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NHL realignment issues still being sorted out

By the time the NHL owners finish meeting Monday in Pebble Beach, Calif., the league and its playoff structure might have a new look.

Realignment will be the main topic of discussion.

Whether there will be a radical makeover, a simple solution or a motion for more study remains to be seen, but the first realignment since 1998-99 is coming.

It might be that just two teams are shifted. But there also are discussions about forming two conferences with two divisions each. Currently, each conference has three divisions.

Realignment is an issue because the Atlanta franchise moved to Winnipeg and became the Jets. Winnipeg this season remained in the Southeast Division with the Lightning, but that is simply weird and cannot be sustained.

The easy solution would be to move Winnipeg to the Central Division in the Western Conference and shift either Nashville or Columbus to the Southeast. But Detroit, in the West, wants to come east, and there is speculation the Red Wings could end up in the Southeast.

"We don't want to lock ourselves into one solution and then find we can't get the support," Red Wings general manager Ken Holland said. "We want to be in the East. We would take anywhere in the East. But if we had to be in the West, we want to make sure we play everybody home and away."

The four-division solution — the latest speculation from the Canadian Broadcasting Corp.'s Hockey Night in Canada is Tampa Bay might be in one with the Maple Leafs, Senators, Canadiens, Bruins, Sabres and Panthers — is intriguing because it would include two rounds of playoffs within each division to determine the conference finalists. For a league desperate to cultivate rivalries, that is attractive.

The problem is that given franchise locations, two divisions might have eight teams and two seven. Assuming four teams from each division would make the playoffs, a higher percentage would advance from the smaller divisions.

Would that be fair? Would the Lightning and Panthers agree to a division that penalizes them with so much travel? Much needs to be discussed.

NHL realignment issues still being sorted out 12/03/11 [Last modified: Saturday, December 3, 2011 11:40pm]
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