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NHL Realignment, A Primer: Four Conferences, Revamped Playoffs Among The Change

NHL realignment is here, and there's a ton of news flying around. Let's break down all the information as easily as we can, first with a look at which teams fall where. 

We've posted this map about 18,000 times now, so just click if you'd like to see it again. Here's a different visual breakdown of the new conferences. 

"East" "West"
Conference  1 Conference 2 Conference 3 Conference 4
Carolina Boston Chicago Anaheim
New Jersey Buffalo Columbus Calgary
NY Islanders Florida Dallas Colorado
NY Rangers Montreal Detroit Edmonton
Philadelphia Ottawa Minnesota Los Angeles
Pittsburgh Tampa Bay Nashville Phoenix
Washington Toronto St. Louis San Jose

Winnipeg Vancouver

Names of the new conferences have yet to be decided, and there's no word if they could go back to the old Patrick, Adams, Norris and Smythe names. 

IMBALANCE: The first thing you notice is the unbalance between the Eastern half of the league and the Western half. Keep in mind that there's no such thing as the Eastern Conference and Western Conference any longer, so that's not really of too much concern. The top four teams in each conference will make the postseason.

Gary Bettman's argument against the concern that it'll be easier to make the playoffs if you're in one of the Eastern groupings is that the bottom seedings are inconsequential. Basic mathematics seem to sit counter to that point, but we'll let you be the judge of if you care about that.

PHOENIX SITUATION: Besides, this new format might not even make it to the beginning of the 2012-13 season. There's still plenty of uncertainty revolving the Phoenix Coyotes, and it's definitely possible that the team is playing in a different city come next season. This seems to create a bit of a contingency plan for the NHL.

Should Phoenix move East to Quebec City, it's a quick swap to "Conference 2". If they were to move to Kansas City or Seattle or another Western locale, Detroit or Columbus could be shifted to "Conference 1" or "Conference 2."

Again, though, balance between the East and the West doesn't really matter at this point considering there's no such thing as the East and the West. 

And, well.... it does sort of lend itself to potential expansion to 32 teams, doesn't it? /cart-before-the-horse

SCHEDULE CHANGES: There will be a home-and-home held between each team in the league, meaning that each team will play in each league city every single season. That helps travel concerns for the West to an extent, but the reality is that teams in the West are just separated by more distance and will have to travel more, no matter the alignment.

The rest of the games will be filled inside of your own conference. 

If your team is in a seven-team conference, they will play 36 games inside of their conference, or six games against each team. In eight-team conferences, teams will play at least five but potentially six games against each their intra-conference foes. 

PLAYOFFS: The big question is how the playoffs will work. According to Bettman, here's how things will go:

  • As we mentioned, the top four teams in each conference will advance to the postseason. 
  • From that point, the first two rounds of the Stanley Cup Playoffs will be intra-conference. 
  • There will be four conference champions, each of whom will advance to a final four. 
  • The four teams will likely be reseeded based on regular season results, with No. 1 playing No. 4 and No. 2 playing No. 3. The winners will meet in the Stanley Cup Final. It's also possible that the two eight-team conferences (or, the East) will meet and that the two seven-team conferences (the West) will meet, with the winner playing in the Final. Bettman said the general managers will decide this.

All in all, there's a whole lot of change, and not everybody will be happy with it. How does this all make you feel? For complete coverage of NHL realignment, stick with this StoryStream.