Originally posted on Fox Sports Detroit  |  Last updated 12/6/11
DETROIT -- Sooner or later they had to do something, and they finally did. In what many believe to be a bold move, the NHL Board of Governors on Monday approved a realignment plan that creates two seven team conferences and two eight team conferences that are geographically based and stress conference rivalries. Pending final approval from the NHL Players' Association, the new-look NHL will begin this format next season. It will also feature a home-and-home series with every NHL club, meaning that each team will appear in Detroit at least once every year. Even though its not perfect, this realignment has to sit well for the road-weary Red Wings. For years, Detroit and Columbus have been the only two teams from the Eastern Time Zone playing in the Western Conference. Under this new realignment, the four unnamed conferences are as follows: Conference A: Detroit, Chicago, Columbus, Dallas, Minnesota, Nashville, St. Louis, Winnipeg Conference B: Anaheim, Calgary, Colorado, Edmonton, Los Angeles, Phoenix, San Jose, Vancouver Conference C: Boston, Buffalo, Florida, Montreal, Ottawa, Tampa Bay, Toronto Conference D: Carolina, New Jersey, New York Rangers, New York Islanders, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Washington Each team in an eight-team conference will play three conference opponents six times a season and the other four teams five times. If you played a team six times, the next season you would play them five times. Seven team conferences will play conference foes six times a year. Although the Wings didnt move east, they will play a majority of their games in the Eastern or Central time zones. The Wings will play 38 games within their conference and 44 games outside their conference. Detroit will now make as many West Coast and Western Canada road trips as the New York Rangers. Playoffs will have a new wrinkle that will make fans of Detroits days in the Norris Division smile. Thats because the first two rounds of the Stanley Cup playoffs will be played within the conference, with the top four teams squaring off for the conference championship. Each conference champion will advance to the Stanley Cup semifinals. Its not known yet how the conference champions will be seeded. According to NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman, the final playoff format will be determined by the NHL general managers at their annual spring meeting. There are many reasons to embrace this realignment plan if youre the Red Wings or part of their fan base: There will be a lot less late-night starting times during the regular season. Youll see every NHL team in Detroit at least once a year. Your conference includes all your current Central Division rivals. Cross-country playoff rounds cannot occur until the third round of the playoffs. And the first two playoffs rounds being a free-for-all against conference opponents guarantees a rough-and-tumble play. The playoffs have always been riveting, but conference play will enhance the competition level, satisfy our bloodlust and be terrific theater. NBC must be salivating at the possibility of the Rangers, Flyers, Penguins and Capitals meeting every year to battle it out for their conference championship. If there is a drawback to this plan, its that some teams could qualify for the playoffs ahead of others that have more points because of their conference strength. You can also say so long to the days when a No. 8 seed knocks off a No. 1 seed. The most distressing news about realignment is that the Red Wings and the Maple Leafs will never play each other more than twice a year unless they meet in the playoffs. It wouldve been wonderful if the league could have devised a plan that had Detroit and Toronto in the same conference. Yet, considering what the Wings have had to put up with being in the Western Conference, this probably is their best-case scenario. Detroits Central Division rivals didnt want the Red Wings to move east, and many Eastern Conference teams were not doing cartwheels over the possibility of adding Detroit into the mix. So beginning next season, the Wings will be in a conference that seems geographically fair ... will make fewer West Coast trips, reducing their mental and physical fatigue ... will have earlier start times and not have any cross-country playoff foes until the third round -- without having to give up anything in return. Sounds like a formula we all should be able to live with.
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