NHL realignment is good to go with the consent of the NHL Players’ Association, executive director Donald Fehr said in a statement released Thursday afternoon.
Pending approval of the Board of Governors, which seems to be a gimme, the NHL will realign into four divisions beginning with the 2013-14 season. The Washington Capitals will play in the Atlantic Division with the Pittsburgh Penguins, Philadelphia Flyers, New York Rangers, New Jersey Devils, New York Islanders, Carolina Hurricanes and Columbus Blue Jackets.
The other Eastern Conference division, believed to be called the Central, includes the Boston Bruins, Buffalo Sabres, Detroit Red Wings, Florida Panthers, Montreal Canadiens, Ottawa Senators, Tampa Bay Lightning and Toronto Maple Leafs.
One Western Conference division (the Midwest) includes the Chicago Blackhawks, Colorado Avalanche, Dallas Stars, Minnestoa Wild, Nashville Predators, St. Louis Blues and Winnipeg Jets. The other (the Pacific) includes the Anaheim Ducks, Los Angeles Kings, Phoenix Coyotes, San Jose Sharks, Vancouver Canucks, Calgary Flames and Edmonton Oilers.
Under the new playoff format, the top three teams from each division make the playoffs, and then the top two remaining point-getters in each conference would qualify as wild cards.
Caps NHLPA rep Jason Chimera expressed some concern over the unbalanced odds to make the playoffs between the East and West. There are seven teams in each Western Conference division and eight in the East.
“That’s the tough part when you have an uneven number of teams in a four-conference structure,” Philadelphia Flyers NHLPA rep Braydon Coburn said recently.
Chimera wondered if players would be more willing to sign in the West because of better odds to make the playoffs. But more difficult travel out West is a trade-off.
“They do those graphs when the playoffs start and how much teams travel and it’s almost ridiculous how much some teams travel way more than others,” Chimera said last month. “The league is so strong now, every game is such a big game and you want to have that competitive balance. And you don’t want to have one team have an advantage just because of travel.”
In terms of fan interest, a change back to the old Patrick Division, with multiple visits every year from the Penguins, Flyers, Devils and Rangers, is a plus for the Caps.
During the regular season, the Caps will play two division opponents five times and five division opponents four times. They will play each Central Division team three times and each Western Conference team twice (home-and-home).
But having to compete with those teams, plus the Hurricanes, for just four spots in a divisional playoff structure, puts them at a disadvantage. The ability for five teams to make it from the Atlantic helps Washington.
The NHLPA said it will re-evaluate realignment after the 2014-15 season.
“The NHL Players’ Association confirmed to us today that it has consented to a revised plan for realignment, effective for the 2013-14 season,” deputy commissioner Bill Daly said in a statement. “Our next step will be to bring the proposed plan for realignment to the NHL Board of Governors for its consideration. We will update the
status of the process as future developments warrant.”
It’s a foregone conclusion that the Board of Governors will approve realignment.