With the long-delayed deal moving the Atlanta Thrashers to Winnipeg, Manitoba, finally done, the NHL's Southeast Division will have a little different look next year - and down the road.
With the release of the schedule only six weeks away, it appears the division will remain unchanged for the 2011-12 season, which for the Carolina Hurricanes means their second-closest travel partner has been replaced by one on the other side of Thunder Bay, Ontario. That's good news for Eric Staal and his family ... and not many others.
Over the next year, though, a massive debate is going to take place within the NHL over what the Southeast Division is going to look like in the future.
(And if you think travel just got worse for the other four teams in the Southeast Division, imagine what it's going to be like for Andrew Ladd and the former Thrashers - not to mention that exhibition in Charlotte, for which the Hurricanes hold a signed contract.)
Winnipeg is a natural fit in the Northwest Division with the Vancouver Canucks, Edmonton Oilers and Calgary Flames. That means bumping the Minnesota Wild to the Central Division, but that's just the re-named Norris Division, and the North Stars played there for years. The Wild would be happy to make the switch.
The big question is, which Central Division team moves to the Southeast? That someone is one of the big political questions in the NHL right now. Will the Detroit Red Wings finally get back into the Eastern Conference? Will the Nashville Predators join their geographic brethren? Or will the Columbus Blue Jackets slip past everyone?
The Red Wings have wanted out of the Western Conference for years, which bestows upon them the worst travel in the league, but the NHL has millions of reasons to keep the Red Wings and the Blackhawks in the same division - it's one of the matchups Versus and NBC like. And if you haven't noticed, Versus and NBC are basically running the league right now, which is why we have this wacky schedule for the finals in which the NHL plays one game in eight days.
The Southeast Division teams will be pushing equally hard to get the Red Wings, because that replaces three games against the Thrashers/Winnipeggers with three guaranteed sellouts against Detroit, not to mention Hurricanes owner Peter Karmanos' own personal motivation for being in the same division with his hometown team.
On purely aesthetic grounds, the Predators make more sense. They're the geographic and spiritual brethren of the other teams in the Southeast Division, and they face many the same travel issues as the Red Wings. Needless to say, you won't hear NBC make a squeak. Nashville has built some rivalries in the Central, but nothing worth preserving compared to the potential for rivalry development in the Southeast.
The Blue Jackets remain another option if the networks won't let the Red Wings move and the Predators put up a fight, but that seems unlikely at this point.
This all could be moot if the NHL can't keep the Phoenix Coyotes in Glendale, Ariz., although there's much less incentive for them to move with Canada's only NHL-ready empty building now occupied. They could move to Kansas City without too much divisional shuffling, or perhaps the NHL would throw out the entire current divisional structure.
For now, though, the Winnipeg Jets/Manitoba Moose/Your Name Heres are members of the Southeast Division, if in name only, and the only question is for how long.