The National Hockey League's Board of Governors yesterday rejected a proposed change in the playoff format from its current division alignment to a conference format.

The change would have seeded the top eight playoff teams in each conference, with the top seed playing the eighth seed, No. 2 playing No. 7, 3 playing 6, and 4 playing 5.

The NHL's board, meeting in Detroit, also directed the league office to form a policy by Aug. 1 that would impose bigger fines and suspensions for teams involved in brawls. Before any change is enacted, it would need approval at the league's meeting in September.

The board discussed assessing fines of up to $50,000 per team for each incident, according to NHL President John Ziegler, as well as proposals to suspend entire teams. In such a case, a team would have two players suspended per game until the total is met.

The playoff format proposal reportedly received only 10 of the 14 votes needed to pass, with 10 clubs voting against it. Pittsburgh abstained, apparently because of a split within its group.

Washington Capitals General Manager David Poile voted for the proposal. "It was something we were interested in as a possible change," Poile said, "although it wasn't a big surprise that it wasn't voted in or a big disappointment on our part."

Despite his vote, Poile said "this present system has worked for us very well," with division opponents producing the Capitals' largest attendance figures last season.

"People were really happy in the divisional setups," he said.

Poile said some teams said they did not want to play the same teams year after year in the playoffs.

Ziegler said those voting against the proposal did not want to change a successful format.

"The feeling was, you know that old saying, 'If it isn't broke, don't fix it,' " he said.