Thursday, March 07, 2013

NHLPA signs off on realignment for next season

Fear not, Flyers fans, your rivalry with the Pittsburgh Penguins will stay intact.

On Thursday, the NHLPA agreed to the newest realignment proposal presented by the league, effectively ending the six-division format in favor of a return to four divisions as had been the case from 1974 until 1998.

"After discussions with the Executive Board, the NHLPA has given consent to realignment, to be re-evaluated following the 2014-15 season," said union head Donald Fehr in a brief statement.

According to TSN of Canada, the breakdown will be as follows: 

Eastern Conference

Central Division: Boston, Buffalo, Detroit, Florida, Montreal, Ottawa, Tampa Bay, Toronto.
Atlantic Division: Carolina, Columbus, New Jersey, N.Y. Islanders, N.Y. Rangers, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Washington.

Western Conference
Pacific Division: Anaheim, Calgary, Edmonton, Los Angeles, Phoenix, San Jose and Vancouver.
Mid-West Division: Chicago, Colorado, Dallas, Minnesota, Nashville, St. Louis and Winnipeg.

The Board of Governors, which had been quite insistent at altering the divisional structure as far back as two years ago with the departure of Atlanta for Winnipeg, is expected to lend its approval with a vote in the next week.

"The NHL Players' Association confirmed to us today that it has consented to a revised Plan for Realignment, effective for the 2013-14 season," NHL 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."

The perks of the new plan: Flyers-Penguins, the hottest rivalry in the NHL right now, does not suffer from any reduction. Washington returns as a Philly rival for the first time since leaving the Atlantic for the Southeast in 1998.

Also, four of the Original Six teams will be in the same division for the first time since 1974, when the Bruins, Canadiens, Rangers, Red Wings and Maple Leafs all were placed in the East Division. Also, Detroit and Columbus, the Eastern-most of the Western Conference teams, will finally be grouped closer geographically.

The pitfalls: what in the Hell is Florida and Tampa Bay doing in a "Central" division that looks more like Northeast? Swapping out the Jets' problem in the Southeast for two other teams having to go through something similar means that this will almost certainly face scrutiny from the NHLPA once Panthers and Bolts players get a feel for the travel.

In addition, if the league has its sights set on another team in the Toronto area, or relocation/expansion to Quebec, another round of realignments has to be on the table to accomodate it. Unless the NHL wants to expand to two additional markets out West (i.e. Seattle and Las Vegas) the plan as is, simply cannot work beyond two seasons.
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