Sources say NHL to drop divisional-heavy format

Updated: January 22, 2007, 9:01 PM ET
By Scott Burnside | ESPN.com

DALLAS -- The NHL's board of governors will meet here Tuesday morning and sources indicate the league will put to bed the thorny of issue of its schedule by returning next season to the pre-lockout format.

That would see teams drop from the current eight divisional games to six, with four games against each conference opponent outside the division. Each team would then play each team in the other conference at least once, more depending on traditional rivalries.

If the schedule issue is indeed resolved, there will be much rejoicing throughout hockey that such a ponderous topic will be put to rest at least until next season, when GMs and coaches complain that all the out-of-conference games are diluting the product.

The schedule issue was debated back in early December, when the board last met in Palm Beach, Fla. It was then believed that 27 teams wanted some change and did not want to see more divisional play. That sentiment was especially strong in the West, where it was believed the East teams enjoyed an easier travel schedule.

The Eastern teams were also perceived to have cornered the market on marketable young stars such as Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin of the Pittsburgh Penguins, Alexander Ovechkin of the Washington Capitals and Thomas Vanek of the Buffalo Sabres.

Many believed that the pre-lockout format would boost attendance for those West teams who don't get to market such big stars as often as East teams.

Scott Burnside is the NHL writer for ESPN.com.