Eastern Promises: Inside the Blue Jackets conference shift

Staff Writer
Columbus Alive

Ohio is a lot more “mid” than “west,” but for the past 12 seasons, the Columbus Blue Jackets have bided their time in the NHL’s Western Conference. Until now.

The offseason realignment of the NHL moves the Jackets (and the Detroit Red Wings) to the Eastern Conference, while also going from three divisions per conference to two. So what does this mean for the Jackets and fans? We’ll tell you.

Losing the lag

As the easternmost team in the Western Conference, the Blue Jackets always faced a brutal travel schedule. Imagine you are not only playing one of the most physically demanding sports on the planet, but you’re also doing it after flying across the continent. Like this team needed any disadvantages.

Lengthy West Coast trips were the norm in the past. This year, the team can stay closer to home, which should lead to a fresher, more energized team on the ice. It also cuts down on travel costs, which is good for the team’s bottom line.

Raising the rivalries

The shift also gives the Jackets a chance to spark new rivalries. Sure, the Ohio-Michigan thing always made Detroit an apparent foe — and I’m still pissed about that octopus on the Nationwide ice during that playoff game. But now the team has more potential for some nearby enemies.

The most obvious is the team closest to Columbus: the Pittsburgh Penguins. Pens games have been few and far between at Nationwide (14 in 12 seasons), but their fans travel, so the stands could get lively.

Two multi-player deals with the New York Rangers means Rick Nash and several other former Jackets will be returning. There’s no bad blood yet, but familiarity breeds contempt, right?

Fanning the faithful

The move is also win-win for Blue Jackets fans. First off, with fewer road trips to the Pacific Time Zone, that means way less trying to stay up on a school night to catch a road game. No more choosing between fandom and sleep!

Fans at Nationwide will also get more chances to see the big stars of the East (Sidney Crosby, Alex Ovechkin, Steven Stamkos, etc.) from the comfort of home. I think we’re going to like our new home.

AP photo/Keith Srakocic

Blue Jackets' Ryan Murray, right, checks Pittsburgh Penguins' Harry Zolnierczyk along the glass in a preseason game.