NEW YORK -- Now that the NHL knows for sure it will take a break for next year's Sochi Games, the league has released its long-awaited schedule that features realignment and a slew of new division names and rivals.
Shortly after the NHL said Friday it would send its players to the Olympics for the fifth straight time, it announced its 1,230-game regular-season slate. The season will be put on hold for 21 2 weeks in February to accommodate the 2014 Games in Russia.
Opening night Oct. 1 will feature the Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks hosting Washington. The regular season concludes April 13, with the playoffs beginning three days later.
"Our outstanding athletes take tremendous pride in representing their homelands on the global stage," NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said in a joint announcement with the players' association. "The decision to participate in the XXII Olympic Winter Games in Sochi was in many ways a difficult one, but one that we know will be well received by our players and, most importantly, by the vast majority of our fans and sports fans everywhere."
The league's four new divisions will be called Metropolitan and Atlantic in the Eastern Conference, and Central and Pacific in the West. No teams in what was the Atlantic Division are in the new group of that name.
The Western Conference is made up of two seven-team divisions, while the Eastern Conference has two eight-team groupings.
The Metropolitan Division consists of the Washington Capitals, Pittsburgh Penguins, Philadelphia Flyers, New Jersey Devils, New York Rangers, New York Islanders, Carolina Hurricanes and Columbus Blue Jackets, who have moved from the West to the East.
The Atlantic is made up of the Toronto Maple Leafs, Montreal Canadiens, Ottawa Senators, Buffalo Sabres, Detroit Red Wings, Boston Bruins, Florida Panthers and Tampa Bay Lightning. Detroit has also shifted from the West to the East.
The Central includes the Winnipeg Jets, Chicago Blackhawks, Colorado Avalanche, Dallas Stars, Minnesota Wild, Nashville Predators and St. Louis Blues. The Pacific is comprised of the Vancouver Canucks, Calgary Flames, Edmonton Oilers, San Jose Sharks, Los Angeles Kings, Phoenix Coyotes and Anaheim Ducks.
Former NHL head coach Tom Renney, now an associate coach with the Detroit Red Wings, led Canada to the silver medal at the Olympics in Lillehammer, Norway, in 1994 -- the last Games without NHL players.
"I am a big fan of Olympic hockey and still hold 1994 and Lillehammer very close to my heart," Renney told The Associated Press in an email. "I am all for the NHL participating in the Olympic Games."