A question of balance for Fergy

LANCE HORNBY, TORONTO SUN

, Last Updated: 8:08 AM ET

CHICAGO -- The Maple Leafs aren't too picky about where they would play in a realigned National Hockey League, but who they play is of ultimate importance.

Responding to a TSN story on a proposal to make the NHL four divisions of seven or eight teams, general manager John Ferguson said yesterday "it does seem to address a number of interests across the league."

Under this particular realignment, one of several ideas Ferguson said was brought up at the board of governors meeting in Florida earlier this month, the number of divisions would be cut from six to four, with the Leafs' five-team Northeast adding two clubs, one of them the Pittsburgh Penguins, if that troubled franchise stays put.

The Atlantic Division, minus Pittsburgh, would be integrated with four teams from the Southeast into an eight-team group with one of Washington, Carolina, Atlanta, Tampa Bay or Florida shifted.

It's a little simpler in the West where the eight Pacific or Mountain time zone teams would be in one division and the Central Division augmented with two Eastern time zone teams. All of this would make for a more travel- and TV-friendly schedule.

The implications for the schedule would be fewer division games (six, down from eight) and at least one game a year against each team in the other conference, a huge complaint among fans and players with today's system.

"Eight games against one team in your division is just too much," Leafs winger Chad Kilger said.

For Ferguson, who is among those Northeast GMs grumbling at the perceived advantage for clubs such as Detroit in recent years with a steady diet of weaker teams, the talk of change was welcome.

"There were a number of discussions tabled at the last meeting and I am familiar with that report on the four divisions," he said. "Our interest was to see (different) opponents in our building, decrease divisional games and try to even out the competitive balance to qualify for the playoffs."

Speaking of which, a new system for the post-season tournament is also being discussed. The top two teams in each division would be guaranteed the top four playoff seeds within the conference and four wild-card playoff spots awarded to teams with the next highest point totals.

TSN also reported that a group of governors and GMs representing the six current divisions met with commissioner Gary Bettman in New York to discuss the realignment, possibly in time for next season.


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