BY LEO BARATTA JR.
SC Staff Writer
On Thursday, March 14, the NHL’s Board of Governors approved its realignment plan for the 2013-2014 season. The NHL will move from six total divisions to four, giving two divisions each for the Eastern and Western conferences.
While there have been talks of realigning the division for the last few years, the approval came after the Atlanta Thrashers relocated to Winnipeg following the 2010-11 season to become the second incarnation of the Winnipeg Jets (the first incarnation played in Winnipeg from 1972-1996 before relocating to Phoenix and becoming the Coyotes).
Since relocating from Atlanta to Winnipeg, the Jets have played in the Southeast Division of the Easter Conference, despite being further west than six Western Conference teams.
While that will be one of the most notable changes, there are several other changes coming as well.
In addition to the Jets moving to the Western Conference, two other teams will be switching conferences. The Detroit Red Wings and Columbus Blue Jackets will move from the Western Conference to the Eastern Conference. This leaves the Western Conference with 14 teams, and gives 16 to the Eastern Conference.
“The new alignment will place several clubs in more geographically appropriate groupings, and will intensify already-fierce rivalries throughout the league,” the NHL said in a statement about the shift.
The moves will certainly help ease time zone conflicts for the teams and fans. Each conference now contains teams that are all in the same time zone. Given the amount of times that divisional opponents play each other, this will make travel easier for players.
The new plan also guarantees that all 30 teams will play every other team in the NHL at least once per season.
In addition to new divisions, a new playoff format will also be implemented. Like the current playoff format, 16 teams will still make the playoffs. However, there will be a change in deciding which teams make the playoffs based on the new setup.
The top three teams from each division automatically will make the playoffs, which will provide six teams from each conference. The remaining four spots are awarded to the next two best-placed teams in each conference.
The plans will be implemented at the start of next season, so the current setup will end with this season’s NHL Stanley Cup playoffs, which begin on April 30.
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