NHL releases schedule, 4 new division names
The Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks will host the Washington Capitals on the opening night of the NHL season Oct. 1, the league announced Friday.
The 1,230-game regular season will conclude April 13. The Stanley Cup playoffs will begin April 16.
The league will take a two-and-a-half-week break from Feb. 9-26 due to the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi, Russia. The NHL and its players reached a deal with the International Ice Hockey Federation earlier Friday to put the season on hold again so the game's biggest stars can compete in the Games.
The NHL also announced its new division names. The seven-team Pacific and Central divisions will comprise the Western Conference. The eight-team Metropolitan and Atlantic divisions will comprise the Eastern Conference. No teams in what was the previous Atlantic Division are in the new group of that name.
The Metropolitan Division consists of the Washington Capitals, Pittsburgh Penguins, Philadelphia Flyers, New Jersey Devils, New York Rangers, New York Islanders, Carolina Hurricanes and Columbus Blue Jackets, who have moved from the West to the East.
The Atlantic is made up of the Maple Leafs, Canadiens, Ottawa Senators, Buffalo Sabres, Detroit Red Wings, Boston Bruins, Florida Panthers and Tampa Bay Lightning. Detroit also has shifted from the West to the East.
Deputy commissioner Bill Daly said player names were considered for the division names but "dismissed rather quickly."
"I don't think there was any strong feeling that we needed to move away from geographic descriptors and orientations, which makes it easier for the fans to follow," Daly wrote in a email to ESPN.com. "Also, while it's the nature of any exclusive list, I'm not sure assigning division names to four all-time great players is fair to the all-time great players who would necessarily be excluded in that process."
Daly said the Metropolitan Division was the toughest to establish.
"A number of alternatives were considered for Metropolitan, but due to the make-up of our divisions, none were perfect. So that was, obviously, the toughest one to nail down. But, ultimately, you have to come to a resting place."
The annual Winter Classic, to be played on New Year's Day at Michigan Stadium between the Maple Leafs and Red Wings, won't be alone in the great outdoors. This season it is just one of six games to be staged in the elements.
A four-game NHL Stadium Series will feature Southern California rivals Anaheim and Los Angeles facing off in Dodger Stadium on Jan. 25. The Rangers will take on their local rivals, the Devils and Islanders, in a pair of games at Yankee Stadium three days apart. First up will be the Rangers and Devils in a Jan. 26 matinee, followed by the Rangers and Islanders in prime time on Jan. 29.
The last will be a matchup between the Penguins and Blackhawks at Soldier Field, the home of the Chicago Bears, on March 1 at night. The annual Heritage Classic will be in Vancouver on March 2 when the Canucks host the Ottawa Senators.
That will be just four days after the NHL returns from the Olympic break that runs from Feb. 9-25.
The schedule will have quite a different look this time around. Every team is slated to meet every other club both home and away, with new rivalries developing in the revamped divisions after franchises changed conferences to make things more balanced geographically.
Western teams will mostly play 29 games within their division: five games against five teams and four games versus one team, with those matchups rotated yearly. Those clubs will play 21 games against Western teams not in their division and 32 games against the 16 Eastern teams to reach a total of 82.
In the East, clubs will play five games against two teams in the division and four games against five teams to make up 30 games of the schedule. Within the conference, teams will play three games against every team in the opposite division for a total of 24 games. The other 28 games will be played against the West.
Instead of the top eight teams in each conference qualifying for the playoffs, the NHL is returning to a format in which divisional position will determine which teams advance to the postseason for the first time since 1993.
The top three teams in each division will secure playoff spots, and each conference will add two wild-card teams to make up the 16-team tournament. The wild-card teams will be determined by the next two highest-placed teams within the conference. This format will be in place at least through the 2015-16 season.
Training camps will open Sept. 11, and the preseason schedule will begin two days later.
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.
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