NEW YORK (AP) - NHL owners have made it official: The Detroit Red Wings and Columbus Blue Jackets are heading east.
The league announced Thursday that its board of governors approved a realignment plan that will go into effect next season. The new format will feature two eight-team divisions in the Eastern Conference, and two seven-team divisions in the West.
That means Detroit and Columbus will switch conferences by moving into the East, while the Winnipeg Jets will move into the Western Conference.
Realignment will also create changes in determining the 16-team playoff field. The top three teams in each division will qualify for the postseason. The next two teams with the best records in each conference will then earn wild-card berths.
That will make it more difficult for teams to qualify in the East, because it will have two more clubs than the West competing for eight berths.
The NHL Players' Association had already signed off on the realignment format, which will be in place for at least three seasons.
``The new alignment will place several clubs in more geographically appropriate groupings, and will intensify already-fierce rivalries throughout the league,'' the NHL said.
The changes will also make it easier on team's travel schedules, with Detroit and Columbus no longer having to make numerous and extended trips outside the Eastern time zone. The Jets will also gain some normalcy in travel after spending the past two seasons as members of the Southeast Division.
The Atlanta Thrashers' relocation to Winnipeg two years ago helped precipitate the need for realignment.
Detroit will be placed in a division with Boston, Buffalo, Florida, Montreal, Ottawa, Tampa Bay and Toronto.
Columbus will now contend with Carolina, New Jersey, the Islanders, Rangers, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh.
Winnipeg will join a division featuring Chicago, Colorado Dallas, Minnesota, Nashville and St. Louis.
The switch also allows both Minnesota and Colorado to move from the Northwest Division and into a more centrally based division.
All teams will play each other both home and away at least once each season. And teams will play division rivals at least four times a season.