PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. - NHL officials approved a radical realignment plan Monday that will give the league four conferences instead of six divisions and guarantee home-and-home series among all teams.
The board of governors authorized commissioner Gary Bettman to implement the proposal pending input with the NHL Players' Association. It could be put in place as early as next season
The league considered two plans to accommodate Atlanta's move to Winnipeg this past summer. The first would have simply moved the Jets to the Central Division and either Detroit or Columbus to the Southeast.
"The simple one wasn't as simple as it looked when you got done with it," Bettman said.
The board opted to go with the more dramatic switch, creating four geographic conferences—two with eight teams and two with seven.
The new format will increase overall travel in the regular season, especially for Eastern Conference teams who will now have more trips West. But it cuts down on travel for some Western Conference teams, which was a critical issue for teams like Detroit, Dallas, Columbus and Nashville.
"This is not a subject that everybody is going to get their first choice on," Bettman said. "What you try to do is come up with something that everybody can live with, get comfortable with and understands the value of. Because if you ask 30 clubs, you'd probably get 30 different solutions. That's what makes this a difficult process."
The new look has two conferences with seven teams all based in the Eastern time zone: New Jersey, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, New York Rangers, New York Islanders, Washington and Carolina in one and Boston, Montreal, Toronto, Ottawa, Buffalo, Florida and Tampa Bay in the other.
The third conference consists of eight teams in the Eastern and Central time zones: Detroit, Columbus, Nashville, St. Louis, Chicago, Minnesota, Dallas and Winnipeg. The fourth conference has eight teams in the Mountain and Pacific time zones: Los Angeles, Anaheim, Phoenix, San Jose, Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton, Colorado.
The conferences have not been named.
Teams will play home-and-home series against all nonconference teams and five or six games in their conference. The top four teams in each conference will make the playoffs, with the first two rounds consisting of solely intraconference matchups. Bettman said he will consult with general managers in the spring before deciding whether to reseed the playoffs in the third round or to have pre-determined matchups.
Bettman said he liked the current format that he devised of six five-team divisions but that Winnipeg's move from Atlanta forced some change. He didn't take a stance on either proposal, but simply explained the pros and cons and allowed the teams to vote.
There was about an hour of discussion, and representatives from about a dozen teams spoke before the plan was approved.
"We had clubs, a number of clubs, that were unhappy with the current state of affairs," Bettman said. "In the context of having to make a change anyway, I felt it was important that their needs and concerns were recognized."