News Column

NHL Realignment Moves One Step Closer

March 8, 2013

Jeremy Rutherford

Hello Colorado, Dallas, Minnesota and Winnipeg. Good-bye Detroit and Columbus.

The NHL's realignment plan took a step toward becoming official on Thursday, when the players' union gave its consent to the league.

The NHL is expected to present the plan to its Board of Governors within a week and if ratified, the Western and Eastern conferences will be shuffled beginning in the 2013-14 season.

"We will update the status of the process as future developments warrant," NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly said in a statement.

Under the proposed plan, the Western and Eastern conferences will remain but would house two divisions within each.

The Blues' division would feature Chicago, Nashville, Colorado, Dallas, Minnesota and Winnipeg. The team would lose longtime rival Detroit and also Columbus, which are headed to the East.

The Blues still would face the Red Wings twice a season, as clubs would play a home-and-home series against every team in the league. But that's down from the current six meetings a season, and eight just a couple of years ago.

"It gives a different look," Blues defenseman Barret Jackman said. "Unfortunately, you lose a big rival in Detroit. It's going to be a tough one for the fans of both teams, but we're going to get some other rivalries going with the new teams in the division."

The realignment plan creates an uneven number of teams in each conference. While each now has 15 clubs, the trading of teams will put 14 in the West and 16 in the East. As they are formatted now, the playoffs will consist of 16 teams, with eight from each conference. But what could be new next season is a wild-card system in which the top three teams in each division make the playoffs, with the remaining two spots in each conference going to the remaining teams with the most points.

The plan has one specific concern, regarding the fairness of eight of 14 teams qualifying for the postseason in the West and eight of 16 in the East.

"They obviously looked at it and geographically you have to do something so teams aren't hindered by travel," Jackman said. "You get 14 teams in our division, so you might have a better chance of making it, but you still have to be a top-eight team to move onto the playoffs, so it's going to be tough on both sides."

The realignment proposal is a three-year deal. The union said that following the 2014-15 season it will be re-evaluated.

Optional practices

After Tuesday's embarrassing 6-4 loss to Los Angeles, Blues coach Ken Hitchcock held an optional practice Wednesday in Phoenix.

The schedule on non-game days has been lightened because of the condensed regular season this year. Still, some fans are questioning why certain players are electing not to practice, even it the workout is labeled "optional."

"You have to be really careful when you evaluate (whether players should or shouldn't be on the ice)," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. "An optional is exactly that, and sometimes we ask people to take off and then somebody sees he's not on the ice and they don't really know what goes on behind the scenes."

Blues defensman Kevin Shattenkirk was one of the players who did participate.

"A lot depends on how much you play (in games)," Shattenkirk said. "Someone like me or Alex (Pietrangelo), if you're going to play over 22, 23 minutes, maybe you take the option and rest up for the day. But for me personally, it's an everyday thing, wake up and see how you feel ... there's even some days when coaches talk you out of it."

Added forward T.J. Oshie: "A day off when you're not winning ... then you should probably be working on some stuff. But with this season, it's so much different than any other year. The more rest we can get the better and the more fresh we'll be for the game."

Bluenotes

Defenseman Alex Pietrangelo played in his 200th career NHL game Thursday. ... Healthy scratches were defenseman Ian Cole, forward Andrew Murray and goalie Brian Elliott.



Source: (c)2013 the St. Louis Post-Dispatch Distributed by MCT Information Services


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