The Washington Times - December 4, 2011, 11:02AM

The hot topic at next week’s NHL Board of Governors meeting in California is realignment. The days of the Winnipeg Jets playing in the Southeast Division will be short-lived, and something will change beginning with the 2012-13 season.

How radical that change will depend on votes, as two-thirds of owners need to approve any plan. At the bare minimum, the Jets will go to the Western Conference and either the Columbus Blue Jackets, Detroit Red Wings or Nashville Predators will go East, perhaps even to join the Capitals in the Southeast Division.

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But the most recent realignment proposal, reported by CBC on “Hockey Night In Canada,” (and screen-capped here by Yahoo Sports’ Puck Daddy blog) seems too good to be true, at least in the sense of Caps rivalries and intra-conference travel.

It’s a four “conference” format, as the league does not want to call them divisions. Here are the four, with the old names in place for argument’s sake:

PATRICK CONFERENCE

Washington Capitals

Carolina Hurricanes

New Jersey Devils

New York Rangers

New York Islanders

Philadelphia Flyers

Pittsburgh Penguins

ADAMS CONFERENCE

Boston Bruins

Buffalo Sabres

Florida Panthers

Montreal Canadiens

Ottawa Senators

Tampa Bay Lightning

Toronto Maple Leafs

NORRIS CONFERENCE

Chicago Blackhawks

Columbus Blue Jackets

Dallas Stars

Detroit Red Wings

Minnesota Wild

Nashville Predators

St. Louis Blues

Winnipeg Jets

SMYTHE CONFERENCE

Anaheim Ducks

Calgary Flames

Colorado Avalanche

Edmonton Oilers

Los Angeles Kings

Phoenix Coyotes

San Jose Sharks

Vancouver Canucks

Yes, that Patrick Conference looks difficult, but each grouping includes plenty of built-in rivalries. The plan would be for each team to play every conference opponent three times at home and on the road (36 games for Patrick, Adams and 42 for Norris and Smythe) and then home-and-homes with everyone else.

It would mean more travel for the Caps and every other current Eastern Conference team, but it would spread out travel that currently is considered a major disadvantage for those in the Western Conference.

There’s a good reason the NHL wants to call this plan the four-conference format because even the playoffs would take place within them. The idea would be for the first two playoff rounds to take place within the conference; the four champions would then be re-seeded in the final four, per CBC’s Elliotte Friedman, who reported all of this on the “Hot Stove” report Saturday night.

From a travel perspective, that makes the first two rounds of the playoffs easy, especially for the Caps and their conference rivals.

The main difference between this proposal and one broached a couple weeks ago is that the Penguins and Flyers are reunited. This is done by splitting the Panthers and Lightning apart from the traditional Southeast Division rivals and placing them with the Sabres, Bruins, Canadiens, Maple Leafs and Senators. According to Friedman, Canadian teams aren’t big fans of changing the system, but it’s believed the Florida teams would prefer this because of the crowds they could draw when the Canadian teams come to town.

Now, what about the unstable Coyotes? Under this proposal, they could be shifted to one of the more Easternmost conferences if they relocate to a place such as Quebec City.

Larry Brooks of the New York Post reported Sunday that the NHLPA is against this proposal, though it does not have a voice in the debate. The Board of Governors need a two-thirds vote to approve any change, with Brooks saying if anything happens this week it will be the minor kind – the Jets to the West in a one-for-one deal.

What do you think? Leave your thoughts in the comments or tweet at me - @SWhyno.