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Volume 24 No. 156
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NHL BOG Approved Realigning Into Four Conferences Beginning Next Season

The NHL BOG last night approved a four-conference realignment format that will create two eight-team conferences and two seven-team conferences. Under the new format, every team will play every other team outside its conference twice -- once home, once away. In the seven-team conferences, teams will play six times. In the eight-team conferences, teams will play either five or six times in a season on a rotating basis. The top four teams in each conference will qualify for the NHL Playoffs. The first-place team will play the fourth-place team, and the second-place team will play the third-place team. The four respective conference champions will meet in the third round of the playoffs, with the winners playing for the Stanley Cup (NHL). NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said that how the teams "will be seeded after conference champions are crowned will be decided by general managers at their spring meeting." USA TODAY's Kevin Allen reports the league's "plan is to use the format next season, although Bettman said he wanted to discuss the idea with the NHL Players Association before approving implementation." The BOG "chose major realignment over the seemingly simpler plan of moving Winnipeg to the Western Conference and shifting Detroit or Columbus to the Eastern Conference" (USA TODAY, 12/6). A "total of 26 teams voted in favour of the plan with four teams opposing it" (, 12/6).

Ducks Blackhawks Bruins Hurricanes
Flames Blue Jackets Sabres Devils
Avalanche Stars Panthers Islanders
Oilers Red Wings Canadiens Rangers
Kings Wild Senators Flyers
Coyotes Predators Lightning Penguins
Sharks Blues Maple Leafs Capitals
Canucks Jets    

BETTMAN WANTS TO TALK TO UNION: In Toronto, Damien Cox notes Bettman wants to speak with NHLPA Exec Dir Donald Fehr "before making the new conferences and schedule official." It is "unclear whether the union has the right under the current CBA to actually approve the new alignment or not, and Bettman declined to answer that direct question." NHLPA Communications Dir Jonathon Weatherdon said, "Realignment requires an agreement between the league and the NHLPA" (TORONTO STAR, 12/6). In N.Y., Larry Brooks reported prior to the realignment vote that the NHLPA "has cited ramifications of a playoff qualification in expressing concern with, if not downright opposition to, a proposed shift from the current structure to a four-division setup." A source indicated that the union "does not favor a setup to two seven-team divisions and two eight-team divisions." The NHLPA "believes such a setup would be unfair to teams in the eight-team divisions" and also has "expressed concerns about changes in the schedule that would create increased travel" (N.Y. POST, 12/4).

EXECS LIKE THE DEAL: Capitals VP & GM George McPhee said, "It’s a great realignment in every regard. Everybody else in the league seems to be happy as well. The Western teams have an extra team in their conference and less travel as a result" (, 12/6). Kings President of Business Operations Luc Robitaille said, "We like the fact that every team on the East Coast will come to L.A. We think it's a great thing for our fans and a great thing for us" (L.A. TIMES, 12/6). Blue Jackets President Mike Priest said, "This is what's right for the league, but it's also something that will make a big, big difference for our franchise, both on the ice and off the ice. This is huge" (COLUMBUS DISPATCH, 12/6). Sharks GM Doug Wilson: "Sometimes the easiest thing is not always the right thing. Sometimes if everybody accepts a little bit of the burden, the right thing is done" (SAN JOSE MERCURY NEWS, 12/6).

