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The top three picks in the 2013 National Hockey League (NHL) draft pose together at the draft in Newark, New Jersey, June 30, 2013. At center is top pick Nathan MacKinnon of the Colorado Avalanche, at left is Jonathan Drouin the third overall pick by the Tampa Bay Lightning and at right is Aleksander Barkov the second overall pick taken by the Florida Panthers. (BRENDAN MCDERMID/REUTERS)
The top three picks in the 2013 National Hockey League (NHL) draft pose together at the draft in Newark, New Jersey, June 30, 2013. At center is top pick Nathan MacKinnon of the Colorado Avalanche, at left is Jonathan Drouin the third overall pick by the Tampa Bay Lightning and at right is Aleksander Barkov the second overall pick taken by the Florida Panthers. (BRENDAN MCDERMID/REUTERS)

Eric Duhatschek

What’s new in the NHL this season Add to ...

The playoff format

In the realigned NHL, the top three teams in each division will make the playoffs, with the remaining four spots awarded to the next two highest-placed finishers within each conference as wild cards. It will be possible therefore for one division to qualify five teams for the playoffs, while the other gets just three. In the first round, the division winner with the most points in the conference would be matched against the wild-card team with the fewest points.

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The snowbird division

Florida and Tampa Bay play in the newly revamped Atlantic Division, against – among others – Toronto, Montreal and Ottawa, which may enhance their box-office appeal for Canadian snowbirds. According to NHL commissioner Gary Bettman, realignment, “from a business standpoint … is probably really good for both Florida teams. Competitively, they may have their own issues, travel-wise they may have issues, but based on where Florida is from a geographic standpoint, whatever we did wasn’t going to be perfect.”

The West was best

Statistically, in the seven years between lockouts, the Western Conference had a better head-to-head record against the Eastern Conference every year, and cumulatively won 818 crossover games compared to 712 for the East. The most decisive edge came in 2009-10, when the West boasted a 155-87-28 record in 270 games against the East.

Jets on the fly

Two years after returning to the NHL, the Winnipeg Jets are looking forward to establishing new rivalries, according to team chairman Mark Chipman, who expects it’s going to be an easy thing to do in the revamped Central Division. “Minnesota is so close. Chicago’s Chicago. St. Louis is a very, very strong team. Dallas has improved. Nashville has a history of being competitive every year. Colorado has some great young players. So every team’s got something unique to like or dislike from a fan perspective.”

Union approval

The NHLPA has given its consent to play under the new alignment and playoff system for a minimum of three seasons, through the 2015-16 season, at which point, there may start to be a push for further expansion. “I think the whole package that’s put together with the relocation, the moves, the [scheduling] matrix, the playoff format – it’s an exciting time for the National Hockey League,” Detroit Red Wings general manager Ken Holland said.

 

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