With the news that the NHL’s Board of Governors had approved realignment for next season Thursday following the approval of the NHL Players’ Association) recently, the Detroit Red Wings and their fans can finally celebrate.
The Red Wings will be part of one of the two eight-team divisions in the Eastern Conference, Division C, along with the Boston Bruins, Montreal Canadiens, Toronto Maple Leafs, Buffalo Sabres, Florida Panthers, Ottawa Senators and Tampa Bay Lightning.
“The biggest highlights are every team will play in every building every season,” NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said on a conference call. “We have some rivalries renewed — Detroit gets more action with Boston, Montreal and Toronto.”
Division D of the Eastern Conference will be comprised of the Columbus Blue Jackets, Carolina Hurricanes, Washington Capitals, New Jersey Devils, New York Islanders, New York Rangers, Philadelphia Flyers and Pittsburgh Penguins.
In the Eastern Conference, teams will play five games versus two teams and four games versus five teams, with teams rotating yearly within the division. In the conference, non-division, teams will play three games versus each team. Then they’ll play home and away versus every Western Conference team.
“We’re obviously thrilled we’re moving back to the Eastern Conference for a lot of reasons,” Wings vice president and general manager Ken Holland said on the conference call. “Obviously an Eastern Conference city, Eastern Conference division is going to make many more road games prime time.
“We’re excited to move into a division where we can renew rivalries with Boston, Toronto and Montreal and create strong rivalries with Buffalo, Ottawa, Tampa Bay and Florida.
“It’s a great day for the Detroit Red Wings. We’re thrilled we’re going to play all Western Conference teams home and home.”
In the Western Conference which will have two seven-team divisions, Division A is the Anaheim Ducks, Calgary Flames, Edmonton Oilers, Los Angeles Kings, Phoenix Coyotes, San Jose Sharks and Vancouver Canucks.
Division B will contain the Chicago Blackhawks, Colorado Avalanche, Dallas Stars, Minnesota Wild, Nashville Predators, St. Louis Blues and Winnipeg Jets.
“We haven’t settled yet on (division) names,” Bettman said. “We’re looking at sensible geographic (names) that are fan-friendly and easiest to remember. Probably in the next few weeks. The name will come shortly.”
Western Conference teams will play five games versus five teams within the division and four games versus one team with teams rotating yearly. Within the conference, non-division, teams will play three teams versus each team. Non-conference games will be two games versus every team, home and away.
Unlike before, every team will visit every team at least once so despite the Wings moving into a separate division and conference from the Chicago Blackhawks, they will meet twice a year.
The playoff format changes as well. It will still be 16 teams, eight in each conference but it will be based on divisions. Plus a wild-card option has been added.
The top three teams in every division will make up 12 of the 16 teams. The next two highest-place teams in each conference will take up two of the other berths.
Wild-card teams in each divisional playoff will be seeded based on points in the regular season. The division winner with the most points will face off against the wild-card team with the fewest points.
Teams that finish second and third in each division will play in the first round of the playoffs. Those winners will play to get into the Conference Championship series.
The two divisional champions in each conference will play in conference finals to reach the Stanley Cup Final.