The NHL debuts its new four-division format with the start of the 2013-14 regular season Tuesday. The four-division plan, featuring a new setup for the playoffs, was approved by the League's Board of Governors in March.
The NHL and NHL Players' Association each had input into the plan to realign the League into a more geographically appropriate two-conference, four-division format that has 16 teams in the Eastern Conference and 14 teams in the Western Conference.
Under realignment, the Detroit Red Wings and Columbus Blue Jackets moved 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 moved to the Western Conference for the same reason. Similarly, the Dallas Stars stayed in the Western Conference but moved into a division that includes five other teams from the Central time zone.
The new alignment also ensures that all 30 teams play in all 30 arenas at least once per season.
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.
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 just three.
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 fewest 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 opening-round series will play for berths in the conference championship series.
The winners of the conference championships advance to the Stanley Cup Final.
The Western Conference consists of the Pacific and Central Divisions (each a seven-team division), while the Atlantic and Metropolitan Divisions consist of eight teams each and make up the Eastern Conference.
The Central Division 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 in the division; the rest are from the Central time zone.
The Atlantic Division has four Original Six franchises: the 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 the Metropolitan Division.
Here is a breakdown of the 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 are 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 are 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 are 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 are 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