Penguins stay with rivals in new NHL setup
PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. — The Penguins will stay close to their most familiar foes, including the rival Philadelphia Flyers, in the sweeping NHL realignment announced Monday night.
The change will feature four conferences rather than the current six divisions, and the expanded Atlantic Conference — or whatever it is ultimately called — will include the Penguins, Flyers, New Jersey Devils, New York Rangers, New York Islanders, Carolina Hurricanes and Washington Capitals. All except Carolina and Washington are in the current Atlantic Division.
The league's board of governors swiftly approved the realignment — some general managers said it took just an hour — on the first day of two-day meetings at the Inn at Spanish Bay. The goal had been to adopt it for the 2012-13 season, but NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said that is "still undetermined." He first wants to consult the players' union, which has expressed some concerns but has no official say in the matter.
The Penguins and Flyers had pushed to stay together when various realignment plans leaked that had them playing separately.
"We're happy to keep all our rivalries, not just Philly," team president David Morehouse said with a smile shortly after the meeting. "We've got teams we know our fans love to hate, and I'm sure their fans love to hate us."
Bettman was asked how important it was to keep the Penguins and Flyers together.
"We understood particularly in the mid-Atlantic region which rivalries were embedded," Bettman responded. "Rivalries were taken into account with what we think would work. But listen, this is not a subject that everybody is going to get their first choice on. If you ask 30 clubs, you'll probably get 30 different solutions."
The realignment will come with a new playoff structure: Four teams from each conference will qualify, with No. 1 playing No. 4 and No. 2 playing No. 3, then a conference championship. Beyond that, Bettman said, he will leave the format for the general managers to determine at their March meeting.
The schedule will have the seven-team conferences, such as the Penguins' Atlantic, playing each other six times a season, then all other teams on a home-and-home basis. That could spike the Penguins' travel costs by as much as $1 million because of more trips to the West Coast.
A two-thirds ratification among the 30 teams was needed for the realignment, and 26 teams voted in favor. Morehouse would not say how the Penguins voted.
The Penguins had been in a steady Atlantic Division since moving there from the Northeast in 1998. They won that division only once in that time, 2007-08, but were consistently among its most successful teams, including the 2009 Stanley Cup championship.
Morehouse had told the Tribune-Review on Sunday that the Penguins' preference was the status quo, with the small exception of moving the relocated Winnipeg Jets from the Eastern Conference into the West while changing places with either Detroit or Columbus. Barring that, the Penguins preferred to stay out of any alignment in which they were grouped with a heavy concentration of Canadian teams. Those eastern teams - Montreal, Toronto and Ottawa - ended up in the Northeast.
The realignment as a whole was motivated by Winnipeg, Bettman said.
"I liked the way we had it," he said. "If it hadn't been for the Jets, I'm not sure this ever would have come up."
Penguins players react to the realignment adopted by the NHL at the Board of Governors meetings Monday night:
Sidney Crosby, center
ON STAYING IN CONFERENCE WITH FLYERS
"(Philadelphia) is our big rival and it's been that way for a long time. The fact (the Flyers) were able to stay in our division is probably good for everyone, for the two teams and for the fans obviously."
ON NEW PLAYOFF FORMAT
"Playoffs don't really need any extra incentive, but if anything it might add a little bit more excitement for the fans. They're more familiar with the teams and the matchups and that kind of thing. But as far as rivalries, teams we call rivals, I don't think it can get any bigger than it already is — but it's nice for people to see those matchups."
Matt Niskanen, defenseman
ON IMPACT FOR WESTERN TEAMS
"Having played in the West, some of those teams that have to change that many time zones a lot, like Detroit, will certainly appreciate the nicer travel. I'm not opposed to it. This is a unique idea and we'll see how it works."
ON IMPACT FOR FREE AGENTS
"I suppose it could change that topic a little bit for some guys. I'll be anxious to see how the schedule looks exactly. That is kind of a negative of playing in the West for some guys. They don't like the travel. That could make this a difference maker for some players who are free agents."
Brent Johnson, goalie
ON RADICAL CHANGE TO FORMAT
"It says a lot about what you have to do in the regular season. It's about your overall record more, right• If you're saying the re-seed after the (second) round that's pretty different, that's unbelievable. The one thing I don't understand is the Stanley Cup Final. So, you can have two Eastern or two Western teams play in the Final. Wow. That could shake things up, eh?"Additional Information:
Shuffling the deck
There will be a new look for the NHL. Here is a look at the four-conference format that will be used, along with notable playoff changes:
• Each team will play a home-and-home series outside its conference
• In 7-team conferences teams will play six games (3 home, 3 away)
• In 8-team conferences teams will play either five or six times on a rotating basis
• Top 4 teams in each conference qualify for the Stanley Cup playoffs, with four conference playoff champions meeting in the Stanley Cup semifinal round