by Dante A. Ciampaglia
When the Atlanta Thrashers moved to Winnipeg and became the Jets for the 2011–12 season, the NHL had a slight geographical problem. Atlanta played in the Eastern Conference's Southeast Division, and the other Southeast teams — Washington, Carolina, Tampa Bay, and Florida — were all pretty close to Atlanta. But Winnipeg is in central Canada, more than 1,000 miles away from each of those teams. That meant a lot of frequent flier miles for the Jets, as well as their divisional rivals who had to visit Winnipeg.
Two seasons later, the NHL found a solution: realignment. Beginning in 2013–14, the league's 30 teams will be regrouped into conferences and divisions based on their location (see chart below).
There are still Eastern and Western conferences, but now only four divisions — Atlantic and Metropolitan in the East, and Central and Pacific in the West. In this new alignment the Jets move to the West, while the Columbus Blue Jackets and Detroit Red Wings move to the East.
The playoffs also get an overhaul. Eight teams per conference still make it to the postseason. The top three teams in each division automatically qualify, and the remaining spots will be wild cards filled by the two teams with the next best points total in each conference. It will probably take a little time to get used to realignment, but after last year's lockout-shortened season, this could be a fresh start for the NHL and its fans.
Check out the rest of Sports Illustrated Kids' NHL 2013 Preview on the SI Kids Blog!
Photo: RICHARD WOLOWICZ/GETTY IMAGES