Bettman said the NHL changed format only
because the Thrashers moved to Winnipeg

THE MAN WITH THE PLAN: Bettman said that the NHL "changed the format only because the Atlanta Thrashers became the Winnipeg Jets, and he insisted he had nothing against the existing system -- partly because he 'invented it' in 1993." He added that he "didn’t take a headcount coming into the meeting, and he insisted he simply laid out the pros and cons of the two leading proposals and let the owners decide for themselves." But YAHOO SPORTS' Nicholas Cotsonika notes Bettman "played down his role" in realigning the league. What the commissioner Bettman "failed to mention is that he came up with the plan that passed Monday, too, and he had been 'informing' real hard before the meeting." Red Wings Senior VP Jimmy Devellano: "That was his plan. He put it all together because, you know, a lot of people had issues." Devellano added, "There was a lot of work done behind the scenes. You can’t go to a meeting where there are 30 people and try to get two-thirds of the people to vote without doing things first, one-on-one, behind the scenes" (, 12/6).'s Scott Burnside wrote, "You have to pause and admire commissioner Gary Bettman and his ability to steer the unwieldy ship that is the league." Heading into yesterday's BOG meeting, "there appeared to be significant resistance to the new four-conference plan." But Burnside noted, "No one builds consensus like Bettman." It may "take plenty of arm-twisting, cajoling, sweet-talking and the occasional bullying, but the job gets done" (, 12/5). The GLOBE & MAIL's Shoalts notes the governors "coming out of the meeting said the plan was adopted so smoothly because Bettman did his usual masterful job of laying the groundwork for a solution before the meeting." He was "familiar with what each team wanted and managed to work around that with the four-conference plan." Maple Leafs President & GM Brian Burke said, "It was typical Gary Bettman. It was like a Chicago election in the ’30s. He knew where the votes were coming from" (GLOBE & MAIL, 12/6). In L.A., Helene Elliott writes, "Bravo to the NHL's Board of Governors for approving a major realignment." Bettman previously "caved in to powerful East teams and their insistence on keeping travel mileage lower at the expense of the league's greater good." Elliott: "Finally, sense prevailed" (L.A. TIMES, 12/6).

KEEPING TEAMS HAPPY: The GLOBE & MAIL's David Shoalts notes execs from "both the Red Wings and Blue Jackets said they were happy with the new look." Blue Jackets GM Scott Howson said, "This was a compromise that satisfied everybody. It’s going to make our travel easier on the players" (GLOBE & MAIL, 12/6). In Edmonton, Terry Jones writes having the Red Wings and Blue Jackets in a division with six teams based in the Central Time Zone, "with the extra games against Eastern opponents, is a decent deal for Detroit and Columbus." Jones: "It dramatically reduces the late-night TV starts from Mountain and Pacific time zones. Their TV numbers just got better and TV and radio deals worth more money" (EDMONTON SUN, 12/6). In Toronto, Damien Cox noted a "few teams -- notably Detroit, Dallas, Colorado and Minnesota -- have really carried a heavy burden in terms of both travel and TV/time zone issues, and it would be fair to help those teams out" (, 12/5). In Detroit, Kulfan & Krupa note for "more than two decades, the Red Wings' major opponents for the Stanley Cup were both other teams and the travel schedule they faced as a team in the Eastern Time zone playing out west" (DETROIT NEWS, 12/6). Stars GM Joe Nieuwendyk said the change "helps the fans with watching on television, and ... really changes the structure of our rivalries" (DALLAS MORNING NEWS, 12/6). Sabres D Robyn Regehr said, "Everyone wants a level playing field. Television, that's a big thing. Teams want to provide their fan with a game that's at a decent hour. Teams like Detroit, Columbus, Nashville, when they're going out to the West Coast to play, their games are on so late" (BUFFALO NEWS, 12/6).

FLORIDA TEAMS GETTING RAW DEAL? In Ft. Lauderdale, Craig Davis notes the shift "means the Florida Panthers will be spending more time in the air, and transplants and visitors from Canada will be able to see their teams more often in South Florida." For the Panthers, realignment "will greatly increase travel expenses and the number and duration of trips." GM Dale Tallon "has frequently complained about the Panthers' 'terrible' travel situation." The new format "would mean longer flights even to games within the division, with the exception of Tampa Bay" (South Florida SUN-SENTINEL, 12/6).'s Brian Stubits writes this "really does seem like the best solution to please the most teams." The only teams "that really seemed to get jobbed by the arrangement are the two teams in Florida, the Panthers and Lightning." Excluding "each other, their closest division foes are in Buffalo and Boston" (, 12/6). In Toronto, Mike Zeisberger notes given the "number of Snowbirds who flock from Canada to Florida each and every winter, it will almost feel as if the Leafs have additional home games on the sked when you consider how many Toronto fans attend contests in Tampa and Sunrise whenever the blue-and-white are in town" (TORONTO SUN, 12/6).

NOT SO FAST: THE HOCKEY NEWS' Ken Campbell writes there will be "those who will be applauding the NHL over its radical realignment scheme," and the NHL "indeed deserves a pat on the back for all of those things." But Campbell asks, "How on earth can the league announce this major realignment and not come to some sort of closure on which teams will meet in the Stanley Cup final? Isn’t that kind of like building the Taj Mahal and delaying putting on the roof?" Campbell: "We still have no idea whether there’s a possibility of two teams from the east or two teams from the west meeting in the Stanley Cup final because, in true NHL fashion, the board deferred that crucial detail until later" (, 12/6).