Realignment plan approved by Board of Governors

Thursday, 03.14.2013 / 5:43 PM
Dan Rosen  - NHL.com Senior Writer

The NHL's Board of Governors approved the realignment plan proposed last week.

The new four-division plan, featuring a new-look set-up for the Stanley Cup Playoffs, will go into effect next season.

The NHL and NHLPA each had input into the plan to realign the League into a more geographically appropriate two-conference, four-division format that features 16 teams in the Eastern Conference and 14 teams in the Western Conference.

The Detroit Red Wings and Columbus Blue Jackets are moving to the Eastern Conference to provide them the ability to play the majority of their games against teams in the same time zone. The Winnipeg Jets are moving to the Western Conference for the same reason.

The Dallas Stars are staying in the Western Conference, but moving into a division that includes five other teams from the Central time zone.

"The Dallas Stars enthusiastically support the decision by the NHL Board of Governors for realignment commencing in 2013-14," Stars President and CEO Jim Lites said in a statement. "Once enacted, the realignment plan will put the Stars back in a geographically friendly division and will reignite historical rivalries with teams like Chicago and St. Louis. Virtually all of our divisional games, which make up a significant portion of our schedule, will now start in the Central time zone, making our start times more convenient for our broadcast partners, sponsors, and most importantly our fans."

The Stanley Cup Playoffs will still consist of 16 teams, eight in each conference, but it will be division-based and a wild-card system has been added as a new wrinkle.

The top three teams in each division will make-up the first 12 teams in the playoffs. The remaining four spots will be filled by the next two highest-placed finishers in each conference, based on regular-season points and regardless of division. It will be possible, then, for one division to send five teams to the postseason while the other sends three.

The seeding of the wild-card teams within each divisional playoff will be determined on the basis of regular-season points. The division winner with the most points in the conference will be matched against the wild-card team with the lowest number of points; the division winner with the second-most points in the conference will play the wild-card team with the second fewest points.

The teams finishing second and third in each division will play in the first round of the playoffs. The winners of each series will play for berths in the Conference Championship series.

The two divisional champions in each conference will then play in the conference finals to advance to the Stanley Cup Final.

"It sounds good on the surface to say playoffs are going to be in your division," Nashville Predators general manager David Poile said. "I think we all would like that and that's because of travel. As has been pointed out, for example, if we made it as the wild card and, say, were the fifth-place team in our division and, say, Vancouver was the first-place team, you're going to Vancouver for the first round -- which is also not fair for Vancouver, who is the overall best team.

"You can't cover off for every situation."

The divisions will be temporarily referred to as Division A, Division B, Division C and Division D. Permanent names will be assigned later.

The Western Conference will house Division A and Division B, while Division C and D will consist of eight teams each and make up the Eastern Conference.

Division A is the Anaheim Ducks, Calgary Flames, Edmonton Oilers, Los Angeles Kings, Phoenix Coyotes, San Jose Sharks and Vancouver Canucks. All the teams are from either the Pacific time zone or Mountain time zone.

Division B features the Chicago Blackhawks, Colorado Avalanche, Dallas Stars, Minnesota Wild, Nashville Predators, St. Louis Blues and Winnipeg Jets. Colorado is the only Mountain time zone team; the rest are from the Central time zone.

"It's much better for us," Stars defenseman Stephane Robidas said. "It's less travel, fewer trips out west; the time zones, the amount of time you spend on the plane after games. You don't have to wait in L.A., you can come back after games. It's all little things in the long run I think will help our team."

Division C has four Original Six franchises: Boston Bruins, Detroit Red Wings, Montreal Canadiens and Toronto Maple Leafs. The Buffalo Sabres, Florida Panthers, Ottawa Senators and Tampa Bay Lightning are also in the division.

The Columbus Blue Jackets, Carolina Hurricanes and Washington Capitals will join the New Jersey Devils, New York Islanders, New York Rangers, Philadelphia Flyers and Pittsburgh Penguins in Division D.

"It's going to be tough. There are a lot of good teams in there," Carolina coach Kirk Muller said. "There are a lot of grinding, physical teams so it makes you sit back and evaluate your team and organization asking are we the type of team that's skilled enough to go into certain arenas and get points or do you want to change your style to match up with your opponents?

"We're obviously in the hunt this year, but it will be something where you may have to sit back and look at everything and ask where do you fit in with your opposition and decide if you want to make changes or if you're comfortable with the group that you have?"

The new alignment ensures that all 30 teams play in all 30 arenas at least once per season.

"Every team will be coming in, the old rivalries will hopefully be re-established," Wild general manager Chuck Fletcher said. "For our season-ticket holders, at least the ones who have made their voice known to us, they seem to be very excited."

The National Hockey League Players' Association has given its consent to play under the new alignment and playoff system for a minimum of three seasons, through the 2015-16 NHL season.

The new alignment:

Here is a breakdown of the new schedule matrix created for the new alignment plan:

Western Conference (7-team divisions)

Within Conference (Division): 29 games

* 5 games vs. five teams (3 Home/2 Away vs. two teams, 2 Home/3 Away vs. three teams) AND 4 games vs. one team (2 Home/2 Away). Teams rotated on a yearly basis.

* 5 X 5 =25 games

* 1 X 4 = 4 games

Within Conference (Non-Division): 21 games

* 3 games vs. each team (2 Home/1 Away vs. four teams, 1 Home/2 Away vs. three teams). Teams rotated on a yearly basis.

* 3 X 7 = 21 games

Non-Conference: 32 games

* 2 games vs. each team (1 Home/1 Away)

* 2 X 16 = 32 games

(Exception: one team from each division plays one less game inside Division and one more game inside Conference outside Division)

Eastern Conference (8-team divisions)

Within Conference (Division): 30 games

* 5 games vs. two teams (3 Home/2 Away vs. one team, 2 Home/3 Away vs. one team) AND 4 games vs. five teams (2 Home/2 Away). Teams rotated on a yearly basis.

* 5 X 2 =10 games

* 4 X 5 = 20 games

Within Conference (Non-Division): 24 games

* 3 games vs. each team (2 Home/1 Away vs. four teams, 1 Home/2 Away vs. four teams). Teams rotated on a yearly basis.

* 3 X 8 = 24 games

Non-Conference: 28 games

* 2 games vs. each team (1 Home/1 Away)

* 2 X 14 = 28 games

Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl

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