For the first time since 1998, the National Hockey League is radically realigning its teams, and the Washington Capitals will soon find itself in a division with some familiar foes.
The NHL's Board of Governors approved Thursday a plan to shift the league's 30 teams into four divisions of 8 and 7 teams each. Sixteen teams will play in divisions of eight in the Eastern Conference, while 14 teams will play of divisions of seven in the Western Conference.
For the Capitals, the plan harkens back to a time when the franchise played in the Patrick and Atlantic Divisions. In their new division, the Capitals will be joined by the New Jersey Devils, New York Islanders, New York Rangers, Philadelphia Flyers, Pittsburgh Penguins.
Southeast Division rival Carolina will be included in this division, as will the Columbus Blue Jackets, who are shifting from the Western Conference to the East. To fill the void in the Western Conference, the Winnipeg Jets will shift from East to West.
The other radical change will see the Detroit Red Wings move into the Eastern Conference in a division which includes the Boston Bruins, Montreal Canadiens, Toronto Maple Leafs, Ottawa Senators, Buffalo Sabres, Florida Panthers and Tampa Bay Lightning.
The National Hockey League last realigned before the 1998-99 season, when the league shifted into its current six-division format. The new divisions, which will be eventually renamed, are currently designated as Divisions A, B, C and D. The Capitals belong to Division D. The website Sixteen Wins has a look at the history of the NHL's realignment.
A new playoff format will also be introduced for the first time since 1993. The current format sees each conferences top eight teams qualify for the postseason, with the three division champions occupying the #1, #2 and #3 spots.
Under the new format, the top three teams in each division will automatically qualify for the conference playoffs. The final two seeds in each conference will now be awarded to the next two highest-placed finishers regardless of division. Hypothetically, then, one division could send five teams to the playoffs while the other only sends three.
The first round of the playoffs will see each conferences top team play the wild card team with the least points, while the higher-ranked wild card will play the conference's second best team. The #2 and #3 teams in each division will also match up in a first round series. Winners of those series will face off for the division championship, and then the division champions will play for a spot in the Stanley Cup Final.
For a full look at the plan, check out NHL.com.