NHL approves realignment for 2013-14 season

Ryan Callahan of the Rangers passes the puck

Ryan Callahan of the Rangers passes the puck defended by Frans Nielsen of the Islanders in the second period. (March 7, 2013) (Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke)

WINNIPEG -- Beginning next season, the Rangers and Islanders will have some new neighbors in their larger division: Washington, Carolina and Columbus. In addition, the league will have a new Stanley Cup playoff landscape.

The NHL Board of Governors on Thursday approved a plan that keeps the current Atlantic Division (which will be renamed) intact for a minimum of three seasons, so the Devils, Flyers and Penguins will remain the New York teams' most frequent opponents, along with the three newcomers.

On a rotating basis, the Rangers and Islanders, for example, will play two of their division opponents five times each and the other five teams four times each for a total of 30 games out of the 82-game schedule.

The Rangers and Islanders also will have three games against the other eight-team division in the Eastern Conference (which has four Original Six franchises: the Bruins, Red Wings, Canadiens, Maple Leafs, Sabres, Panthers, Senators and Lightning) for a total of 24 games. The remaining 28 games will be home-and-home sets with the 14 Western Conference teams.

In the last full season, 2011-12, teams played six games against division opponents, four games against other conference opponents, and one or two games against teams in the other conference.

Who benefits? Well, Detroit and Columbus move east and Winnipeg -- the Rangers' opponent Thursday night -- moves west, so it can play a majority of games against teams in the same time zone.

Dallas stays in the West, but into a division with five teams from the Central time zone. The Lightning and Panthers, however, will have more travel north, bypassing the Carolina-to-New York metro-area conference to face three teams in Canada, as well as Buffalo and Detroit.

Sixteen teams still will qualify for the playoffs, eight in each conference. The top three teams in each division are the first 12 teams in the playoffs. The final four spots will be filled by the next two highest-placed finishers in each conference, based on regular-season points.

The teams with the fewest points are considered wild-card teams and will play the division winner in the conference with the most points.

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