The NHL Board of Governors released a radical realignment plan that eliminates the current two conference system and breaks the entire league into four conferences that are organized based on geography. The Phoenix Coyotes, still in Phoenix for the time being, were placed in a group with other Western teams which includes: Los Angeles, Anaheim, Phoenix, San Jose, Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton, and Colorado.
The stated purpose of the move was address travel and time zone concerns according to a statement on the NHL's web site:
Governors adopt radical four-conference realignment plan - NHL.com - News
The four conferences are designed to alleviate geographic concerns among several current Western Conference teams that had been unhappy about their extensive travel through one, two, and sometimes even three time zones. Some of those teams argued that the late start of road games in the Pacific time zone were affecting fan interest, especially among younger fans.
The new format creates an imbalance with preferential treatment for teams in the east. Here's an easy view of the plan as first published on SB Nation.com.
|Conference 1||Conference 2||Conference 3||Conference 4|
|Washington||Toronto||St. Louis||San Jose|
The two "East" conferences each have seven teams while the two "West" conferences each have eight teams. The playoff format calls for the top four teams in each conference to make it to the first round. With fewer teams in the "East" conferences it will be easier to advance to the postseason.
The plan makes no mention of any adjustments should the Phoenix Coyotes ownership situation not be resolved in such as way that keeps the team in its current home. It's widely believed that if a deal with a new owners can't be completed, the team would be purchased and moved to a different market. Quebec City has been floated as a possible destination and a there were previous attempts to move the Coyotes to Ontario that could be revisited.
Under the new plan, each team will play every other team in the NHL at least one time in a home and away series. Schedules inside the conferences would be handled this way:
In the seven-team conferences, teams would play six times -- three home, three away. In the eight-team Conferences, teams would play either five or six times in a season on a rotating basis; three teams would play each other six times and four teams would play each other five times. This process would reverse each season: An eight-team Conference member that plays an opponent six times in one season would play it five times the following season.
The new plan will go into effect next season.