NEW YORK — The NHL moved a step closer to realignment Thursday as the players’ association approved a proposed plan that is set to go into effect next season.
Now that the league has gotten the go-ahead from union chief Donald Fehr, the NHL will only need to get approval from the team owners to put it in place.
No official details of the changes have been released by the NHL, but it is widely believed that teams such as Detroit and Columbus will be put into more travel-friendly divisions in the Eastern time zone, and the Winnipeg Jets — formerly the Atlanta Thrashers — will leave the Southeast Division for a spot in the Western Conference.
The two divisions out West will contain seven teams each. The East divisions will both contain eight.
Each conference will still have eight teams in the playoffs but the setup will be slightly different.
Instead of the current system, under which the top eight teams in each conference make the playoffs, the new plan will award spots to the top three teams in each division along with the next two teams with the best records as wild cards.
The new Atlantic Division in the East will be comprised of Carolina, Columbus, New Jersey, New York’s Rangers and Islanders, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and Washington. The Central Division will contain Boston, Buffalo, Detroit, Florida, Montreal, Ottawa, Tampa Bay and Toronto.
Out West, the new Midwest Division will feature Chicago, Colorado, Dallas, Minnesota, Nashville, St. Louis and Winnipeg.
The Pacific Division will be made up of Anaheim, Calgary, Edmonton, Los Angeles, Phoenix, San Jose and Vancouver.