West is a night in a hotel and a late flight to somewhere else.

That alone makes it likely more than seven per cent more difficult to land free agents in the West, and playing in the West is undoubtedly seven per cent more difficult overall than playing in the East.

Being a fan in the West is seven per cent more inconvenient. This evens the scales, we figure.

So the NHLPA gave its blessing to realignment Thursday with the proviso that it be re-opened after the 2014-15 season. The cynic in me would say the union is cooperating short-term on realignment so the league will play nice and agree to take part in the 2014 Sochi Olympics.

But, by 2015 we should have a clearer picture on Quebec City, which has to play in the same division with Montreal. And the new team in Southern Ontario, which we predict will have to serve time in the Western Conference for the foreseeable future.

And surely, by 2015 the situation in Phoenix will have been clarified. (Insert laugh track here.)

With Quebec in the East, the new Southern Ontario franchise in the West, that still leaves the league unbalanced at 17-15. Someone will have to move West if we are to balance the conferences, and they won’t be happy about it.

How to single that team out of the Eastern herd?

Maybe they’ll ask the fans for advice?

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