Thrashers’ Move to Winnipeg Has Implications for Bruins, Rest of Eastern Conference

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Editor's note: Scott Frano contributed this story to NESN.com.

Tuesday was a great day for the city of Winnipeg and a sad one for the few loyal Thrashers fans in Atlanta. The NHL announced that True North Sports and Entertainment has bought the Thrashers franchise and will move the team to Winnipeg.

The move will change the landscape of the league. Of particular interest to Bruins fans is how the move will affect the Eastern Conference. Next season, the divisions will be the same no matter what happens this summer. That means that Eastern Conference teams will have to travel to Winnipeg at least two times each, with Southeast teams traveling there three times.

This year, the Bruins embarked on one road trip to the Pacific Northwest where they played Vancouver, Calgary and Edmonton, respectively. Next year, if they make a similar trip, a visit to Winnipeg would likely be included, extending the road trip. But the team would have to make another trip somewhere else during the season. Where would the league fit this in?

The B's played a home-and-home against Detroit this season. Would the league have the Bruins play a team in the Central Division on the road and then tack on another trip to Winnipeg? Either way, Bruins fans can expect a few more late starts next season and some longer road swings.

Of course, Winnipeg will not stay in the Eastern Conference past the 2011-2012 season. The addition of Winnipeg in the West will force the league to move a team from the West into the East. 

Detroit, Columbus and Nashville are teams most likely to move, due to their proximity to the East Coast. Nashville would likely move to the Southeast, which would be an easy swap with Winnipeg. Nashville would become a strong contender for the Southeast Division crown and a perennial playoff threat. Columbus, if moved, would add another weak team in the East, which would benefit the Bruins. However, only the Northeast and Atlantic divisions make geographic sense for Columbus, which could lead to some confusing shuffling in those divisions.

Detroit, however, has wanted to move East for a while. Supposedly, Red Wings owner Mike Ilitch has an agreement in place that if a team moves from East to West, that the Red Wings get to move East. This would bring up the same divisional issues that moving Columbus would, and it would also leave Chicago as the only Original Six team in the West, not to mention breaking up the great Red Wings-Blackhawks rivalry.

But if the Wings do switch conferences, the East will be even tougher.

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Scott Frano can reached at sfrano@nd.edu.

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