NHL moves to four conferences

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Although parties expected the issue to be rather contentious, the decision was quickly reached with a 26-4 vote by the NHL board of governors in favour of a new format of four conferences.

The new format will guarantee that each team gets to play against the other 29 teams a minimum of two times per season.

Commissioner Gary Bettman shared extensively on the advantages and disadvantages of the four-conference setup, but within an hour, the first alignment since 1998 was already passed.

Brian Burke, general manager of the Toronto Maple Leafs, commented that it was typical of Bettman to have a good idea of where the vote would go.

The new format would still have 16 playoff teams, four each from every conference. During the first round, the Number 1 seed from every conference will play against the No. 4 seed, while the No. 3 plays the No. 2. From there, the winners will face each other off.

Bettman confirmed that the way for the teams to be seeded following the crowning of the conference champions will be up to the decision of the general managers during the spring meeting.

David Poile, general manager of the Nashville Predators, said that it may not be a perfect situation, but it seemed to be a good step. He described it as possibly good maybe not for everybody but for majority of the people in the league.

“I think it’s very good for our fans,” he pointed out, as the fans will obviously appreciate seeing all the teams at least once per year.

The new conference format will reportedly be used next season in place of the six divisions.

Bettman admitted that he wanted to throw the idea for a discussion with the NHL Players Association before the final implementation si approved. Bettman has been authorized by the board of governors to implement the proposal as soon as input from the NHLPA was received.

Bettman’s desire to get the feedback from NHLPA echoes the sentiments of union spokesman Jonathan Weatherdon, who believes realignment to be an agreement between both the league and the players’ association.

With the new scheduling, the seven-team conference teams will play against each conference team up to six times, while eight-team conferences will meet their rivals around five to six times.

Bettman said he had nothing against the current format, and that if it had not been for the move of Atlanta to Winnipeg, they would not have sought to change it.

The radical alignment was apparently preferred by the board of governors, comprised of owners or representatives from every team, compared to the simpler option of moving Winnipeg to the Western Conference as well as Detroit or Columbus being moved to the Eastern Conference.

Scott Howson, general manager of Columbus, commented that the change would reduce the burden of travel on them, and admitted that while they did not have a strong preference prior to the vote, they were very pleased with the outcome.

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