It was inevitable, but starting in the 2013-14 season, the National Hockey League will have a new divisional format.
After the NHLPA gave its consent a week ago, the NHL Board of Governors put its stamp of approval for realignment. Both bodies will reevaluate the plan after the 2015-16 season.
The new plan includes a four-division format for the Eastern and Western Conferences. With the Columbus Blue Jackets and Detroit Red Wings shifting conferences, the East will have 16 teams, while the Winnipeg Jets, currently in the Southeast Division, move to the 14-team West.
What does this mean for the Boston Bruins? With Detroit, the Black and Gold will welcome another Original Six squad to its division that also includes the Montreal Canadiens and Toronto Maple Leafs. The other two Northeast Division teams, the Ottawa Senators and Buffalo Sabres, and the two Sunshine State squads, the Tampa Bay Lightning and Florida Panthers, make up the eight-team “Division C”, which will be renamed at a later date.
The other eight Eastern foes, the Blue Jackets, New York Rangers, New York Islanders, New Jersey Devils, Philadelphia Flyers, Pittsburgh Penguins, Washington Capitals and Carolina Hurricanes, will make up “Division D”
Out west, “Division A” includes the defending Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings, Anaheim Ducks, Calgary Flames, Edmonton Oilers, Phoenix Coyotes, San Jose Sharks and the Vancouver Canucks, while “Division B” consists of the Chicago Blackhawks, Minnesota Wild, Dallas Stars, Colorado Avalanche, Nashville Predators, Winnipeg Jets and St. Louis Blues.
This new alignment also ensures that each of the 30 teams will play in all 30 arenas for the first time since the 2008-09 season.
Also included is a change in the playoff format. While 16 teams will still make the playoffs, the current system (first vs. eighth, second vs. seventh, third vs. sixth and fourth vs. fifth) is scrapped in favor of a format somewhat similar to the 1980′s.
The top three teams in each division will earn one of the first 12 rankings in the playoffs. The final four spots, aka the “wild cards”, will be filled by the next two highest point totals – regardless of divisions – meaning it will be possible for a division to have five teams in the postseason.
The division winner with the most points will square off against the “wild card” with the least amount of points, while the second and third place teams in each division will play each other in the first round of the playoffs. The first round winners will face off in a division championship for the right to meet in their respective conference finals. And, much like the current format, the champions of the East and West will face off in the Stanley Cup Finals.
It will take a little while getting used to, but regardless, the NHL is about to embark on a new journey once the shortened 2013 season concludes.
Dan Rosen of NHL.com has more details in his complete realignment breakdown.