According to multiple sources, the NHL Board of Governors has approved the new realignment plan for the 2013-2014 season.
Under the new playoff format, the top three teams from each division make the playoffs with the final two spots going to wild card teams in the conference. The Devils will go up against eight teams for three guaranteed playoff spots.
Playoffs will be division-based with wildcard system. Top 3 in each division get in; next 2 with most points in conference are wildcards.— Dan Rosen (@drosennhl) March 14, 2013
The Atlantic Division was already one of the most competitive divisions in the NHL, but it will now add two of the Southeast's better teams. Washington has made the playoffs five years in a row, while Carolina has seen the postseason five times in their 15-year existence including a Stanley Cup victory.
All time, the Devils are 83-92-13-1 against the Capitals and 61-44-12-2 against the Hurricanes (h/t Hockey Reference). However, the Hurricanes have knocked the Devils out of the playoffs three straight times.
Fans can't sleep on Columbus either, as they currently have 25 points this season and are 5-2-3 in their last ten games. If the Blue Jackets were in the Atlantic Division, they would currently be tied with the Philadelphia Flyers and New York Islanders for fourth.
The new realignment will also allow the Devils to play every team in the NHL at least twice, once at home and once on the road. That means more chances to see Western Conference opponents at the Prudential Center in 2013-2014.
While it's certainly an exciting change for the NHL coming out of a lockout, the Devils will not necessarily benefit from the realignment.
If you took last season's results and put them with the newly-proposed playoff scenarios, the Devils would have finished as a wild-card team with 102 points. The Rangers, Flyers, and Penguins would have each earned one of the three divisional playoff spots.
As the wild-card team with the second fewest points (Washington would be eighth with 92 points), New Jersey would face the Boston Bruins, the Division C winner, in the first round.
Also, adding the Detroit Red Wings to the Eastern Conference C Division puts another contender in the conference. Detroit had 102 points last season, which would have tied them with Boston for the division lead.
If fans thought the sixth seed with 102 points was ridiculous, how will they feel with a wild-card?
Anyway you look at it, the Devils' road to the Stanley Cup will get a lot more difficult starting next season. Teams with lower seeds won't be able to draw weaker opponents anymore, as the Devils did with Florida last season in the first round.
Division D is going to be a lot more competitive than Division C, but the Eastern Conference will be very competitive either way next season. The action is going to be as exciting as ever, but don't expect the Devils to have an easy ride to the playoffs.