Is NHL in line to realign?

Detroit Red Wings' left wing Tomas Holmstrom (L) celebrates with teammate Nicklas Lidstrom after...

Detroit Red Wings' left wing Tomas Holmstrom (L) celebrates with teammate Nicklas Lidstrom after scoring a goal against the Calgary Flames during the first period of their NHL hockey game in Detroit, Michigan November 23, 2011. REUTERS/Rebecca Cook

ERIC FRANCIS, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:19 AM ET

The stage is set for a showdown at the NHL board of governors’ meeting that could radically change the structure and schedule of the NHL.

The realignment battle lines will continue to be drawn right up until Tuesday’s vote when Commissioner Gary Bettman is hoping his four-division setup is approved over the simpler option of swapping Detroit to the east in exchange for Winnipeg and maintaining the current six-division format.

As Elliotte Friedman and I reported on the Hotstove on Hockey Night in Canada Saturday, the proposed four-division setup would be as follows:

1. Calgary, Vancouver, Edmonton, Los Angeles, San Jose, Anaheim, Colorado and Phoenix.

2. Winnipeg, Detroit, Chicago, St. Louis, Nashville, Columbus, Minnesota and Dallas

3. Toronto, Montreal, Ottawa, Boston, Buffalo, Tampa Bay and Florida.

4. Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, New York Rangers, New York Islanders, New Jersey, Washington and Carolina.

Top four teams in each division would open the playoffs against one another (top seed vs fourth seed and 2nd vs 3rd) to build division rivalries.

It’s a bold new direction and one many fans should applaud as it would include home and home games with every team in the league. No longer would fans have to wait two years to see some teams.

Twenty of the 30 votes are needed to pass either proposal, and the belief is that Bettman rarely puts anything to a vote in which he hasn’t already secured the outcome of.

“I’ve never seen the league work harder — they are hounding owners on this,” one league executive said of the politicking preceding these meetings.

Teams in the west generally like the four-division idea as they feel it will level the playing field travel-wise with all the eastern teams required to visit each western outpost.

The opposing executive points out it will simply make the west teams’ travel schedule even more hectic, which could end up causing wear and tear on players and “bunching” in the schedule he feels will hurt the product.

The league is telling teams each club will have to endure roughly 5,000 more miles of travel annually to ensure every club plays in each city. However, the dissenting exec said that number will be more likely three or four times that amount.

He says it will cost each team an additional $500,000 to $1-million in travel costs, and he hates the fact some of the good divisional rivalries the league has built up over time will be lost.

Fact is, the best way to build rivalries is in the playoffs, and that will certainly be the case under the new format.

Many wonder how the inevitable move of the Coyotes will work into the re-alignment and the four division scenario answers that easily as a move to Quebec City would simply mean shifting the team into the seven-team Toronto/Montreal/Ottawa division.

The issue is so contentious, several team owners disagree with their GMs on which way their team should vote.

Ultimately, the decision rests with the 30 owners.

No matter which way it goes, time is of the essence, and a decision has to be made as the league needs to start working on next year’s schedule.

SENATE HEARINGS

Sheldon Kennedy has been asked to testify at upcoming US Senate Committee hearings examining how the U.S. can do a better job of protecting its children

There’s heightened sensitivity because of the Penn State and Syracuse sex abuse scandals, and only 18 states have laws requiring adults to report suspected child abuse.

Canada is one of the world leaders in child abuse prevention and education, thanks largely to Kennedy. The U.S. recognizes that and wants to tap into his knowledge.


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