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NHL Realignment Primer

Time for a little primer on Inside The Numbers.  In case you didn't realize it, the Sabres played a division rival when they faced Detroit on Wednesday night.  When the Tampa Bay Lightning visit the First Niagara Center on Tuesday, that too will be a division game.  In case you aren't up on all the ins and outs from NHL re-alignment, we are here to help.

The Sabres have gone from the five team Northeast Division to the eight team Atlantic Division.  Old Northeast foes Boston, Toronto, Montreal and Ottawa have made the transition as well.  New division rivals now include the aforementioned Red Wings and Lightning as well as the Florida Panthers.

The Eastern Conference now consists of just two divisions, the other being the Metropolitan.  Its eight members are the New York Rangers, New York Islanders, New Jersey, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Washington, Carolina and Columbus which, like Detroit, was shifted from the Western Conference.

The teams in the East are at a slight disadvantage when it comes to making the Stanley Cup Playoffs.  Eight teams still earn berths and there's a 50% chance you make it since there are 16 teams.  The Western Conference has only 14 teams so there's a 57% chance of a playoff spot for those clubs.

Re-alignment included a new schedule formula, one that guarantees all 30 teams will play in each arena at least once a season.

For the Sabres, 30 of their 82 games will come against division opponents.  They'll face Boston and Toronto five times each while playing Montreal, Ottawa, Detroit, Tampa Bay and Florida four times.

The Sabres play 24 games against teams in the Metropolitan Division which means three against each club.  They'll have 2 home games and one road game with New Jersey, Washington, Columbus and Carolina.  Buffalo gets one home game and makes two trips to the Rangers, Islanders, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh.

They'll play the 14 Western Conference teams on 28 occasions, with a home and road split.

There's a new playoff format as well.  The top three teams in each of the divisions will earn a post season berth.  The next two best point totals in the conference will be given a wild card spot.  In round one, the division winner with the most points faces the wild card team with the lower point total. The other division winner meets the other wild card team. The second and third place teams in the Atlantic Division will play each other as will the second and third place finishers in the Metropolitan Division.

The four first round victors will be re-seeded for the conference semifinals with one playing four and two going up against three.  The winners will meet in the conference finals and the Cup Final remains a matchup of the surviving teams from East and West.

The new playoff format and scheduling policy is in effect for three seasons.  The NHLPA can re-evaluate it after two seasons but no changes can be made until the 2016-2017 campaign at the earliest.

In case you were wondering how the Sabres division rivals have stacked up in years past in terms of playoff berths, Boston has been there 6 straight seasons and eight out of the last ten.  Montreal has made it four of the last five years and seven of ten.  Ottawa is three for five and eight out of ten.  Detroit joining the division does the Sabres no favors since they have been a playoff lock, having earned a spot for 22 straight years.  It gets better after that since Tampa has been in the post season field only one time in the last five years and Florida has made it just once in the last 12 years.

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