After months of speculation and countless proposals exchanging hands, the National Hockey League’s Board of Governors approved a four-conference alignment format and authorized Commissioner Gary Bettman to implement this proposal, pending input from the National Hockey League Players’ Association.
The four conferences will be divided as follows: two conferences will have eight teams each, and the other two will have seven teams to total 30 member clubs. As a result, the Blue Jackets will compete in a conference that includes the Nashville Predators, Chicago Blackhawks, St. Louis Blues, Winnipeg Jets, Dallas Stars, Minnesota Wild and the Detroit Red Wings.
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“Today was a very good day for the Columbus Blue Jackets and our fans, who will now be assured of seeing every NHL team and all of the game’s best players every season at Nationwide Arena,” club president Mike Priest said in a statement.
“I continue to be impressed and encouraged by the Board, who was committed to making a decision that is in the best interest of the entire league. We are very excited about this and hope that our fans are as well.”
At the core of this realignment structure is a “home-and-home” format, meaning all teams – regardless of conference – will play each other at least twice in the regular season. Because the Blue Jackets are in one of two eight-team conferences, they will play 22 teams home and away next year (44 games) and will split the remaining 38 games with the other seven teams in their conference.
The other three conferences are divided out as follows:
- Toronto, Montreal, Ottawa, Boston, Buffalo, Florida, Tampa Bay
- Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, New York Rangers, New York Islanders, New Jersey, Carolina, Washington
- Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton, Los Angeles, San Jose, Anaheim, Colorado, Phoenix
Blue Jackets GM Scott Howson spearheaded the club’s efforts in realignment and said he is satisfied with the outcome of today’s meetings.
“We had strong thoughts on what we wanted to accomplish for our franchise,” Howson told BlueJackets.com. “It was really two parts; first was to argue and support the four-conference alignment that was eventually approved. The other was to make an argument about why we should move east.
“It didn’t get to that, obviously with the board approving the new format which is subject to Mr. Bettman talking to the NHLPA for their input. But this is very good for the Blue Jackets.”
The balanced schedule eliminates one California road trip every season (Los Angeles, San Jose and Anaheim) and also one Western Canadian road trip (Vancouver, Edmonton and Calgary), and will help give more attention to teams that do not play in Nationwide Arena every season. Beginning next year, the Blue Jackets will play 57 or 58 games in the Eastern time zone opposed to the current 52.
Geographical rivals like Pittsburgh, Buffalo and Philadelphia will be regular visitors under the new format and the belief is that it’s in the best interest of the NHL and member clubs. Howson said the changes will aid the club in its travel arrangements and impact local entities such as television ratings.
“It’s going to help us travel-wise and with our TV ratings,” Howson said. “We’re now going to play eight games outside of the Central time zone as opposed to 16. It’s really good for our team and fans, who are going to see every team each year and all the Original Six teams.
“This is really for the betterment of our league, and it’s very impressive that the Board of Governors came to this decision.”
During the 2011-12 regular season, the Blue Jackets play 41 road games and 16 of those games start at 9 p.m. (EST) or later. With the new realignment passing today, the number of games that start at 9 p.m. or later will reduce to eight (8) total, a significant change from the current system.
Howson said prior to the realignment scenarios going to vote, Blue Jackets president Mike Priest spoke to the board room on behalf of the team and strongly expressed the interests of the club.
“Mike spoke on behalf of our team, and he really spoke at length (to the room),” Howson said. “He was the last to speak before the vote. He reiterated how much would it mean to us to play home-and-home each season and spoke to our preference to move east, but we felt that this would be a really good compromise and would satisfy teams that weren’t in favor of other scenarios.”
Despite reports and speculation that the four-conference proposal would struggle to gain traction and many Eastern Conference clubs would resist drastic alterations to their schedule, Howson said it was a smooth and amicable process to reach a decision.
“I don’t think it was as contentious as people thought it was going to be,” Howson said. “Teams got to speak their minds and teams got to express their views as to what they were looking for. It happened quicker than a lot of people thought it might be… but we’re certainly happy with the results.”