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NHL realignment could result in four divisions, angry Penguins

Realignment is coming to the NHL for the 2012-13 season, because (spoiler) Winnipeg is not located in the southeast United States. How dramatic that realignment gets — the number of teams switching divisions, and the number of divisions they'll switch to — is the real question.

Back in June, a Gary Bettman-endorsed plan to realign the NHL into four "conferences" was discussed by the Board of Governors, one that included a return to divisional play in the first round of the playoffs.

Support for that plan waned over time. In October, Bob McKenzie of TSN reported that a straight-up Detroit Red Wings-for-Winnipeg Jets swap was now the most likely scenario for realignment.

However, lest anyone believe the NHL and the Board of Governors were destined to take the safe, boring path for realignment: Elliotte Friedman of CBC Sports reported on Saturday night that four-conference format is "gaining steam" and some teams believe it's "50/50" to be approved in December.

[Watch the video here.]

Friedman presented the alignment above, saying he suspected the Red Wings would remain with the Blackhawks and Blues, but he wasn't 100-percent on that.

The team most frustrated by this plan? The Pittsburgh Penguins.

From Friedman on Hockey Night in Canada:

"The way it works is you will play every team not in your division home and home, and the rest of the games will be in your division. So Pittsburgh would not be with Philadelphia, and that's one thing the Penguins were understandably concerned about, because [they say] we're going to lose that rivalry."

Not only that, but this would mean fewer games against the Rangers and Devils as well. The Penguins were previously separated from their current Atlantic Division rivals from 1993-98 when they were members of the Northeast Division. Friedman continued:

"The playoffs will be in your division, like it used to be with the Smythe, the Norris, the Adams and the Patrick. The Eastern teams were against this in the beginning. Some of them are coming back towards it. The other thing is that there's a feeling Detroit, Nashville and Columbus — 40 percent of their games start after 9 p.m. locally. If [Columbus and Nashville] are going to build their fan based, they're going to have to help them on this one."

Here's Friedman's hot-stove mate Eric Francis of the Calgary Sun on realignment:

One governor referred to the realignment voting as a very "selfish process" that revolved almost entirely on teams' travel schedules. Word is commissioner Gary Bettman may very well have to push for a more complicated divisional realignment than simply moving Winnipeg to the West and bringing Detroit back east.

Instead, the movement now revolves around having teams in four divisions with the playoff playdowns in each division first. Each team would play home and home games against each team outside its division. Flames president Ken King said the possibility of an All-Canadian division was "romantic but not practical."

The goal is to have this resolved at the governors' meetings in Pebble Beach in December, and 20 of the 30 governors need to buy in to whatever the league decides.

Please recall the Red Wings' realignment "concession" to the NHL, where they agreed to stay in a division with "western conference" teams as long as they only had to travel to western Canada and California once. The home-and-home thing would seem to satisfy that.

What do you think of this realignment? As we've said before, divisional play in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs is a cool idea; but with unbalanced divisions, is that fair to teams stuck in the larger divisions?

What say you to reducing the number of games between, say, the Penguins and Flyers and the Penguins and Capitals? Or between the Chicago Blackhawks and Vancouver Canucks?

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