COLUMBUS, Ohio –- Say goodbye to the Central Division. As of next season, the realignment plan that the league drew up a few weeks ago will come to fruition.
The NHL’s board of governors approved the realignment plan, which will send the Detroit Red Wings and Columbus Blue Jackets east and the Winnipeg Jets west. For those who don’t recall, here’s how it looks in the Chicago Blackhawks’ new division (currently named Division B): Chicago, Colorado Avalanche, Dallas Stars, Minnesota Wild, Nashville Predators, St. Louis Blues and Winnipeg Jets.
The NHLPA gave its thumb’s up last week. Realignment will be re-evaluated after the 2015-16 season.
“We know this realignment was extraordinarily important to a number of our clubs, particularly those playing so many games out of their time zones. This was intended to be a fan-friendly realignment. They won’t have so many away games at times that are difficult to follow their team,” commissioner Gary Bettman said in a conference call today. “This is always a difficult emotional process, but you try to do the best you can. Now we can begin the process of preparing next year’s schedule.”
As far as naming the divisions, Bettman said that will happen in the next few weeks. “We’re hoping to use names that make it easiest to conjure up which teams are where.”
The Red Wings have wanted to move East for some time now, so it’s no surprise they’ve finally been granted their wish. Columbus and Winnipeg’s respective moves make sense because… well, look at a map.
“We’re obviously thrilled,” Red Wings general manager Ken Holland said. “We built great rivalries in the west. Even though we’re heading east, we’re still thrilled we’ll play every team in the Western Conference. The whole package that’s put together… it’s an exciting time for the NHL.”
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The Jets and Stars, who have been in divisions that haven’t been too travel friendly – the Southeast and Pacific, respectively – are probably the happiest with this realignment. Winnipeg chairman Mark Chipman said the Jets are ready to start rivalries with their new division mates, including “the great franchise that resides in Chicago.”
“We’re very relieved (with realignment), as much as we’ve enjoyed those trips down south,” Chipman continued. “The travel burden won’t be as onerous. We’ll be establishing rivalries close to home, particularly (with) Minnesota and (the Blackhawks). Our fans are excited at the prospect of playing those teams.”
The Stars are reveling in finally playing inter-division games in the central time zone.
“No one is a bigger beneficiary than the Stars,” president Jim Lites said. “With the travel across time zones, particularly west-east, we usually lost 7-10 practice days a season. People don’t realize the geography; it’s closer to Winnipeg from Dallas than it is Dallas to Phoenix. Now there’s less time in the air, and less hours lost to time-zone changes that will make a dramatic improvement (in our team). We’re thrilled with the opportunity. It’s just a better thing for this franchise, for sure.”
Here, according to the league, is how the schedule will break down in the Western Conference, which has two seven-team divisions:
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)
Now, there are 14 teams in the West and 16 in the east (two eight-team divisions). But there will still be 16 teams (eight in each conference) in the Stanley Cup playoffs; to make that all work, there will be a wild-system for the postseason. The top three teams in each division will be the first 12 teams in the playoffs. The last four spots will be filled by the next two highest-placed finishers in each conference, based on regular-season points and regardless of division.