It’s the late offseason, and let’s face it, there’s nothing to talk about. So, we here at Predlines are beginning a three-part series called “What If?” In this series, we will examine different hypothetical, yet plausible scenarios from the past and see how the Predators would be different in that scenario.
Today’s question: what if the Predators moved to the Eastern Conference? Last year, the NHL went through realignment, and moved into a four-division format. The Columbus Blue Jackets and Detroit Red Wings moved to the Eastern Conference, while the Winnipeg Jets moved to the West. In terms of geography, all those moves make perfect sense. Nashville is also a city that is borderline East/West. If the NHL had decided to move the Predators to the other conference, how would things be different?
The Predators Still Would Not Have Made the Playoffs
The Eastern Conference is weaker than the West. There is no doubt there. But, that doesn’t mean Nashville
would have made the playoffs last season in the East. The Predators finished last season with 88 points. They were three points out of the final Wild Card spot in the West. In the East, Detroit was the final Wild Card team, and they finished with 93 points. Some may argue that the Predators would theoretically have more points if they didn’t have to face strong teams like the Blackhawks or Blues many times. But, the Predators actually had a lot of success against Chicago, winning five of six meetings. Also, let’s assume if the Predators did move to the East, they would be in the Metropolitan Division. They would have to face teams like the Penguins, Rangers, and Capitals. Nashville did not beat the Penguins in their two meetings last year, and split their series with the Rangers and Capitals (yes, this is a small sample size, but it is the only one available). The Predators probably would have had around the same point total in the East. Maybe even a little worse.
The Detroit Rivalry Would Still Be Strong
The 2013 realignment meant the end of the Nashville-Detroit rivalry (although if you ask Detroit fans, they won’t say it was a rivalry). The animosity had reached a fever pitch, too. The Predators finally beat the Red Wings in the playoffs in 2012, complete with a Shea Weber head slam and all. It was more evenly-matched than ever. When Detroit moved East before the start of last season, the rivalry somewhat died. If the Predators had moved to the Eastern Conference with the Red Wings, the animosity would have stayed strong and the rivalry would still be alive.
James Neal Would Not Be A Predator
This may come as a shock to some, but the Penguins would not want to trade with the Predators if they were in
the East. The Predators would likely be divisional rivals with the Penguins if they moved to the East. Pittsburgh GM Jim Rutherford is in his first year at the position, and he probably wouldn’t have wanted his first big move to be trading a very skilled and important player to a divisional rival. Trades within a division are few and far between in any sport. The Penguins would not have been open to the trade that sent James Neal to Nashville on draft night.
More National TV Games
While the team would not have made the playoffs in the East, the Predators would still look more impressive simply by being in the East. NBC tends to have a slight Eastern Conference bias (see the schedule here). Notice that the Blackhawks are the only team from the West on the list of teams with the most nationally-televised games. Nashville currently has one game on NBCSN for this upcoming season. The Predators wouldn’t suddenly get 15 games on NBCSN in the East, but by nature of playing more “high-profile” opponents, they would certainly get more national exposure. What hypothetical scenario from Predators history do you want to see us analyze next? Let us know on Twitter @PredlinesNSH .