Molinari on the Penguins: Sad, but true; Flyers rivalry not big everywhere

No matter how badly the Penguins and Flyers want to face each other a half-dozen or more times every year ... it isn't likely to have an impact on how the Governors vote.


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Transplant a franchise more than a thousand miles -- into a different time zone and country, no less -- roughly 45 minutes before the start of a season, and there are sure to be complications and snags.

Like having a team based in Winnipeg share a division with those working out of Washington, Raleigh, Tampa and south Florida.

Now, the good people of Manitoba aren't complaining -- they're so thrilled to be back in the NHL that they'd gladly have their club grouped with ones from Tokyo, Stockholm, Cairo and Rio de Janeiro -- but the Capitals, Hurricanes, Lightning and Panthers presumably aren't overjoyed about making long-distance flights to reach a place that is a bit, uh, chillier than they were accustomed to when visiting Georgia.

That situation will be rectified for 2012-13, however, as the Jets will be moved out of the Thrashers' old spot in the Eastern Conference and into the West.

The question is: Will the realignment that gives Winnipeg a new home be a mere tweak, or something more traumatic for at least a few teams?

If it's the latter, the Penguins could be one of them, because the proposals now circulating include at least one that would move them into an enlarged version of the current Northeast Division.

There are other possibilities, including one that simply would move the Jets into the West and Detroit, Columbus or Nashville into the East, but which plan has the most support of the league's Board of Governors likely won't be known at least until that group meets Dec. 5-6 in Pebble Beach, Calif.

Until then, a few thoughts and points to consider about realignment:

• While the Penguins made it clear to the league that they don't like any plan that would put them in a division that does not include their most fierce rival, Philadelphia, no one should expect them to make a public issue of it.

They have developed an excellent working relationship with commissioner Gary Bettman and other league executives, and that's part of the reason events like the 2011 Winter Classic and 2012 entry draft end up here.

Penguins officials did some public scuffling with the league in the wake of the February debacle on Long Island, when the game descended back into the Dark Ages for a few hours, but they aren't going to come out from behind closed doors to protest something like the realignment proposal that would put them into an expanded Northeast Division.

Of course, if the league was considering a proposal to resurrect the Norris Division from the mid-1970s to the early 1980s, when the Penguins shared space with Montreal, Los Angeles, Detroit and Washington (or, for a few winters, Hartford), they might get a bit more vocal about it.

• There are winners and losers every time a league adjusts the makeup of its conferences or divisions, and the Penguins certainly would be one of the losers if the plan to shift them into an expanded Northeast Division is the one the Board of Governors eventually settles on.

That would, as has been discussed at great length for the past week, separate them from longtime, bitter rivals, most notably Philadelphia. If that particular proposal is endorsed by two-thirds of the league's Governors -- there are 30, one from each member club -- the Penguins and Flyers would meet just twice during the regular season, which borders on inconceivable.

The Flyers, for what it's worth, seem to feel the same way the Penguins do about having the rivalry placed into suspended animation. That's fine, but the hard truth is that no matter how badly the Penguins and Flyers want to face each other a half-dozen or more times every year -- and no matter what those games do to attract attention from fans, casual or otherwise -- it isn't likely to have an impact on how the Governors vote.

When it comes to matters such as realignment, each team can be expected to vote for whatever it perceives to be in its best interest, not necessarily what is best for the game overall. Teams that believe a particular realignment plan is good for them are guaranteed to support it, and those that believe it won't have any meaningful impact on them likely will go along with it, too.

After all, backing an idea that has no real effect on your franchise is a lot safer than opposing it and running the risk that a different plan that could have negative repercussions for your team will be adopted.

• Genuine rivalries tend to be forged in playoffs, but that's not always true. Sure, the one the Penguins have with Detroit was ratcheted up a few dozen notches when the teams met in consecutive Stanley Cup finals in 2008 and 2009, but the Penguins and Flyers -- and the people who follow both -- hated each other long before the teams collided in the playoffs for the first time, in 1989.

It probably would take years -- maybe decades -- for the Penguins and their fan base to develop the kind of passion for games against other opponents that they now have for those with Philadelphia (and, to a slightly lesser extent, Washington), but it's not out of the question that it could happen.

That's especially possible if the Penguins would end up in an expanded Northeast and regularly be facing opponents based in cities within easy driving distances, like Buffalo and Columbus or Detroit.

Remember, the roots of the Penguins-Washington rivalry can be traced back to the days when thousands of Penguins fans routinely would show up for weekend games at the Capital Centre in Landover, Md.


For much more on the Penguins, read the Pens Plus blog with Dave Molinari and Shelly Anderson at www.post-gazette.com/plus . Dave Molinari: dmolinari@post-gazette.com and Twitter @molinaripg.


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