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The National Hockey League underwent a major realignment in the 2013 offseason.

BackgroundEdit

For many years, the Columbus Blue Jackets and Detroit Red Wings were the only Eastern time zone teams in the Western Conference. They had long lobbied to be moved in with the rest of the Eastern time teams in the Eastern Conference. However, the NHL said they could only move them East if an existing Eastern Conference team moved to another time zone, in other words, moving them East without expanding in the West.

Meanwhile, the Atlanta Thrashers, in their 11 seasons of play, made only one playoff appearance (getting swept out of the first round) and had trouble attracting fans to their home games throughout their entire existence. The Thrashers had been the second attempt at placing an NHL team in Atlanta. As early as 2009, there were rumors that the Thrashers were to be sold to an owner intending to relocate the team. Many potential owners tried to purchase the team to keep it in Atlanta, to no avail.

Eventually, in 2011, Winnipeg-based True North Sports & Entertainment agreed to purchase the Thrashers, intending to move them to Winnipeg. The sale and relocation were approved that June, and the team took on the Jets nickname, the very name used by the city's previous NHL team.

Initial realignment plansEdit

In late 2011, the NHL announced a radical realignment that would see the league move to a 4-conference structure for the 2012-13 season.

The conferences would be made up as follows:

The Northeast, Atlantic, Central, and Pacific Divisions would be used as the models for each conference, with the Southeast Division being broken up and the Pacific and Northwest Divisions merging back into one (minus Dallas and Minnesota).

The new regular season schedule format was to be the following:

  • Teams in the 7-team conferences play 36 conference games (6 against each team)
  • Teams in the 8-team conferences play 38 conference games (6 each against 3 teams, 5 each against 4 teams)
  • All teams play one home game and one road game against each non-conference team

NHLPA rejects realignmentEdit

On January 6, 2012, the National Hockey League Players Association announced they had rejected the proposed realignment.

They cited the following as reasons for rejection: concerns about fairness, travel and the inability to see a draft schedule before approving.

The NHL would have to wait until 2013-14 to implement any realignment plan.

In the meantime, the NHL went into a lockout that shortened the 2012-13 season to 48 intra-conference games.

The plan is adjustedEdit

After the lockout ended, the NHL and the players association made a joint plan that would be implemented in 2013.

The four-conference structure was changed to a four-division/two-conference structure. Three teams were moved from different divisions from the previous plan. The Blue Jackets and Red Wings were moved from the Central to one of the Eastern Conference divisions, and the Avalanche took their place in the Central. The East would thus consist of two divisions of eight teams each, and the West would have two divisions of 7 teams each.

The Red Wings were moved into what was previously known as the Northeast Division, and the Blue Jackets into the Atlantic Division. Since the Florida teams were still planned to be part of the Northeast, that division had to change its name to reflect its expanded footprint. The previous Atlantic Division surrendered its name to the Northeast Division, and became the Metropolitan Division as a result.

This would be the final approved alignment:

The split of the Northwest Division was structured so that its American teams joined the Central, and its Canadian teams returned to the Pacific.

The schedule format for the regular season was also adjusted:

  • Eastern Conference:
    • 5 games each against two division rivals
    • 4 games each against five division rivals
    • 3 games each against the teams in the other division in the East
    • 2 games each against the teams in the West
  • Western Conference
    • 12 teams would have this format each year
      • 5 games each against five division rivals
      • 4 games against remaining division rival
      • 3 games each against the teams in the other division in the West
      • 2 games each against the teams in the East
    • 2 teams (one each division) would have this format each year
      • 5 games each against four division rivals
      • 4 games each against two division rivals and one team in the other Western division
      • 3 games each against the remaining teams in the other division in the West
      • 2 games each against the teams in the East

Playoff formatEdit

The original plan for the new playoff format had each conference send its top four teams to the playoffs. The winners of each conference playoff would be reseeded for the semifinals, and the winners would meet for the Stanley Cup.

The adjusted plan would now call for the top three teams in each division to make the playoffs. In each conference, the remaining two teams would be wild-card teams, being the top two remaining teams in the conference regardless of division. The playoffs would consist of the division semifinals, division finals, conference finals, and Stanley Cup finals.