NHL realignment is almost a reality, finally.
Last Thursday, the NHLPA (players’ association) agreed to go ahead with the NHL’s proposed realignment plan. The Board of Governors is expected to complete their vote on the realignment by the end of the week, according to sources.
It is generally expected that the league’s realignment proposal will be approved. A very similar format was proposed in December 2011. The players’ union rejected that structure.
That format divided the league into two unbalanced conferences with the Eastern Conference having 16 teams and the Western having 14. Eight teams make the playoffs in each conference meaning Western teams have an 8 in 14 (57 percent) chance of making it, while teams in the East have a 50 percent chance.
The alignment the NHLPA agreed to is very similar to the December 2011 proposal with a couple of important changes in that Detroit and Columbus have been moved to the Eastern Conference.
The current format featuring two conferences of three divisions each has been around since 1988. Each conference has 15 teams with 8 making the playoffs. But with Atlanta moving to Winnipeg a couple of seasons ago, realignment talk started to intensify.
What the NHL hopes to achieve with realignment is to minimize travel and maximize rivalries as best as possible. It’s a difficult problem to solve, but for a couple of teams, realignment is a big improvement.
The Detroit Red Wings have been in the Western Conference, which has forced them to play more games against West coast teams such as the Los Angeles Kings instead of against former Norris Division rivals the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Winnipeg will move to the Western Conference and renew geographic rivalries with teams like the Minnesota Wild and Chicago Blackhawks.
The top three teams in each division make the playoffs and the two teams with the next best records would round out the playoff teams as wildcards.
The format will be reevaluated following the 2014-15 season. Should the owners approve the plan, it will go into effect next season.
Here is the proposed new alignment, according to the NHL:
Pacific Division: Anaheim, Calgary, Edmonton, Los Angeles, Phoenix, San Jose, Vancouver
Mid-West Division: Chicago, Colorado, Dallas, Minnesota, Nashville, St. Louis, Winnipeg
Central Division: Boston, Buffalo, Detroit, Florida, Montreal, Ottawa, Tampa Bay, Toronto
Atlantic Division: Carolina, Columbus, New Jersey, NY Islanders, NY Rangers, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Washington
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