With the announcement of the Thrashers moving to Winnipeg, the 2011-2012 season has a slight tweak in it. The Thrashers/Jets are still going to be in the Southeast Division for the next season as the 2011-2012 schedule is pretty much finalized. That means the Sabres will have to make the travel west twice this season, but how much is it going to affect the Sabres.
The travel distance between Buffalo, NY and Winnipeg is 1,300 miles compared to the 900 miles from Buffalo to Atlanta. When Buffalo traveled to Atlanta both times this past season, the trips were standalone trips that weren't linked to any other Southeastern Division games. The Sabres could feasibly make the standalone trip to Winnipeg much like making a trip to play the Minnesota Wild.
For the 2011-2012 season, a Winnipeg team doesn't have much of an effect on the team other than having to travel 800 extra miles in the season. Looking past next season though, the shift of a Winnipeg team could have some implications.
The new Winnipeg team will not stay in the Southeast Division after next season and that's going to mean that the divisions will start to shift. Winnipeg will most likely move into the Western Conference with a Western Conference team moving back as well. The likely candidates for that are the Detroit Red Wings, the Columbus Blue Jackets, or the Nashville Predators. The Predators make the most sense because they are a southeastern team themselves and it would reduce their travel budget. The Blue Jackets have expressed a great interest in moving the team to the East because of their proximity to all of the Eastern Conference teams.
The league could do a simple move and shift a few teams around or this change could give them the chance to completely reshuffle the divisions and conferences. That debate will take a few months to sort out.