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Oilers joining California teams in realignment

by Wendy Mach / Edmonton Oilers

The NHL Board of Governors have approved the plans for realignment and starting next year, there will be 16 teams in the East and 14 teams in the West.

The League will be going back to a four-division format, which was last used during the 1997-98 season.

The new realignment will move the teams into a more geographically friendly division and conference and ensure all 30 teams will play in every arena at least once per season.

This also means the Detroit Red Wings will be moving back to the Eastern Conference with the Columbus Blue Jackets, while the Winnipeg Jets will be shifting to the Western Conference.

Captain Shawn Horcoff said the realignment is a good move, especially for the fans.

“I think it’s important. I think its great for the fans, first and foremost. I think there’s a little bit more travel in our case, which is not always a good thing. We already have a lot to travel to begin with but I like seeing every team every year. We get to see every player and especially for the fans, it’s great for them.”

Many teams will see a slight increase in traveling -- approximately a six percent increase for the Oilers in particular -- but for Mark Fistric, who spent his last five years with the Dallas Stars before joining the Oilers, he said the traveling barely phases him anymore.

“Playing as many years as I did in Dallas, travel doesn’t really affect you as much anymore since all we did was travel.”

Fistric, however, is looking forward to the realignment and playing in more cities.

“It’s good to be able to see every team so you don’t really get caught in the web of playing the same team over and over again. Granted, I know it definitely develops a lot of good rivalries but as a player, it’s fun too, to see a new city and play against new teams.”

The four new division are currently referred to as Division A, Division B, Division C and Division D, until they are re-assigned permanent names later.

Division A and Division B will consist of the 14 teams from the Western Conference while Division C and Division B will consist of the 16 teams from the Eastern Conference.

The Edmonton Oilers fall into Division A with the Anaheim Ducks, Calgary Flames, Los Angeles Kings, Phoenix Coyotes, San Jose Sharks and Vancouver Canucks.

Division B will consist of the Chicago Blackhawks, Colorado Avalanche, Dallas Stars, Minnesota Wild, Nashville Predators, St. Louis Blues and Winnipeg Jets.

Division C has the Buffalo Sabres, Florida Panthers, Ottawa Senators and Tampa Bay Lightning as well as four of the Original-Six franchises, Boston Bruin, Detroit Red Wings, Montreal Canadiens and Toronto Maple Leafs.

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

As for playoffs, the top three teams in each division will earn a playoff spot while the remaining four spots will be filled by the next two highest-placed teams in the conference, based on regular-season points.

Within each conference, the team with the most points will face the wild-card team with the lowest points and the team with the second-most points will face the wild-card team with the second lowest points. Teams who finished in second and third in their own divisions will face each other. The winners of each series will then play for divisional championship.

Oilers General Manager Steve Tambellini said the new playoff arrangement could potentially help to recreate repeat playoff match-up rivalries.

“I truly believe so. I like what’s happened. The intensity within the division, you see the type of hockey that's being played right now. It's intense. It's within the conference but you're seeing people in a short period of time maybe two or three times in the month and there's some intense battles out there."

The NHL and NHLPA have also both agreed to implement the realignment changes for at least three seasons before they re-evaluate their options for the 2016-17 season.

The scheduling matrix for realignment, via the NHL:

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

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