RALEIGH—The "South-least" division looks to be coming to an end.
The National Hockey League Players' Association (NHLPA) approved a league realignment plan on Wednesday that would create four divisions—two of seven teams and two of eight teams—out of the existing six divisions. The league would still comprise an eastern and a western conference. The plan, which will assuage critics of the current playoff seeding system, also includes a wild-card playoff round.
Now that the NHLPA has given their thumb's-up, the league's Board of Governors (the 30 franchise owners) is the final ratifying body. They are expected to approve the realignment in a vote that could happen as soon as next week.
Caniacs will see their Hurricanes join the existing Atlantic Division of the Philadelphia Flyers, Pittsburgh Penguins, New Jersey Devils, New York Rangers and New York Islanders. The Washington Capitals and the Columbus Blue Jackets will round out the new Atlantic Division. The Caps are the Canes' only current Southeast Division rival remaining in the Atlantic.
Along with the Detroit Red Wings, who are slated for the new Central Division, Columbus leaves the Western Conference. The Winnipeg Jets, meanwhile, head west. No more 1,350-mile trips to Manitoba for the Canes.
Although the unbalanced conferences gave some players pause, the NHLPA didn't want to rock the boat after half the season was lost to a hostile labor stoppage. Pundits have already pointed out that the imbalanced alignment leaves a couple phantom slots for expansion teams in the west. That makes cities like Las Vegas, Kansas City and Quebec City pretty excited.
Pending the Board of Governors' vote, here's what the NHL will look like next season:
|Pacific Division||Mid-West Division||Central Division||Atlantic Division|
|Anaheim Ducks||Chicago Blackhawks||Boston Bruins||Carolina Hurricanes|
|Calgary Flames||Colorado Avalanche||Buffalo Sabres||Columbus Blue Jackets|
|Edmonton Oilers||Dallas Stars||Detroit Red Wings||New Jersey Devils|
|Los Angeles Kings||Minnesota Wild||Florida Panthers||New York Islanders|
|Phoenix Coyotes||Nashville Predators||Montreal Canadiens||New York Rangers|
|San Jose Sharks||St. Louis Blues||Ottawa Senators||Philadelphia Flyers|
|Vancouver Canucks||Winnipeg Jets||Tampa Bay Lightning||Pittsburgh Penguins|
|Toronto Maple Leafs||Washington Capitals|