Feb 26, 2012; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Penguins wing Pascal Dupuis (9) and Columbus Blue Jackets defenseman Fedor Tyutin (51) collide during the third period at Consol Energy Center. Pittsburgh won 4-2. Mandatory Credit: Dave Miller-USA TODAY Sports

NHL realignment will be positive for Penguins


Twenty years ago, the Penguins shifted from the Patrick Division to the Northeast. Five years later, they were shipped to the Atlantic, where they have resided ever since, but Pittsburgh will break in yet another home this fall when the NHL’s latest realignment takes effect.

Unlike the Columbus Blue Jackets, Detroit Red Wings, Winnipeg Jets or most of the teams in the Western Conference, the Penguins will see little tangible changes in the upcoming reshuffling. In fact, Pittsburgh’s new division could accurately be called Atlantic Plus, with Carolina, Washington and Columbus joining the same Atlantic Division that’s been in place for more than a decade.

But looking a little deeper, the Penguins stand to profit from their new eight-team grouping, even if it’s not a very drastic or exciting adjustment.

For one, welcoming the Blue Jackets into the division will spark an interstate feud, if not a true rivalry, between two franchises separated by fewer than 200 miles. It won’t be Penn State-Ohio State or Steelers-Browns right away, but proximity makes any matchup more interesting, as fans of Pitt and WVU can attest.

They’ve been rare, but Penguins games in Columbus have produced electric atmospheres due to thousands of Pittsburgh rooters making the trip to Nationwide Arena. Perhaps if the Jackets can continue to improve, we might see a similar cauldron begin to boil at Consol Energy Center in the near future.

Having Washington installed as a more-frequent opponent should also bear fruit. Although it’s been a down year for the restructured Capitals, the animosity between the two teams remains near all-time levels, dating back to when they were together in the Patrick Division.

Even without the original spark of the Sidney Crosby vs. Alex Ovechkin feud, Pens-Caps games are still frequently must-watch TV, and having a couple additional meetings per season will only amplify the buzz.

Finally, with Jordan Staal in Carolina, the Hurricanes are a more emotionally-charged opponent than ever before. Penguins general manager Ray Shero may not have envisioned seeing his first draft pick play for a division rival, but each game against Carolina will surely move the needle for years to come.

But even while considering the positives of new neighbors, perhaps the best aspect of realignment from the Pittsburgh perspective is that the Flyers, Rangers, Islanders and Devils will all remain in the division. 15 years of continuity will not be flushed down the toilet, which is more than most teams will be able to say in six months.

Yes, the Penguins would still thrive without Philadelphia, New York and New Jersey on the Consol marquee several times a season, but why mess with what is arguably the NHL’s most intense (and competitive) fivesome?

With healthy portions of consistency and renewal on tap, I would rate the Penguins’ realignment fate as among the best of the league’s 30 teams, even if it doesn’t merit the big headlines.

Commissioner Gary Bettman said the new groupings will be named geographically, which rules out the possibility of Pittsburgh playing in the Lemieux Division. Nevertheless, it’s difficult to imagine realignment working out much better for the Penguins.

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  • bananaramatube

    “Yes, the Penguins would still thrive without Philadelphia, New York and New Jersey on the Consol marquee several times a season, but why mess with what is arguably the NHL’s most intense (and competitive) fivesome?”

    It’s all politics brutha! Those (current) five Atlantic teams are very good at the political game just like Jerry Jones in football (there’s a reason why the Dallas Cowboys are still in the NFC East despite their location). The Florida teams? Not so much, which is why they are in a division with northeastern teams, just like the Tampa Bay (Devil) Rays in baseball, and the Miami Dolphins in football (and nobody seems to care about the Rays and Dolphins playing in divisions with northern teams either).

    Looking back now, I’m actually quite shocked that the Florida teams were able to out politic the Penguins back in 1993 causing the Penguins to be sent to the division with the northeast teams for a couple of years. Today, the Florida teams are not so successful at the political game. And to make matters worse, the Phoenix Coyotes might move to Quebec City at the end of the season and the only Eastern Time Zone teams I can see Quebec out politicking is the Panthers and Lightning who would not just both be forced into the West to make room for Quebec, but to also balance the conferences at 15 teams apiece in order to shut up the ton of crybabies complaining about unbalanced conferences.

    The next couple of months will sure be interesting.