The NHL’s 97th season got underway this week with a realignment that is good news for a handful of teams.
The new four-division format, which includes a new setup for the Stanley Cup playoffs, was approved by the league’s Board of Governors in March. Sixteen teams are in the Eastern Conference and 14 are in the Western Conference.
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The switch was prompted after the Atlanta Thrashers moved to Winnipeg to become the Jets in 2011. The NHL says the new two-conference, four-division format is more geographically appropriate than the six-division setup it replaced. The Jets are now in the Western Conference, and the Columbus Blue Jackets and Detroit Red Wings are now in the Eastern Conference “to provide them with the ability to play the majority of their games against teams in the same time zone,” according to the NHL
“I’m thrilled,” Red Wings goalie Jimmy Howard told USA Today
. “We can actually sleep in our own beds.”
Other teams also benefitted.
“The Dallas Stars stayed in the Western Conference but moved into a division that includes five other teams from the Central time zone,” the NHL said.
USA Today noted that when the Atlanta Thrashers moved to Winnipeg, the renamed Jets were still playing in the Southeast Division, a division with two teams from Florida, along with the Carolina Hurricanes and the Washington Capitals. In other words, it made no sense. While the league could have swapped out Winnipeg with one other team, it decided to use the opportunity to address the unfairness of having Columbus and Detroit playing in the West.
“I think everyone’s excited about it first and foremost from a travel standpoint,” Blake Wheeler, a forward with the Jets, told USA Today. “(We are) staying a little more centrally located instead of having to take a three-hour plane ride to come out East. I think the travel wears on you a little bit.”
The Stanley Cup Playoffs will still consist of 16 teams, eight from each conference, but will be division-based. A wild-card system also has been added.
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