As the National Hockey League has cleared the way for players to play in the 2014 Olympics, four Phoenix Coyotes were invited to try and join their respective country’s teams and attend the Sochi Games.
Defenseman Keith Yandle was invited to join the United States orientation camp while goaltender Mike Smith will join the Canadian team when Olympic camps open.
They join fellow Coyote teammates Oliver Ekman-Larsson (Sweden) and Lauri Korpikoski (Finland), who were invited to their country’s orientation camps earlier this summer.
Martin Hanzal, Radim Vrbata, Zbynek Michalek and Rostislav Klesla were each invited to the 2014 Czech Republic team orientation camp.
While none of the players are guaranteed to make their respective teams, each is one of a minimal number of invitees.
The 2014 Winter Olympics officially kick off Feb 7 from Sochi, Russia with the Opening Ceremonies, though a few events will actually start the day before the ceremonies.
The hockey competition starts Feb. 8 and concludes with the gold medal game Feb. 23. The bronze medal game will be played Feb. 20.
Realignment complete with new division names
The National Hockey League recently released the schedule for the 2013-14 season and with that, they also released the new names of the realigned divisions.
Training camps open Sept. 11 with the regular season opening Oct. 1. The new divisions are named the Atlantic and Metropolitan in the Eastern Conference with eight teams each. The Central and Pacific divisions will make up the Western Conference with seven teams each.
The league went to a realigned format for geographic purposes and has decided to stick with geographic names for the four new divisions. Three of the four names are carryovers from the old six-division alignment, but the league added a new name to the mix.
The new division alignments are as follows:
Metropolitan (green): Carolina, Columbus, New Jersey, New York Islanders, New York Rangers, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Washington
Atlantic (blue): Boston, Buffalo, Detroit, Florida, Montreal, Ottawa, Tampa Bay, Toronto
Central (yellow): Chicago, Colorado, Dallas, Minnesota, St. Louis, Nashville, Winnipeg
Pacific (red): Anaheim, Calgary, Edmonton, Los Angeles, Phoenix, San Jose, Vancouver
The 2013-14 schedule means all 30 teams will play in all 30 arenas at least once during the season.
Under the new alignment, Eastern Conference teams (the Metropolitan and Atlantic divisions) will have 30 games against their division opponents (five games vs. four teams, and four games vs. five teams) and 24 games against conference opponents outside of their division. They also play 28 inter-conference games (one on the road and one at home).
Western Conference teams will play their division opponents 29 times (five games vs. five teams and four games vs. one team) and 21 games vs. conference opponents outside of their division. Western conference teams will play 32 inter-conference games (two at home, two on the road).
The league will also have an Olympic break that runs Feb. 9 - 26.
Also this season, the Winter Classic will expand to six outdoor games all across the nation. Anaheim will play the Kings at Dodger Stadium Jan. 25; New Jersey Devils will play the New York Rangers at Yankee Stadium Jan. 26; New York Islanders will play the New York Rangers at Yankee Stadium Jan. 29; Penguins will play the Blackhawks at Soldier Field March 1; and Senators at Canucks at BC Palace March 2.
The Stanley Cup Playoffs will still consist of 16 teams, eight from each conference, but it will be division-based and a wild card system has been added.
The top three teams in each division will make up the first 12 teams in the playoffs. The remaining four spots will be filled by the next two highest-placed finishers in each conference - regardless of division - based on regular season points. It will be possible for one division to send five teams to the postseason while the other sends three.
The seeding of the wild card teams within each divisional playoff will be determined by regular season points. The division winner with the most points in the conference will be matched against the wild card team with the fewest points; the division winner with the second-most points in the conference will play the wild-card team with the second-fewest points.
The teams finishing second and third in each division will play in the first round of the playoffs. The winners of each series will play for berths in the conference championship series.
The winners of the conference championships advance to the Stanley Cup Finals.