NHL approves realignment; Colaiacovo return
expected against Detroit; Sobotka to play center
expected against Detroit; Sobotka to play center
By LOUIE KORAC
HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- A realignment plan that has been in the works ever since Atlanta relocated to Winnipeg came to fruition Monday night.
The NHL's Board of Governors, according to reports, took around an hour to approve a realignment plan that eliminates the two-conference, six-division setup for a more travel-conducive four-conference geographical alignment.
Two conferences will have eight teams and the other two will consist of seven.
The proposal came at the Board of Governor meetings, which are currently taking place in Pebble Beach, Calif. The realignment is set to take place in time for the start of the 2012-13 season after a two-third majority vote.
The conferences have yet to be named, but the Blues will stay in a conference with current divisional foes Chicago, Detroit, Nashville and Columbus but will also add Dallas, Minnesota and Winnipeg. The other conference, which consists of western teams has Los Angeles, Anaheim, San Jose, Phoenix, Colorado, Vancouver, Edmonton and Calgary.
The seven-conference teams consist of Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, New York Rangers, New York Islanders, New Jersey, Washington and Carolina in one, and Boston, Buffalo, Toronto, Montreal, Ottawa, Tampa Bay and Florida in another.
In the eight-team conferences, there will be 38 inter-conference games and teams would play either five or six times in a season on a rotating basis. The seven-team conferences would play six times -- three home and three away -- for a total of 36 inter-conference games.
Also, teams in the eight-team conferences will have 44 out-of-conference games evenly split between home and away. The teams in the seven-team conferences will have 46 out-of-conference games; 23 at home and 23 on the road.
As for the playoffs, the top four teams in each conference will qualify for the playoffs instead of the recent eight-team format. The first-place team in each conference would play the fourth-place team in the same conference; the second-place team would play the third-place team. Those winners meet in the second round. The four conference champions would meet in the third round, with the survivors playing for the Stanley Cup.
According to NHL.com, a decision on how the league will seed the remaining teams for the semifinals will likely not come until the general managers meet in March.
More on this story Tuesday.
* Colaiacovo likely to play vs. Detroit -- Carlo Colaiacovo has been through this song and dance before.
The Blues' defenseman has been in and out of lineups enough times in his career that he knows the routine.
But there's something about the likely return to the lineup tonight against Detroit that makes this one more anxious and more eager for the left-handed shooting defenseman.
"As tough as it's been to watch, it's been a real pleasure to see how hard my teammates have been battling to be where we're at," Colaiacovo said Monday. "It only makes me feel better and work even harder to want to be a part of all that."
Colaiacovo, who missed five games earlier in the season with a concussion, has been out since suffering a hamstring injury in the first period of a game Nov. 17 against Florida. He's missed the last eight games.
"It's been frustrating to be out," said Colaiacovo, who called it the craziest injury of his career. "I've got a big smile on my face today. I look forward to getting back in the lineup tomorrow. All signs today point towards me being back in there tomorrow."
That means that Ian Cole would likely be the guy out, based on Monday's D-pairings at practice, including one with Colaiacovo and Alex Pietrangelo.
"If he comes through tomorrow, then we'll put him in and roll it from there," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said of Colaiacovo. "He looks good. ... Getting Colaiacovo and Petro back together will be a good pair for us, so hopefully we'll be looking at that."
Winger Evgeny Grachev, who took a puck near his left eye at a practice on the Monday prior to the game at Washington, also was on the ice and is gearing up for a return. B.J. Crombeen (shoulder) is still weeks away from contact but is on the ice wearing a no-contact red jersey.
"Grach was out there; we'll see how Grach feels tomorrow," Hitchcock said. "We're getting healthier every day, getting better and better."
* Sobe in the middle -- Some line changes are in store when the Blues (14-9-3) face the Red Wings (16-8-1) at 6:30 p.m. today (Versus, KMOX 1120-AM).
Hitchcock had Vladimir Sobotka moving back into the center position, between Matt D'Agostini and Jamie Langenbrunner along with a couple other tweaks.
The return of David Perron is the likely cause of some of the tweaks, since the Blues have more depth to do things with Perron's return.
"I want to take a look at Sobotka in the middle of the ice," Hitchcock said. "I see an untapped potential in him as a good player and I'd like to see him play center."
Also, Scott Nichol, a center by trade, was playing right wing on a line with Jason Arnott, Grachev and Chris Porter.
"He's such a useful player," Hitchcock said of Nichol. "He augments anything we do. He's a good player on the boards. For a small guy, he plays big. He's going to help us there. He's going to get pucks out. He's got speed. Arnott's got two real fast guys to play (on that line)."
This is the projected Blues lineup against Detroit based off practice lines Monday:
Alex Steen-David Backes-T.J. Oshie
David Perron-Patrik Berglund-Chris Stewart
Matt D'Agostini-Vladimir Sobotka-Jamie Langenbrunner
Chris Porter/Evgeny Grachev-Jason Arnott-Scott Nichol
Carlo Colaiacovo-Alex Pietrangelo
Barret Jackman-Kevin Shattenkirk
Kris Russell-Roman Polak
Brian Elliott will start in goal; Jaroslav Halak will start Thursday against Anaheim.
The scratches are expected to be winger Ryan Reaves and Cole along with either Porter or Grachev.
* Blackhawks' Carcillo fueling rivalry with Blues -- First, it was John Scott calling out Reaves after the teams' first meeting. Now, Chicago's Daniel Carcillo is fueling even more fire with the Blues. But his issue is with Blues captain David Backes.
There was a moment when Backes and Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews were going to drop the gloves again - as they did in a game last season --late in the second period of Saturday's game.
But Carcillo, playing on a line with Toews and Patrick Kane, decided to try and spare Toews of being the guy to drop the gloves and get at Backes himself.
No fighting majors were issues, although Carcillo got a double-minor for roughing and Backes got two minutes for roughing.
Carcillo spoke to Chicago reporters about it Monday at the team's morning skate prior to facing Phoenix Monday night.
"If you look at the guys he’s fought in this league, he’s a big guy and he’s tough but he hasn’t really answered the bell with any really tough guys," Carcillo said of Backes. "He goes after guys like (Corey) Perry and he tries to fight Jonathan Toews. You just can’t let that happen."
The teams don't meet again until Feb. 19 in Chicago. Stay tuned.