Teams in the North Division will play each other nine to 10 times this season. To account for the distance and to limit travel, teams will enter cities and play a series of two or three games.
The baseball-style scheduling could add intensity to the games. Johnson recalled his final three seasons, when the N.H.L. experimented with having teams play eight games against divisional opponents.
“It’ll carry over because you won’t have time to have forgotten or relaxed if, say, your opponent ran your goalie over,” Johnson said. “I just think that kind of emotion will carry over one game to the next, which is not a bad thing.”
While temporary, this realignment forms the latest chapter in a league with a history of geographical imbalances.
Since the N.H.L. expanded from its original six teams in 1967, business interests were heavily prioritized over geography. When the Canucks entered the league in 1970, they played in the East Division along with the Rangers, the Boston Bruins and their expansion cousins, the Buffalo Sabres. The Chicago Blackhawks subsequently moved to the West Division. The Canucks had consistent losing seasons until they moved to a division closer to their western counterparts for the 1974-75 season.
Geographical names were then replaced with the surnames of prominent hockey figures. That was the only way to justify why the Canadiens and the Los Angeles Kings, teams that are separated by more than 2,850 miles, were together in the Norris Division from 1974 to 1981.
The N.H.L. isn’t the only league with geographical misplacements. From 1969 to 1993, the Atlanta Braves played in the National League West. The Dallas Cowboys play in the N.F.C. East with three teams from the Northeast United States.