The NHL and its Board of Governors tonight announced it has approved a radical new alignment plan that eliminates the current two conference, six divisions in favor of four conferences with between seven and eight teams per conference based on geography.
According to NHL.com, the plan will go into effect after input from the NHL Players Association.
The conferences (or divisions) look like this:
- New Jersey Devils, New York Islanders, New York Rangers, Philadelphia Flyers, Pittsburgh Penguins, Washington Capitals and Carolina Hurricanes
- Boston Bruins, Montreal Canadiens, Toronto Maple Leafs, Ottawa Senators, Buffalo Sabres, Florida Panthers and Tampa Bay Lightning
- Detroit Red Wings, Columbus Blue Jackets, Nashville Predators, St. Louis Blues, Chicago Blackhawks, Minnesota Wild, Dallas Stars and Winnipeg Jets
- Los Angeles Kings, Anaheim Ducks, Phoenix Coyotes, San Jose Sharks, Vancouver Canucks, Calgary Flames, Edmonton Oilers and Colorado Avalanche
The breakdown of the schedule has changed as well. Under the current format, teams play division opponents six times, and play the other two divisions in its conference four times, and then between one and two games against the opposing conference. Under the new structure, teams would play their division foes between five and six games, as well as a home-and-home against non-conference opponents. The amount of games against each team inside a team’s division would swap every year.
In addition to those changes, the playoffs have changed as well, with the top-four teams in each division making the playoffs. The top-team would play the No. 4 seed, and No. 2 would play No. 3, with the first two rounds of the playoff tournament being intra-divisional. The winners of each conference going into a final-four and be re-seeded. After that, the two winners play for the Stanley Cup.
Simply put, I love it. Sure it probably makes it a little hard to make the playoffs, but then make sure you have a strong team. Yes some teams have slightly better odds with less teams, but it is what it is. I love the playoff structure and the possibility of the Rangers playing teams like the Maple Leafs, Bruins or Canadiens in the Stanley Cup Final, or the Blackhawks or Red Wings to go to the Cup final is just too great.
The biggest reason for this change, rather than a one-for-one swap with the Jets and a team from the West, is the uncertainty of teams like the Coyotes and the Islanders. It’s a lot easier to move a team under this system than the old one. This also solves the problems for the Stars and Wild, who had gripes with their current divisions.
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