The NHL’s board of governors has passed a new realignment plan for the league to change over from two conferences and six divisions to two conferences and four divisions (h/t Pierre LeBrun of ESPN.com).
The new plan will go into effect at the start of the 2013-14 league season.
UPDATE: Monday, July 22, 4:00 p.m. ET by Donald Wood
The National Hockey League has announced the schedule for the 2013-14 season and the new division names for the first time since the league made the changes to the geographical breakdown, according to NHL.com.
The biggest change worth noting is that the Atlantic Division has now become a combination of the Southeast and Northwest Divisions from last year, and what was known as the Atlantic Division in 2013 will now be heralded as the Metropolitan Division.
Here is what the league looks like now, via Greg Wyshynski of Yahoo! Sports:
The NHL also revealed the entire 2013-14 schedule, which can be found at the league’s official website.
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The biggest change in the realignment is the transition of the Detroit Red Wings and the Columbus Blue Jackets to the Eastern Conference.
While many hockey fundamentalists will question the idea of moving an Original Six team like Detroit away from the Chicago Blackhawks, this is a decision that goes much deeper than one storied rivalry.
This realignment will only help the league fiscally in the long haul, and the budding rivalries between cities already in close vicinity (i.e. Philadelphia and Washington) will only flourish under the new divisional setups.
The NHL realignment couldn’t have come at a better time for the league, as it is still suffering the ramifications of missing a huge chunk of the season because of the lockout (h/t Boston.com).
A shot in the arm like switching up the way divisions are laid out will revitalize the sport with the casual fans. Add in the new rivalries with teams that rarely played each other, and the intrigue over the changes next season will have the entire sports world focused on this experiment.
As seen by the map above (h/t Icethetics), the NHL used geography for the most part to help determine the divisions, thus cutting down on travel costs for each team in the league.
New Conferences and Divisions
There will inevitably be backlash to the changes, but the new conferences and divisions shouldn’t frighten fans. These fundamental changes make too much sense to not happen eventually.
Detroit and Columbus moving to the Eastern Conference is admittedly still odd, but the new-found feuds the four divisions will cause are different and interesting.
Each new division has teams involved that they normally wouldn’t square off against on a regular basis (i.e. the Red Wings and the Boston Bruins). The ensuing battles should turn the NHL from a struggling league post-lockout to a thriving business once again.
New Playoff Format
Remember all that talk of the top eight teams from each conference making the postseason? It’s a bit different now.
There will still be 16 teams that make the postseason—with eight representatives from each conference making the show—but the importance of the divisions will be stressed and an MLB-esque wild-card system will be implemented.
For the full explanation of how the postseason will work in a less nonsensical way, we turn to the league’s official breakdown (h/t NHL.com senior writer Dan Rosen) of the new format:
The top three teams in each division will make up the first 12 teams in the playoffs. The remaining four spots will be filled by the next two highest-placed finishers in each conference, based on regular-season points and regardless of division. It will be possible, then, for one division to send five teams to the postseason while the other sends three.
The seeding of the wild-card teams within each divisional playoff will be determined on the basis of regular-season points. The division winner with the most points in the conference will be matched against the wild-card team with the lowest number of 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. The winners of each series will play for berths in the Conference Championship series.
The two divisional champions in each conference will then play in the conference finals to advance to the Stanley Cup Final.
Got it now?
The new system feels a bit more complicated than the last playoff setup, but there is no way to know if this plan will be successful without testing it. If this idea were not working, the NHL owners and Players’ Association would have no problem letting their voices be heard.
Given a full season and postseason to examine how the format unfolds will expose any flaws and strengths in the system, and the board of directors can adjust accordingly to make it a great change for all parties.
Change scares many fans—especially in a tradition-driven sport like hockey—but this realignment was done with the best intentions for the betterment of the league.