By John Vogl
Starting next season, the Sabres will add Detroit, Florida and Tampa Bay to their list of competitors for the division title.
The NHL board of governors today approved the most recent realignment plan, which was already given the go-ahead by the NHL Players' Association. Detroit and Columbus will move to a 16-team Eastern Conference, while Winnipeg will move to the 14-team Western Conference.
There will be two eight-team divisions in the East. The first will feature Boston, Buffalo, Detroit, Florida, Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto and Tampa Bay. The other will consist of Carolina, Columbus, New Jersey, the New York Islanders, New York Rangers, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and Washington.
The Western Conference will have two seven-team divisions: Anaheim, Calgary, Edmonton, Los Angeles, Phoenix, San Jose and Vancouver; and Chicago, Colorado, Dallas, Minnesota, Nashville, St. Louis and Winnipeg.
The divisions have yet to be named.
The Sabres' 82-game schedule breakdown will be as follows:
*30 games within the division -- five games versus two teams (three home, two away against one, and two home, three away against the other), plus four games versus the other five teams (two home, two away). Teams will be rotated on a yearly basis.
*24 games against other division in conference -- three games against each team (two home, one away against four teams, and one home, two away against other four). Teams will be rotated on a yearly basis.
*28 nonconference games -- one home and one road game against every team.
Eight teams in each conference will make the playoffs. The top three teams in each division earn postseason spots, and the final two "wild card" spots will go to teams with the most points regardless of division.
According to the NHL, the division winner with the most points will be matched against the wild-card team with the lowest number of points; the division winner with the second-most points in the conference will play the wild-card team with the second-fewest points.
The teams finishing second and third in each division will play in the first round of the playoffs. The winners of each series will play for berths in the division championship series. The two divisional champions in each conference will then play in the conference finals to advance to the Stanley Cup finals.