Cam Ward makes a save in a recent tilt with the Florida Panthers, who wont be a division rival much longer.
  • Photo by Chris Baird
  • Cam Ward makes a save in a recent tilt with the Florida Panthers, who won’t be a division rival much longer.

RALEIGH—The “South-least” division looks to be coming to an end.

The National Hockey League Players’ Association (NHLPA) approved a league realignment plan on Wednesday that would create four divisions—two of seven teams and two of eight teams—out of the existing six divisions. The league would still comprise an eastern and a western conference. The plan, which will assuage critics of the current playoff seeding system, also includes a wild-card playoff round.

Now that the NHLPA has given their thumb’s-up, the league’s Board of Governors (the 30 franchise owners) is the final ratifying body. They are expected to approve the realignment in a vote that could happen as soon as next week.

Caniacs will see their Hurricanes join the existing Atlantic Division of the Philadelphia Flyers, Pittsburgh Penguins, New Jersey Devils, New York Rangers and New York Islanders. The Washington Capitals and the Columbus Blue Jackets will round out the new Atlantic Division. The Caps are the Canes’ only current Southeast Division rival remaining in the Atlantic.

Along with the Detroit Red Wings, who are slated for the new Central Division, Columbus leaves the Western Conference. The Winnipeg Jets, meanwhile, head west. No more 1,350-mile trips to Manitoba for the Canes.

Although the unbalanced conferences gave some players pause, the NHLPA didn’t want to rock the boat after half the season was lost to a hostile labor stoppage. Pundits have already pointed out that the imbalanced alignment leaves a couple phantom slots for expansion teams in the west. That makes cities like Las Vegas, Kansas City and Quebec City pretty excited.

Pending the Board of Governors’ vote, here’s what the NHL will look like next season:

Pacific DivisionMid-West DivisionCentral DivisionAtlantic Division
Anaheim DucksChicago BlackhawksBoston BruinsCarolina Hurricanes
Calgary FlamesColorado AvalancheBuffalo SabresColumbus Blue Jackets
Edmonton OilersDallas StarsDetroit Red WingsNew Jersey Devils
Los Angeles KingsMinnesota WildFlorida PanthersNew York Islanders
Phoenix CoyotesNashville PredatorsMontreal CanadiensNew York Rangers
San Jose SharksSt. Louis BluesOttawa SenatorsPhiladelphia Flyers
Vancouver CanucksWinnipeg JetsTampa Bay LightningPittsburgh Penguins
Toronto Maple LeafsWashington Capitals