Most of the Capitals Convention Saturday was about autographs, fan interaction with the players, and reuniting with old friends and making new ones. But during the panel discussions there was some pretty decent information passed along if you were willing to pay attention.
One such case was in GM George McPhee's panel in the morning. Once known as "The Undertaker", McPhee has gotten really good talking with fans. He's candid, up-front and, dare we say, funny on occasion. He started his comments Saturday by saying, "If what I talk about today doesn't end up on the Internet this will go a lot better," but he didn't expose any state secrets while still being candid, and the fans in attendance ate it up.
His comments on NHL realignment were of particular interest to me, as I've always been fascinated by the geography of professional sports. The youngster in me never understood how the Dallas Cowboys could play in the NFC East, for example. I wrote my senior thesis in college on expansion and alignment of all four major sports in the U.S. That was in 1989.
As a result of Atlanta moving to Winnipeg, the Southeast Division will have a strange look to it this season, not to mention some very long road trips. McPhee said the situation will probably be rectified at the Governor's Meeting in December, but to his knowledge things are still very much in the air about what to do about it. He said the "easy" thing to do would be to slide Columbus into the Eastern Conference and Winnipeg into the Western Conference. But as in life, the easy thing isn't always the right thing to do.
McPhee suggested that Dallas and Colorado would like out of the Pacific Division and Detroit would like to come east, and the situation in Phoenix makes everything more difficult, so there are a bunch of issues that still need to be sorted out. As with everything else in sports these days, the end result will come down to money.
But of particular interest, McPhee said one of the plans that's on the table would feature two 15-team conferences with two divisions each of eight and seven teams (based on time zones), with eight teams qualifying for the playoffs. He supports the top two teams from each division plus the next four best teams, instead of the top four in each division. For me, I'd love to see teams have to fight their way out of the division for the right to play in the Conference Finals. That's how rivalries are really built.
McPhee mentioned that one of the favored plans would see the Capitals play in an Eastern Time Zone division with the New York-area teams, Philly, Carolina and the two Florida teams. It's not quite the Patrick Division reunited, but it's probably as close as we're ever going to get.
It would be great, in this hockey fans' view, if the Caps were able to renew division rivalries with the Flyers, Rangers, Devils and Islanders. In the last decade, the Caps have watched fellow Southeast Division teams win the Stanley Cup, yet those "rivalries" still don't compare to the level of hatred for the old-time rivals. I might be one a few left, but every time the Caps go to the Island I want them to hang a half-dozen on them. If you're as old as me, you know why.
This alignment will be good for the NHL as well. It's no secret the Caps are a huge draw right now, with Ovechkin's individual popularity matched only by that of Sidney Crosby. Having Ovechkin play a few more games in the New York market has to be good for television and marketing. But then, the league has never made a game-play decision based on marketing, have they?