The NHL's Board of Governors has made a decision on a plan for NHL realignment.
The league has approved a new four-conference format that is expected to be implemented next season. NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman will also speak to the NHLPA before implementing the changes.
The discussion and vote to approve the new realignment plan at the NHL Board of Governors meetings in Pebble Beach, California took an hour on Monday. A total of 26 teams voted in favour of the plan with four teams opposing it.
The realignment became necessary when the Atlanta Thrashers moved to Winnipeg and became the Jets.
The plan finalized on Monday would see four separate conferences established to replace the current two-conference, six-division system.
The proposed new conferences would be arranged to accommodate both geographic proximity as well as established rivalries.
The existing Northeast division would be expanded to include the league's two Florida-based teams, making a conference of: Boston, Buffalo, Florida, Montreal, Ottawa, Tampa Bay and Toronto.
Meanwhile, the existing Atlantic Division would gain two teams for a seven-team conference including: Carolina, New Jersey, the New York Islanders, New York Rangers, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and Washington.
The Winnipeg Jets would be the only Canadian team in an expanded Central Division that would also include Chicago, Columbus, Dallas, Detroit, Minnesota, Nashville, and St. Louis.
Calgary, Edmonton, and Vancouver would remain together in a proposed Western Conference that also includes Anaheim, Colorado, Los Angeles, Phoenix, and San Jose.
While the new schedule presents new challenges for all 30 teams, Bettman believes the solution works best for the needs of all the league's teams.
"This is not a subject that everybody is going to get their first choice on," said Bettman. "What you try to do is come up with something that everybody can live with, get comfortable with and understand the value of."
Many early realignment proposals centred on moving either Detroit or Columbus to the Eastern Conference. However, choosing between the wishes of those two teams was not a call the league wanted to make, according to Bettman.
Also, the idea of moving one team often created a domino effect for other teams in terms of their own travel schedules
"If you asked 30 clubs you probably would get 30 different solutions," Bettman mused.
The realignment is aimed at evening out the travel schedules for all NHL teams with each team playing teams outside their conference twice per year, once at home and on the road.
For the players it presents new rivalries and a chance to face every team in the league.
"As players, you want to see everybody, you want to go to every city," said Senators forward Jason Spezza. "I think that's going to be a real positive."
Others, meanwhile, are already looking ahead to a change in competition.
"It's going to be a tough division, but that's down the road right now," said Tampa Bay's Steven Stamkos, who suddenly finds himself in a conference with the likes of Boston, Montreal and Toronto. "They spent a lot of time on it and obviously made the right decision in their mind[s]."
One of the biggest changes will be to the league's schedule.
In the seven-team conferences, teams would play each other six times - three home, three away. In the eight-team conferences, a bit more maneuvering would be required.
Teams in the conferences of eight would play either five or six times per 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.
The playoff format would also undergo changes, harkening back to the divisional playoff format last employed by the league during the 1992-93 season.
The top four teams in each conference would qualify for the playoffs. The first-place team would play the fourth-place team; while second and third-place finishers would square off. The four conference champions would meet in the third round of the playoffs, with the last two clubs playing for the Stanley Cup.
NHL general managers will determine the playoff structure after round two in the proposed realignment.
The concept of re-seeding is a strong contender, however the league wants the general managers' input before implementing.