NHL confirms divisional re-alignment for 2013/14 season
As per NHL.com, the NHL Board of Governors has approved the plan put together by the NHL and the NHLPA to realign the divisions of the National Hockey League.
Realignment was attempted by the NHL last year, following the relocation of the Atlanta Thrashers to Winnipeg, but the NHLPA blocked the proposed plans – though this was seen by many as more of a preemptive strike on the NHL by the Players Association in the events that lead to the 2012/13 lockout, than any actual opposition to the realignment. The power to say “no” to Gary Bettman basically inspired that decision.
Nonetheless, the plan (though modified) has finally made it to the light of day, with several radical changes from the way the league is currently set up, for a minimum of 3 seasons:
- New set up will have 4 divisions split between two conferences, as opposed to the current 6 divisions in two conferences;
- There will be 16 teams in the Eastern Conference and 14 teams in the Western Conference (opening the door for expansion in the west perhaps? Perhaps a team in Seattle and somewhere else to bring the NHL to 32 teams and two even conferences);
- the Detroit Red Wings and the Columbus Blue Jackets will both move to the Eastern Conference, a move that makes sense for both teams given they are practically located in the Eastern USA and this will allow them to play teams in the same time zone as themselves far more often;
- the Winnipeg Jets are (finally) moving to the Western Conference – they are currently in the East as that’s where they were when the team was in Atlanta and the league couldn’t get through the realignment previously;
- the Dallas Stars stay in the West (they were in consideration for the East) but have now moved into a division with all the other Central Time Zone teams – they are currently in a division with all the Arizona/California-based teams, which is a loooong way to travel for divisional games. They were previously in the Central division until 1998, when they moved to the current Pacific division, and have stated that their TV ratings have dropped significantly in that time due to the broadcast times of games being played in other time zones;
- Every team will play in every single arena in the league at least once per season, giving the opportunity to fans in every city to see the stars from each team regularly, and allowing new rivalries to be built and current ones to be maintained despite realignment.
The playoffs will obviously change aswell, what with the new divisions and imbalance in the conferences:
- The playoffs will still have 16 teams, eight in each conference, but it will return to it’s old system of being division-based;
- The top 3 teams in each division will make up the first 12 teams in the playoffs;
- The remaining 4 spots will be filled by the 2 next highest placed finishers in each conference (based on regular season points and regardless of division);
- This makes it entirely possible for one division to send 5 teams to the playoffs while the other sends three;
- Wild-cards will be introduced within each divisional playoff, determined on the basis of regular season points;
- The division winner with the most points in the conference will play the wild-card team with the least 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, with the winners of each series playing for berths in the conference championship series;
- The winners of the conference championships will advance to the Stanley Cup Final.
The divisional alignments are as follows (divisional names to be determined):
- Los Angeles
- San Jose
- St Louis
- Tampa Bay
- New Jersey
- New York (Islanders)
- New York (Rangers)
Taken directly from Dan Rosen’s article at NHL.com, here is how the schedules will break down for each conference:
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