I got into a brief Twitter-spat on Tuesday with blogger colleague Tab Bamford from Committed Indians regarding the rumored re-alignment in the NHL. The proposed plan would move Detroit (*spitting noise*) to the Eastern Conference, ripping apart the Blackhawks/Red Wings rivalry. His contention is that this is no time for alarm. I couldn’t disagree more. His post later that day provided an opportunity for a more lengthy retort, which you are now reading.

Tab’s nothing-to-see-here-people argument is four-fold. First, that the story itself has no merit, having been broken by an unreliable source. Second, that the rumored re-alignment assumes the Coyotes stay in Phoenix, rendering it unbelievable on its face. Third, that the league has too much respect for history and tradition, and would never disassemble a rivalry as old and storied as the Blackhawks/Red Wings. And fourth, that it doesn’t make sense from a financial perspective.

Buckle up, people…

TSN reported the story. TSN. For those of you who don’t know, TSN is the Canadian equivalent (and owned by the same company, as I understand it) as ESPN. Whoever broke the story is completely immaterial. TSN has too big a reputation to toss it on the fire started by a tabloid rag without first verifying its authenticity. So make no mistake, this story is real. It is absolutely, 100% real.

Next, the Coyotes. Gary Bettman would sooner chug a gallon of Drano than allow Phoenix to move to another market. He has proven as much with the NHL buying the club and shamelessly courting local investors year after year in a desperate attempt to keep the team in Arizona. This is personal for him. He has staked his reputation and his standing with the owners on keeping the team there. It’s insane, and we all know he’s nuts, but that won’t stop him. Re-alignment will move forward on the assumption that Phoenix stays put. Delusional or otherwise, that is how Bettman will proceed.

Third, “history and tradition.” To that I submit the following: switching the home/away uniforms; elimination of the red line; no line changes during an icing call; the “trapezoid”; moving the blue line and goal line; 4-on-4 overtime; and the most heinous and deplorable change in the history of the league, the shootout. All of those changes are during the Gary Bettman era, and those are just the big ones! If you take nothing else away from this discussion, let it be this: Bettman has proven beyond any doubt that he will evacuate his bowels all over history and tradition if it means the teams make more money. Which brings us to our final point.

Money is the sole and exclusive motivator behind this decision, and in the aggregate it will generate substantial revenue for the league. Moving to the Eastern Conference has been pressed by Detroit for over a decade, for two reasons. One, it cuts down their travel costs by a huge amount; and it guarantees a start time at or before 8pm for every game the Red Wings play, helping out their local TV ratings substantially. But that’s just Detroit’s financial perspective. What about the rest of the league?

First of all, teams in the Pacific and Mountain time zones no longer have to make the trip to Detroit. There’s 16 long-distance trips saved right there. Those teams also don’t have to endure the 5pm/6pm start times for their games in Detroit, helping their TV ratings also. So the West Coast teams won’t mind this one bit, and will support this across the board.

Tab also mentions the NBC Sunday Game of the Week, and the benefit of putting the Chicago vs. Detroit game in that slot. Well, guess what: even after football is over for the year, the NBC Sunday Game of the Week is consistently out-drawn in the ratings by NASCAR, golf, figure skating, and (wait for it…) bull riding. Don’t get me wrong, the ratings are improving. But on Sunday afternoon, hockey is the sixth sport in a four-sport marketplace. If NBC is really looking to maximize its ratings on Sunday afternoon, it would air something other than hockey.

Plus, remember: if ratings for the Sunday game were to decline, it’s NBC’s money being lost, not the NHL’s. The NHL gets their money whether the game draws 100 million people or nobody. They get a fixed fee that is not dependent on ratings in any way.

But since NBC is contractually obligated to put an NHL game on the air, what will they do without Chicago/Detroit? Easy: Bruins/Rangers. New York is the biggest TV market in the country, Boston consistently has higher TV ratings than most Eastern Conference teams, and neither one is a big NASCAR haven. Plus you can bet that NBC has *no* say in re-alignment anyhow. Long and short, moving Detroit to the East doesn’t affect the Sunday game one bit, and those 12 games out of a 1200+ game schedule won’t factor into the decision.

But Tab makes a good point about Detroit putting butts in the seats, but he’s got the equation backwards. The Eastern Conference is where the league wants Detroit, to prop up attendance in large markets that are failing to sell out. Carolina, Tampa Bay, Florida, New Jersey, and the New York Islanders all draw below 90% of capacity on average. Detroit is currently bringing in the most fans to arenas they visit. And when you have cities like Miami and New York not filling their arenas to capacity, you need all the help you can get.

Hmm. Florida not selling out… Tampa and Carolina too… Aren’t those teams expansion franchises during Gary Bettman’s tenure? You bet. Are you starting to see how this is all related?

The path here is very clear: the NHL is not just willing, but in fact eager to switch the Red Wings to the Eastern Conference and destroy a rivalry that has existed since 1926-27. Chicago and Detroit have played more regular season games against each other than any two teams in the history of the NHL — see source. And yet, the owners’ lap dog has proposed a plan that will destroy that rivalry for good.

Make no mistake: this plan was not “leaked.” The information was deliberately released to make it appear to be a leak, for the purpose of gauging reaction. It’s called a “trial ballooon,” and it’s done every day in political circles by leaders faced with difficult decisions.

So they have released the details of this plan, and now they wait for the public to respond. If the teams and the fans yawn and move on with their lives, this will be a 30-0 rubber-stamp approval at the Board of Governor’s meeting in December. By that time it will be too late, the details along with the full 2012-13 schedule will be released the following day, and there will be no going back after that. That’s exactly what Gary Bettman is hoping for.

But if we raise our voices now, RIGHT now, if we call and e-mail the team (any contact point will do, even interns and stick-boys) with virulent and demonstrative opposition, we might be able to kill this plan.  So I ask you to please do what you can. Many of you know somebody who knows somebody who can get close to the inner circle. Plant this seed with them. Call the Blackhawks, let them know you’re pissed. Do whatever you think is going to have an impact: tweet, e-mail, Facebook, whatever you can think of.

Call me alarmist, call me delusional, call me a conspiracy theorist, call me late for dinner. In December, when Bettman has implemented his plan, you’ll be Googling this article and wondering why you didn’t believe me.

If this were going to make the game any better, make the league any better, I might get behind it. But Gary Bettman is about to urinate on 85 years of tradition so the owners can pad their pocketbooks with more millions. That can’t be allowed to happen, and it will be more than a tragedy if it does: it will be nothing short of an unmitigated disgrace.