Roanoke Times
                 Copyright (c) 1995, Landmark Communications, Inc.

DATE: THURSDAY, April 1, 1993                   TAG: 9304010134
SECTION: SPORTS                    PAGE: B5   EDITION: METRO 
SOURCE: Associated Press
DATELINE: NEW YORK                                LENGTH: Medium


TAKING A PAGE from his former employer, the NBA, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman has implemented a plan that seems to please everybody.

\ Citing "overwhelming support" from owners, the National Hockey League announced a history-making realignment plan on Wednesday that will change the playoff pairings and put defending champion Pittsburgh in a new division.

Under the plan, which will go into effect next season, the divisional playoff format will be junked in favor of a conference format matching the strongest teams against the weakest.

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman announced that the top eight teams in each of the new Western and Eastern conferences would compete in a descending order starting with the No. 1 team against No. 8, as the National Basketball Association does.

The conference champions would meet in the Stanley Cup finals.

"From the outset [of discussions], there was a great deal of interest toward going toward conference playoffs," said Bettman, a former official with the NBA. "I believe this is a system that will work well for the fans, the media and the teams. It will be easier for the casual fans to follow."

Bettman also said during a conference call that tradition wasn't being spurned, despite the elimination of division names such as the Patrick, Adams, Norris and Smythe.

"We will continue to honor the founders of the game with awards in their names," Bettman said. "At the same time, we're going to make the game easier to follow."

In the Western Conference, formerly the Campbell, the Pacific and Central divisions will replace the Smythe and Norris. In the Eastern Conference, formerly the Wales, the Northeast and Atlantic will replace Adams and Patrick.

The Penguins were probably the team most directly affected by the new plan. They will play in the Northeast Division, in effect moving from the old Patrick to the Adams.

The Penguins will join Boston, Buffalo, Hartford, Montreal, Quebec and Ottawa in the Northeast.

"Pittsburgh was very gracious," Bettman said. "They agreed they would do it in the league's best interest."

Bettman was asked if the imbalance of 14 teams in the East and 12 in the West was a problem. "The perceived imbalance of 14 to 12 teams is only the difference of one expansion team. We have to see what happens down the road. Right now, I'm comfortable that this will work."

Regarding the playoffs, the series will continue on a 2-2-1-1-1 basis, except for certain instances in series between the Pacific and Central divisions. To reduce travel, those may play 2-3-2 series.

by Bhavesh Jinadra by CNB