The NHL Board of Governors approved the proposed realignment plan, meaning that hockey is officially redrawing its divisional boundaries, starting next year. The NHL will shift to a system of six divisions to four, so every team will be getting some new division mates. The new NHL alignment will look like this (don't worry, the division names are just stand-ins until they come up with something else):
|Division A||Division B||Division C||Division D|
|Anaheim Ducks||Chicago Blackhawks||Boston Bruins||Carolina Hurricanes|
|Calgary Flames||Colorado Avalanche||Buffalo Sabres||Colombus 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||Philadephia Flyers|
|Vancouver Canucks||Winnipeg Jets||Tampa Bay Lightning||Pittsburgh Penguins|
|Toronto Maple Leafs||Washington Capitals|
Divisions A and B form the Western Conference, C and D the Eastern Conference. That gives the West an obvious advantage: it has only 14 teams to the East's 16, so a greater percentage will make it to the playoffs (8 teams make it from each conference). Speaking of the playoffs, another tweak is in the works: instead of the top 8 teams from each conference making it in, the top 3 from each division will, plus two wild cards. This is an unnecessary change, and one of these years the silliness behind it will be revealed: eventually, the divisions will be lopsided enough that the 6th team in one will be better than the third in the other same-conference division, but because the new rules guarantee playoff spots to each of the top 3 in each division, the less deserving team will get in.
Though the West has a natural advantage in its number of teams, the East has an advantage that becomes obvious when you look at this nifty map of where each team plays:
Division A is purple, B is green, C is red, D is blue. The two Eastern divisions are nice and clustered. The map actually hides this a little, because to get every team on the map in one shot, I had to zoom out to the point that the Devils, Rangers and Islanders appear as one blue pin with a thick outline. The midwestern Division B has some significant travel to do for intra-divisional games, but all that open space in the wild West is what really sticks out. Anaheim and L.A. are neighbors, but every other contest involves significant travel.
The other thing that pops out is how the Florida teams, the Panthers and Lightning, randomly got screwed: unless they are playing each other, they have to fly over all of Division D to play other teams in their division. Not sure why the NHL let things fall this way instead of putting both Florida teams in Division D, swapping the Penguins over to C then...never mind, this gets tricky. You do want to maximize teams in the Eastern Conference to minimize those long flights to Vancouver and L.A.
Despite the glaring imperfections, the NHL realignment will make life a lot better for a few teams (namely Winnipeg, Detroit and Colombus) and make some big, fun divisions. Now we just have to convince the NHL that a short season is actually way better.
Here's another link to the map, so you can peruse and zoom at your leisure.