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Sports Dowbiggin: Realignment should make Leafs happy but may be death knell for Jackets

The NHL's reported realignment scheme is as important for what it doesn't say as for what it does say. Sorting the current six divisions into four even conferences may respond to the time-zone woes of Detroit and Winnipeg, but it certainly raises many other questions.

Namely, how can the league create an equitable playoff format that doesn't punish teams in the larger conferences? With Quebec City and southern Ontario the supposed fertile ground for the next NHL teams, how does that fit with the already overloaded Eastern conferences?

And do two fewer teams in the West mean that the league will eventually balance teams by adding Seattle and another western franchise from the East?

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These issues are being kicked around this week by the NHL, the players association and the networks. So far we have few answers on these questions. But we do know enough about realignment to pick a few winners and losers already.

Winners:

Detroit: The Red Wings have been the loyal soldier of the NHL since 1993-'94, playing games three time zones away for years as a member of the Western Conference. Realignment finally rewards them for this geographic fluke, giving them the country-club lifestyle of an Eastern team, playing in their own time zone and sleeping in their own beds most nights. Detroit's TV partners will also be thrilled not to have 10:00 p.m. starts to sell their advertisers.

Winnipeg: The Jets finally get back to geographical reality and out of the Southeast Division, a remnant of their Atlanta origins. Regional rivals such as Minnesota, Chicago and the other western Canadian franchises will start appearing on their schedule more often. That will be important if the lacklustre Jets don't improve soon. That honeymoon's about to end with their fans if their record doesn't improve. And with the soft touches of the Southwest gone, improvement won't come quickly.

Toronto: By simply sitting still Toronto benefits from Detroit returning to the East. From their Norris Division days, the Red Wings are the most natural American rival for Toronto – not that it needs to sell seats at the ACC. One playoff series against Detroit will rekindle the classic battles of the 1980s.

Vancouver: The Canucks get to keep the two Alberta teams, add more games in their own Pacific time zone and then dump Minnesota and Colorado, lousy sells, as a division draw. This will be even better if Seattle gets a team, as has been rumoured. Fewer 4:00 p.m. PT starts will no doubt make their TV partners happy.

Losers:

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Columbus: The stepchild of expansion get to move into the East but not in the same conference as their greatest rivals Detroit, or what would be their greatest rival if they could ever assemble a respectable team. Unless it gets some traction soon, this might be a last straw for the franchise, with keys landing on Gary Bettmans' desk.

Chicago: The Blackhawks lose Detroit, their greatest rival, in the shuffle. Chicago won't have trouble selling seats at the Madhouse on Madison, but you can be sure they're not excited about trading the Red Wings for the Jets.

Calgary: The Flames have been content in the mediocre Northwest as long as they could best rival Edmonton. As a team headed in the wrong direction in the standings, being placed in a larger conference with better teams will mean more tough games and fewer visits from the Oilers, Wild and Avalanche, their partners in misery in the Northwest.

Florida: The pathetic Panthers need Northeast teams to fill their BT&T Arena. By staying with Boston and Toronto they get to keep some of the snowbird traffic humming. But fewer contests with Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and the New York area teams won't be much help.

NHL musings

Good to see Marian Hossa back and healthy for Chicago on Monday night. The Blackhawks dynamic winger scored the winner in OT against Edmonton just days after a collision with Vancouver's Jannik Hansen seemed to have laid him out for weeks. Hansen got a one-game suspension for the inadvertent arm to Hossa's head.

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Lucky for San Jose's Ryan Clowe that he didn't run into Hossa when he left the bench illegally against Chicago on Friday. That two-game suspension Clowe received Monday might just have zoomed to ten games if he'd run into Hossa. #confused

Musberger's a 10

You may remember in U.S. college football bowl season when, during the lopsided national championship game, announcer Brent Musberger got a little overheated when looking at Katherine Webb, the girlfriend of Alabama quarterback A.J. McCarron. The 73-year old playfully mused that Webb was "a 10", and just the thing the hero of the football team should have on his arm.

There was an immediate backlash against Musberger's comments, so much so that ESPN caved and apologized (Musberger not so much) for the comments on the Miss Alabama USA 2012.

Fast forward to this weekend when Musberger, still defiant, was covering a basketball game at Iowa State. A student with a puckish sense of humour offered him a picture to sign. A picture of Katherine Webb. Musberger didn't blink, signing it with a flourish.

Take my correction, please

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Finally, we flunked our degree in Borscht Belt comics on Monday. "Take my wife, please" is the catch phrase of Henny Youngman.

dowbboy@shaw.csa / @dowbboy

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