SUNRISE, FL – One more thing the Bruins are reminded of as they pass through their only Florida swing in the 48-game abbreviated NHL season: They might be seeing a lot more of the Florida Panthers and the Tampa Bay Lightning starting next season.
It’s been widely reported that both the Panthers and Lightning could be joining the Bruins, Ottawa Senators, Montreal Canadiens, Toronto Maple Leafs and Buffalo Sabres when the NHL realigns into four divisions next season.
But wait, there’s more.
Elliotte Friedman reported on Hockey Night in Canada Saturday night that the Detroit Red Wings might also be added to the aforementioned mix of teams making it an eight-team division including storied franchises from Boston, Detroit, Montreal and Toronto.
Some players like Milan Lucic don’t particularly enjoy playing road games against the Florida teams because of the hot, humid conditions on the ice, and the three-hour plane rides to the Sunshine State are the longest commutes from Boston within the boundaries of the Eastern Conference.
But most Bruins players aren’t strenuously against making another trip or two to Florida per season if those are the final results of NHL realignment. There’s an understanding that every team should be willing to embrace some change to make sure the league can get their geographical house in order.
“I don’t think it would be that big of an issue as far as travel goes for us. We’d be keeping most of the teams that we already play in our division,” said Patrice Bergeron. “Adding Florida and Tampa wouldn’t necessarily be a big deal. I think the NHL is obviously going to look at what’s good for all 30 teams rather than just for the Bruins, but I don’t have any big problem with it.”
Things obviously changed a little bit with the Red Wings potentially added to the mix in the “Northeast Division” as the NHL looks to wrap up the realignment plan in the next few weeks.
But it actually makes sense if part of the NHL’s rationale in realignment is to insulate and protect the teams in Florida moving forward. Gregory Campbell played five seasons for the Florida Panthers before coming to Boston, and admitted there was a noticeable difference in crowd size when the Original Six teams came through town. Lo and behold there would be a lot more games for Florida and Tampa against Original Six opponents in the new plan.
“I think that it would definitely help the hockey markets in Tampa and Florida for sure. Whenever an Original Six team comes down here it’s always a sellout and that’s not usually the case in a lot of the games played down here. To have [more] Original Six teams in their division would help them,” said Campbell. “From my standpoint it’s a little more travel for us, but it’s never a bad thing to come to Florida in February. That wouldn’t be such a bad thing at all.”
So adding Detroit would give the “Northeast Division” four Original Six teams that could represent up to 12 of each Florida teams’ 41 home games for the season, and guarantee something close to sellout crowds for more than a quarter of their home dates.
If the Panthers and Lightning can’t survive fiscally in that kind of ideal divisional setup, then they wouldn’t be able to survive under any conditions.
So the Bruins sound like they would be ready to go along with the proposed NHL realignment changes even if there is a wrinkle or two in the offing like adding the storied Red Wings franchise to the mix. But it also appears it would be much more meaningful to the Florida franchises joining up with Boston and the rest of the already established Northeast Division.