The board of governors has approved the NHL realignment plan proposed by the league and approved by the players earlier this week. This means that the league will be shifting to two conferences and four divisions.
The conferences will still be called the Eastern and Western Conferences, but the divisions have yet to be named. “We haven’t settled in yet on names. We’re looking at what we think will be the most sensible geographic designations. The most fan friendly. The easiest to remember,” said commissioner Gary Bettman. “When you’re making this kind of change, people need to adjust in their thinking of where things are. We’re hoping to use the names that make it easiest to conjure up where teams are.”
Bettman did his royal best to address some of the more obvious issues about realignment, like the imbalance in the conferences (16 in the Eastern, 14 in the Western). According to the boss, the “wild card” playoff format will make things fairer for clubs in the Eastern Conference. He also affirmed that there had been “plenty of times” where one division had sent more teams to the post-season than others. “We introduced the wild card to balance that off a little bit better. In that regard, I think it addresses what might be a concern,” Bettman said.
With Florida and Tampa Bay in the Northeast division (or whatever it’ll be called), Bettman tried to address the perceived problems. “It was collaborative. There are things about this plan that teams like, and that each team doesn’t like. But on balance, when you look at the rivalries and geographic grouping, and you take into account the unique geography of Florida, this, compared to the alternatives, seemed to make the most sense,” he said.
The commissioner also confirmed what most of us already knew: it was Atlanta’s move to Winnipeg that really fired the engines on realignment. And with the Jets moving west, it seems that the club couldn’t be happier. “We’re very relieved, as much as we enjoyed those trips down south,” said Jets governor Mark Chipman.
The Dallas Stars also win big, moving to the same division as the Jets. “No one is a bigger beneficiary of this than the Dallas Stars,” said team president Jim Lites. “We’ve spent quite a bit of time competing two time zones away in the West, which is always difficult.”
The new realignment scheme will be in place for at least three seasons and any relocations and/or expansions will be dealt with somehow in the process, although those issues aren’t expected to come up. After the three season period, the plan will be analyzed and it will be determined if it will continue.