NHL approves radical realignment plan

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PEBBLE BEACH, CALIF. (AP) - Forced into realignment following Atlanta’s move to Winnipeg last summer, the NHL opted for a dramatic change rather than a simple one.

League 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 from the NHL Players’ Association. It could be put in place as early as next season.

The new plan tried to address as many concerns of the teams as possible, from creating more equitable travel, to preserving rivalries, to promoting the game by having the biggest stars play in every city every season.

“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 league considered two plans to accommodate Atlanta’s move to Winnipeg this past summer. The first would have moved the Jets to the Western Conference’s Central Division and either Detroit or Columbus to the Southeast in the Eastern Conference.

But there were issues with that plan that kept compounding with each potential solution as other franchises wanted to use realignment to solve their concerns, as well.

“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.

“I think at the end of the day, everybody voted in terms of doing what the right thing was for the majority of teams and our fans and our competitiveness and what was fair,” said Nashville general manager David Poile, whose team was a big advocate of changing to the new model. “I think everybody probably feels good about that today. I know I do.”

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 teams, which was a critical issue for teams such as Detroit, Dallas, Columbus and Nashville.

Toronto general manager Brian Burke said he had concerns about the wear and tear the extra travel would have on his team, but approved the plan when he was assured by the league that the schedule would be more efficient with every team playing in every city.

“We try to vote with a league hat on when we can,” he said. “Sometimes you have to vote with your team’s interest in mind. There’s times you can vote with the league hat on and that’s what we tried to do.”

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 and Colorado.

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