When the Atlanta Thrashers became the Winnipeg Jets over the summer, the move precipitated the biggest NHL realignment in 15 years. The owners' vote Monday aims for a fan-friendly league that emphasizes hockey's old rivalries.
Gene J. Puskar/AP
When the Atlanta Thrashers ignominiously left the Deep South this summer to take up residency in chilly Winnipeg, Manitoba, players and owners knew the NHL's two-conference, six-division layout would need some tweaks.
Instead, the owners, in a 26-to-4 vote at the board of governors meeting at Pebble Beach, Calif., broke a carton of eggs and made a new omelet, leaving a few teams – especially the two Florida franchises – a bit sore, but securing the wishes of a contingent of fans, players, and commentators whom ex-coach Mike Keenan called the “rivalry geeks."
The radical NHL realignment into four regional conferences – no more will Nashville Predators fly regularly to Los Angeles for interconference games – is part of the post-1994 lockout revamp that is more fan-friendly but that often sets grizzled veterans of the game to grumbling. Post-lockout rule changes – such as resolving tied games with shootouts, bolstering the size of the offensive zones, and limiting goalie movement – have all helped to grow the once-anemic NHL fan base and to allow the league to sign a major 10-year deal with NBC Sports for broadcasting rights.
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