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Oilers comment on NHL realignment

Oilers President & COO Patrick LaForge, Belanger, Whitney, Smyth & Renney chime in

Monday, 05.12.2011 / 11:15 PM / News
By Ryan Dittrick  - edmontonoilers.com
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Oilers comment on NHL realignment
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Edmonton, AB - "I'm not allowed to speak about how the vote went, but it was almost unanimous," said Oilers President & COO, Patrick LaForge, who's on location for the NHL's Board of Governors' meeting in Pebble Beach, CA.

The league approved a sweeping change, which sees the current Eastern and Western Conferences eliminated in favour of a new, four-conference arrangement based on geography and existing rivalries.
Assembling with the Vancouver Canucks, Calgary Flames, Los Angeles Kings, Anaheim Ducks, San Jose Sharks, Phoenix Coyotes and Colorado Avalanche, the Oilers will slide into one of the NHL's new eight-team conferences.

One other such cluster will exist, while the remaining 14 clubs will split into a pair of seven-team, eastern-based collections.

"We really like it," LaForge explained. "It sees us travel just two time zones for most of our games, which saves on travel; and it's the best option for our TV viewers, since they're only a one-hour later start time at worst.

"That's a good thing."

On the surface, it appears as though there’s been an advantage created for the eastern-based teams residing in a seven-team grouping. The Oilers’ president hinted that it could be an intentional move in preparation for the relocation of another struggling organization (Phoenix).

"It was brought up," LaForge said. "It's not like it was forgotten, but we'll see how it goes."

Regardless, new and unique matchups have been created to help balance the league's ever-evolving makeup.

"The motion would also include us and all teams playing an interlocking schedule," he added. "We'll end up playing each team in the league in a home-and-home set, which is something I know our fans will like.

"Playing an 82-game schedule against all the teams in the league is even for everyone. I think it's good; it makes sense. Also, we'll have 22 games against teams not in our conference, and those will be like post-season games because you're playing to seed the teams in the Top 4.

"Incredible, incredible drama for the fans."

Although the motion was initially passed this evening, there's still some due-diligence to be completed. There's a chance that the Winnipeg Jets could play in the current Southeast Division next season as well.

"I can't guarantee that it will be implemented next year," LaForge explained. "The reason is that there's still some conversation to happen between a couple stakeholders and Commissioner Gary Bettman."

All things considered, LaForge and the Oilers are pleased with tonight's outcome.

"I like it all the way, top to bottom."

*** Posted at 6:30pm MT ***

Edmonton, AB - The NHL's Board of Governors have assembled at a seaside resort in Pebble Beach, CA to hammer out a plan that would put a stamp on the Atlanta Thrashers' move to Winnipeg over the summer.

The Jets, as such for the 2011-12 season, have remained in the Southeast Division; but the eventual move to realign the league's 30 squads was as expected as can be, putting extra emphasis on the BOG's two-day meeting.

Now, it seems as though a resolution is near. One of the proposals introduced sees four, seven-or-eight team conferences replace the NHL's East/West mainstay, with the Top 4 in each making the post-season.

In such a format, the Oilers would likely be assigned to line up against the Los Angeles Kings, San Jose Sharks, Anaheim Ducks, Phoenix Coyotes, Colorado Avalanche, Vancouver Canucks and Calgary Flames in four regular-season contests each.

That scenario would leave 44 games on the schedule to be split between the league's remaining opponents; 22 teams in which the orange and blue would battle with in a home-and-home set, at the very least.

"I think it would be nice to be able to go in every building in the league and have a home-and-home series," said Oilers centre Eric Belanger. "I think home teams' fans would like to see that, too, and it would be good for the league as a whole."

Ryan Whitney, an eight-year NHL veteran who's spent time in Pittsburgh, Anaheim and now Edmonton, agreed with Belanger's assessment.

"I think it's a pretty cool idea to have a home-and-home with every team in the league," said the 28-year-old. "That makes a season seat pretty valuable if you're going to see every team in your own building that year.

"I think the one thing is people mention how tough travel can be, but you've got to look at it both ways. I think that whole four conferences idea, it looked pretty cool and it looks like ours would probably be the strongest, so it's a good idea and I'm curious to see what will happen."

With the NHL's current format, the Oilers play Northwest Division opponents six times each, the rest of the Western Conference four times, and Eastern Conference teams at least once with no guarantee of a home date.

"I think it would be absolutely great," said Ryan Smyth, who's seen the New Jersey Devils a mere 15 times in his 1096-game big-league career. He, too, would be in favour of seeing new teams pay a visit to Rexall Place and vice-versa.

"You get to see new teams, new and exciting players; the fans get to experience that as well, which is huge. We see some teams as many as six times a season, excluding the pre-season. Knocking that down wouldn't be a bad thing, and I don't think the rivalries would be taken away at all."

"It's wonderful," added Oilers Head Coach Tom Renney. "I think it's good. The talk is good and the time has come, with geography being what it is.

"It's time to really talk about that and grow even more excitement over the game; because on the heels of the NBA lockout, I think we can really generate even more interest right now if we do this right."

The Board of Governors' vote requires a two-thirds majority to pass.

-- Ryan Dittrick, edmontonoilers.com - Follow me on Twitter | @ryandittrick


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