The NHL announced Thursday, March 7 that its player's union (NHLPA) has agreed in principle to the league's proposed realignment. This makes it almost certain the San Jose Sharks will be in a new Pacific Division that is sans the Dallas Stars but takes the Vancouver Canucks, Edmonton Oilers and Calgary Flames from the Northwest Division.
NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly outlined one more step in the process:
The NHLPA confirmed to us today that it has consented to a revised Plan for Realignment, effective for the 2013-14 season. Our next step will be to bring the proposed Plan for Realignment to the NHL Board of Governors for its consideration. We will update the status of the process as future developments warrant.
Technically the plan is not the same because the NHLPA has proposed a re-evaluation after two seasons instead of three. But all changes are accepted for 2013-14 and 2014-15, making the NHL Board of Governors likely to approve the tweak. The faster examination of realignment will allow for the few flaws to be worked out, including possible relocation of struggling teams like the Phoenix Coyotes.
Pro Hockey Talk outlined the four divisions and playoff arrangement. The other Western Conference division will be called the Midwest. It includes all other teams currently in the conference but the Detroit Red Wings and Columbus Blue Jackets, plus the Winnipeg Jets come aboard. Columbus, the Washington Capitals and Carolina Hurricanes join the Atlantic Division and the other teams become the Central Division to form the Eastern Conference.
The logic in adding the two Florida teams into the northern-most division is to capture snowbirds from new division rival fan bases. It will thus add to the travel (though still not as much as Western Conference divisions) but also the coffers.
The playoff format being discussed is the top three teams from every division make the playoffs, then two wild cards from each conference. This is another flaw, as a third-place teams in one division may have a worse record than a sixth-place team, though this is exceedingly unlikely out west where each division only has seven teams.
Still, it is a vast improvement over the current divisions and playoff format because no division rivals will be more than one time zone from each other.