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NHL realignment a go next season

The NHL map is finally in order with Detroit and Columbus heading east, and Winnipeg moving west.

“We’re thrilled, absolutely thrilled,” Blue Jackets executive John Davidson said on a telephone conference call Thursday, shortly after the realignment plan was approved in a vote by the league’s board of governors. “We tend to use the (term) common sense around here. This seems to make a lot of common sense.”

The new format goes into effect next season, and will feature two eight-team divisions in the Eastern Conference, including the Red Wings and Blue Jackets. The Jets will now be part of a Western Conference that’s made up of two seven-team divisions.

It’s a plan that Commissioner Gary Bettman called “fan-friendly,” because it aligns teams by divisions that are mostly in the same time zones. And Bettman noted it will re-establish numerous rivalries by geography and tradition.

Detroit returns to the East in a yet-to-be named division that will feature three other Original Six franchises, Toronto, Boston and Montreal. And Winnipeg is now part of a central-based division after having spent the past two years playing in the Southeast.

“We think this is a common sense practical realignment,” Bettman said.

Without providing details, Bettman said the vote was not unanimous, but “well in excess” of the two-thirds majority required.

The new format also creates changes in determining the 16-team playoff field. The top three teams in each division will qualify for the postseason. The next two teams with the best records in each conference will then earn wild-card berths.

That will make it more difficult for teams to qualify in the East, because it will have two more clubs than the West competing for eight berths.

The NHL Players’ Association had already signed off on the realignment format, which will be in place for at least three seasons.

The Atlanta Thrashers’ relocation to Winnipeg two years ago helped precipitate the need for realignment.

All three teams making the switch will benefit, because they will no longer have to make extended road trips outside of their time zones.

The Dallas Stars, Colorado Avalanche and Minnesota Wild will now be in a division mostly made up of teams that play in the same Central time zone.

All teams will play each other both home and away at least once each season. And teams will play division rivals at least four times a season.

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