Realignment would mean 4 divisions

The NHL is proposing a new realignment plan which would feature playoff wild-card spots plus see the league go from six divisions to four.

The plan was detailed in an NHL memo sent to all 30 clubs Tuesday, which a team source leaked to ESPN.com.

The new plan calls for divisional playoffs, not conference playoffs as the NHL currently has. The division winner with the most regular-season points will play the lowest-seeded wild-card team in the first round, with the other division winner playing the other wild-card team.

The plan still needs approval from the NHL Players' Association plus the NHL's Board of Governors. The NHLPA and NHL have been working on these changes for the past three weeks.

If approved by all parties, the plan would go into effect for next season.

The Eastern Conference would feature the Atlantic and Central divisions while the Western Conference would have the Mid-West and Pacific divisions.

The Pacific Division would feature Anaheim, Calgary, Edmonton, Los Angeles, Phoenix, San Jose and Vancouver.

The Mid-West: Chicago, Colorado, Dallas, Minnesota, Nashville, St. Louis and Winnipeg.

The Central: Boston, Buffalo, Detroit, Florida, Montreal, Ottawa, Tampa Bay, Toronto.

The Atlantic: Carolina, Columbus, New Jersey, New York Islanders, New York Rangers, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Washington.

Elliotte Friedman of CBC's "Hockey Night In Canada" was first to report about these four new groupings over the weekend.

The playoff format as detailed in the league memo Tuesday calls for the top three teams in each division to earn postseason berths. The remaining four spots would go to wild cards, the top two records in each conference. That means there's a possibility five teams make it from one division and only three from another.

The schedule matrix would see each team play teams in the other conference both home and away.

The NHL's 30 owners voted yes to a new realignment plan in December 2011 that was based on a four-conference format but also saw Detroit and Columbus still in the West.

The change from the December 2011 configurations sees Detroit and Columbus go to the East plus Colorado join the Mid-West teams.

The NHLPA blocked the December 2011 plan, citing travel concerns for its players plus playoff inequity of having the top four teams in each conference make the playoffs under that format, unfair for the two eight-team conferences.

The changes proposed by the NHL in this realignment format come as a result of those concerns from the NHLPA, the two sides negotiating for the past three weeks on finding a better solution for realignment.

The NHLPA wants to further address it with its players before consenting to it.