Realignment could mean more balanced schedule

NHL realignment will not happen this coming season, but it will come in 2012-13 and it may involve a more balanced schedule. NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman hinted at the schedule adjustment while addressing the media prior to the opening of the Stanley Cup Final in Vancouver Wednesday.

Bettman said that while realignment will be coming now that the Atlanta Thrashers are moving to Winnipeg, there’s not enough time to give it proper treatment prior to the 2011-12 season. As a result, Winnipeg will play in the Southeast Division for one season as the league sorts through the realignment issue.

Several teams will be looking to take advantage of realignment, including the Stars who could benefit from moving out of the Pacific Division and into a more time friendly and travel friendly division such as the Central.

“We have a number of clubs that would like to address specific issues on realignment. All those clubs need an opportunity to be heard,” said Bettman. “That's a process we'll go through the first half of next season, looking at the issues that clubs want to raise, looking at various possibilities, and trying to figure out what will make the most sense moving forward.

“If I had to guess anything, and this is purely speculation, as much as I hate to do that, because ultimately it's a Board decision, I think we'll wind up moving towards a slightly more balanced schedule to accommodate the variety of issues I've heard so far from the clubs.”

What that more balanced schedule will entail isn’t clear, but it could include more inter-conference games to ensure that each team plays in every NHL building during the season.

A few other notes:

*Bettman announced that he is creating a new department of player safety that will be headed by Brendan Shanahan, who also will be in charge of supplemental discipline next season. He will be taking over for Colin Campbell, who has stepped down from handling discipline but will his retain his position in the Hockey Operations department.

“First, I know this is one aspect of Colie's job that he hates. It could be the most thankless and worst job in hockey, particularly after enduring it for more than a decade,” said Bettman. “Two, both Colin and I believe that it is time to take a fresh look at the standards that we use, and if we're going to move to harsher discipline, that change needs to send a clear message, and we think it would probably be best to do it on a clean slate. Having Brendan, who only recently came off the ice after a wonderful career, will give us the adjustment and the focus and the credibility that this change will bring about.”

*NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly said next season’ salary cap is expected to top $60 million and could go as high as $63.5 million.

*The Florida Panthers became the first of the teams looking for a new head coach to fill the vacancy, announcing today that they have hired Kevin Dineen. He takes over for Peter DeBoer, who has fired after three seasons behind the Florida bench. Dineen has the spent the last six seasons as the head coach of the Portland Pirates of the AHL.