NHL realignment is officially a go. The NHL Players’ Association issued a statement Thursday evening that it has signed off on the league’s realignment plan, with the stipulation it be re-evaluated following the 2014-15 season.
Pending the approval of the NHL Board of Governors, which is believed to be a formality, the Capitals will be in an eight-team division along with Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, New York Rangers, New York Islanders, New Jersey, Carolina and Columbus beginning with the 2013-14 season.
Realignment will reunite the Capitals with many of their old Patrick Division rivals; it will also force them to vie for a playoff berth against teams that have often occupied the top of the Eastern Conference in recent years.
Under the new plan, the NHL will have divisional playoffs rather than current conference playoffs. The top three teams in each division will qualify for the playoffs and the final two postseason berths will go to the teams with the most points remaining in each conference and they will represent the No. 4 seeds. That could allow for five teams to reach the playoffs from one division and three from the other.
Within one conference, the division winner with the most points will face the wild-card team with the fewest even if it requires playing in the opposite division. From there, No. 1 plays No. 4 and No. 2 plays No. 3. The winners of those series would play each other for a divisional championship; then the winners of the Atlantic and Central face off in Eastern Conference finals and the winners of the Mid-West and Pacific meet in the Western Conference finals. The champions from the Eastern and Western Conference will then meet for the Stanley Cup final.
One of the major complaints from the players about this and the league’s previous proposal are the unbalanced divisions — the two Eastern divisions both have eight teams while the two Western divisions each have seven, thus making it slightly easier to reach the postseason in the West.
In the regular season, teams in the Atlantic will play 30 games against its own division – facing two teams five times and five teams four times; 24 games against the other division in the Eastern Conference – three games against every team, rotating which club has the extra home game each season; and 28 games against the Western Conference teams – once home and away.
Here’s how the divisions will shake out:
Atlantic: Washington Capitals, Pittsburgh Penguins, Philadelphia Flyers, New York Rangers, New York Islanders, New Jersey Devils, Carolina Hurricanes and Columbus Blue Jackets.
Central: Boston Bruins, Buffalo Sabres, Detroit Red Wings, Florida Panthers, Montreal Canadiens, Ottawa Senators, Tampa Bay Lightning and Toronto Maple Leafs.
Mid-West: Chicago Blackhawks, Colorado Avalanche, Dallas Stars, Minnesota Wild, Nashville Predators, St. Lous Blues and Winnipeg Jets.
Pacific: Anaheim Ducks, Calgary Flames, Edmonton Oilers, Los Angeles Kings, Phoenix Coyotes, San Jose Sharks and Vancouver Canucks.