The NHL’s facelift is now official.
The league announced Thursday that its proposed realignment plan is a go for next season after getting approval from the Board of Governors.
It was the final step in the process after the NHL Players’ Association gave its consent to the plan last week. The NHLPA has agreed to this framework through the 2015-16 season with the expectation that both sides will begin reviewing how realignment has fared after the 2014-15 season.
The plan, details of which ESPN.com reported on Feb. 26 after obtaining a league memo sent to its 30 teams, will see the Detroit Red Wings and Columbus Blue Jackets move to the Eastern Conference from the West, a move that both franchises had been pushing for.
Now all 16 NHL clubs in the Eastern time zone are in the same conference, leaving 14 teams in the Western Conference. It will also see the NHL move from six divisions to four.
“The new alignment will place several clubs in more geographically appropriate groupings, and will intensify already-fierce rivalries throughout the league,” the NHL said.
The Dallas Stars have complained for years about being in the Pacific Division with clubs two time zones away. They were pushing to find a new group and they got their wish, now in a division next season with Chicago, Colorado, Minnesota, Nashville, St. Louis and Winnipeg.
Stars president and CEO Jim Lites told ESPN.com that the move has “been a long time coming,” saying that when the Stars went to the Pacific in 1998, it “was supposed to be a temporary move.”
“When you have 30 to 40 percent of your road games started two time zones west of you it makes it hard for your fans to watch on TV. It just make it very difficult and it impacted our TV ratings,” he said. “With this change, it brings some rationality in terms of our schedule and our divisional opponents. I mean, people don’t realize this but Winnipeg is closer to Dallas than Phoenix geographically. So our travel schedule has certainly improved overall with this realignment. The Dallas Stars are very happy.”
The playoffs have also been changed, going to a division-based system. The top three teams in each division qualify for the playoffs with the remaining top two clubs in each conference qualifying as wild-cards. So in theory, for example, you could have five teams from one division make the playoffs and only three from another.
Teams will play other clubs from the other conference at least twice each season in a home and away.