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Penguins, Flyers oppose separate divisions

Neither the Penguins nor Philadelphia Flyers are pleased with an NHL realignment proposal that would leave the long-time NHL rivals playing only a home-and-home series starting next season.

The Penguins declined comment, but team sources confirmed Monday a report Saturday by the Canadian Broadcast Corp. that the franchise is not happy with a realignment plan that would divide the NHL into four unbalanced divisions and thus separate Pennsylvania's two clubs.

The Flyers told the Delaware County Times that they support the Penguins' stance.

"We are in 100 percent agreement with the Pittsburgh Penguins," said Flyers president Peter Luukko. "We are in close communication with them on this subject. This is a big rivalry that means a lot, not only to us as a franchise, but to our fans, their fans, and the entire state of Pennsylvania."

The realignment proposal, which is gaining steam according to the CBC report, would dramatically alter the league's current divisional format. Teams would play out-of-division opponents twice, once each home and away, with all remaining games within the division.

The Penguins would play Boston, Buffalo, Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto and either Detroit or Columbus in a second Eastern Conference division, as reported by Elliotte Friedman on the CBC's "Hockey Night in Canada" TV program.

The Flyers would play in a first Eastern Conference division along with Carolina, Florida, the New York Rangers and Islanders, Tampa Bay and Washington.

The Penguins and Flyers were part of the "Expansion Six," each beginning play for the 1967-68 season. They have played in the same division for all but 12 seasons.

The clubs have never played fewer than four games against each other in a season. They have met in 254 regular-season games. The rivalry has included Penguins general manager Ray Shero's 2009 Stanley Cup winning Penguins team and his father, Fred, coaching the "Broad Street Bullies" Cup winning Flyers clubs in the 1970 - with current Penguins majority co-owner Mario Lemieux's Cup teams of the 1990s in between.

The Penguins support a realignment move of the Winnipeg Jets, formerly the Atlanta Thrashers, to the Western Conference. However, they do not believe a dramatic overhaul is beneficial to the NHL given its growing popularity in the post-lockout era dating to the 2005-06 season, team sources said.

Penguins CEO David Morehouse has expressed these stances to NHL commissioner Gary Bettman, a league source said yesterday.

The NHL declined comment, but Bettman called realignment "among the most difficult and potentially contentious issues" a sports league can face in an interview with the Canadian Press last month.

"There are probably four or five clubs that would like to see something different in alignment," Bettman told the CP. "All of those clubs have had a chance to address their concerns and make their position clear to the rest of the (Board of Governors). We did that at the meeting (on Sept. 20). It's a process that's ongoing."

Bettman said the goal of realignment is "to try and satisfy the various desires" expressed at the Governors meetings in September. He also said "alignment isn't just geographical groupings."

Bettman said he wants a final decision at the next Governors meetings, Dec. 2-3 in Pebble Beach, Calif. A new league setup would require support of two-thirds of owners and would be put in place for next season.

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