There have been rumors that the NHL would realign their divisions for several years now because of their unbalanced schedule, where division rivals face each other six times per season yet face teams from the other conference at most two times a year. These realignment rumors grew stronger since last summer, when the Atlanta Thrashers were purchased by True North and moved back to Canada to become the Winnipeg Jets. Under the current structure, the new Jets play in the Southeast Division with their rivals such as the Florida Panthers, Tampa Bay Lightning, and Carolina Hurricanes thousands of miles away -- an unacceptable long term solution.
In an attempt to ease travel concerns and make the schedule more fair for all teams, the NHL has approved a complete restructuring of the entire league, beginning next year for the 2012-2013 season. In this new plan, which was approved by the Board of Governors earlier Monday evening, the league will move towards a four conference structure with a balanced schedule -- meaning each team will have a home and home series each season with every other team in the league.
Here is the proposed breakdown of the new NHL, separated by conference:
San Jose Sharks, Anaheim Ducks, Los Angeles Kings, Vancouver Canucks, Calgary Flames, Edmonton Oilers, Colorado Avalanche, Phoenix Coyotes
Detroit Red Wings, Chicago Blackhawks, Minnesota Wild, St. Louis Blues, Nashville Predators, Winnipeg Jets, Dallas Stars, Columbus Blue Jackets
Montreal Canadiens, Toronto Maple Leafs, Ottawa Senators, Boston Bruins, Tampa Bay Lightning, Buffalo Sabres, Florida Panthers
Philadelphia Flyers, Pittsburgh Penguins, New York Rangers, New York Islanders, New Jersey Devils, Washington Capitals, Carolina Hurricanes
Details are still breaking on this story -- including potential playoff structure -- but it appears that the league will be undergoing this change after this season.