League approves realignment plan
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NHL 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 with the NHL Players' Association. It could be put in place as early as next season
The league considered two plans to accommodate Atlanta's move to Winnipeg last summer. The first would have simply moved the Jets to the Central Division and Detroit or Columbus to the Southeast.
"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.
The new look has two conferences with seven teams all based in the Eastern time zone: Penguins, New Jersey, Philadelphia, New York Rangers, New York Islanders, Washington and Carolina in one and Boston, Montreal, Toronto, Ottawa, Buffalo, Florida and Tampa Bay in the other.
"It's pretty much what we're used to except we're adding a couple of teams," Penguins center Sidney Crosby said. "I think everyone's probably pretty happy with that. Washington is a pretty good rival.
"It's not really a big change. I don't see anyone really being disappointed about this."
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, Colorado.
Teams will play home-and-home series against all non-conference teams and five or six games in their conference. The top four teams in each conference will make the playoffs, with the first two rounds consisting of solely intraconference matchups. Bettman said he will consult with general managers in the spring before deciding whether to reseed the playoffs in the third round or to have pre-determined matchups.
"I think playoffs don't really need any extra incentive, but I think if anything [starting within each conference] might add a little more excitement for the fans," Crosby said. "They're more familiar with the teams and the matchups."
• Maple Leafs 4, Rangers 2: Phil Kessel had two assists to add to his NHL-leading point total, and visiting Toronto snapped New York's five-game winning streak.
• Panthers 5, Capitals 4: Stephen Weiss scored two goals to lead Florida against visiting Washington.
• Senators 4, Lightning 2: Nick Foligno scored 15:33 into the third period, Zack Smith added two goals, and host Ottawa extended Tampa Bay's losing streak to four games.
• Coyotes 4, Blackhawks 3: Radim Vrbata and Oliver Ekman-Larsson scored in the shootout, and Mike Smith stopped Jonathan Toews and Marian Hossa in the tiebreaker to lead the visiting Phoenix to a wild victory,
• Former NHL forward Matthew Barnaby, who played for Penguins from 1998-2001, was fired by ESPN as the cable network's hockey analyst, a day after being charged with drunken driving for being found behind the wheel of an SUV that was missing its front tire.
First Published December 6, 2011 12:00 am