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After much thought, the NHL Players' Association has given a thumbs-up to the league's proposed realignment plan.
"After discussions with the Executive Board, the NHLPA has given consent to realignment, to be re-evaluated following the 2014-15 season,'' NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr said in a statement Thursday night.
Both sides confirmed to ESPN.com that the NHLPA gave its consent to play in the proposed four-division system for three seasons -- through the 2015-16 season -- but the union will begin to re-evaluate the system after two seasons. Therefore, no changes would be made to the system before the 2016-17 season.
All that remains now is for the NHL's 30 owners to vote on the plan in order for it to go into effect for the 2013-14 season. A source told ESPN.com on Thursday evening that the NHL hopes to hold the board of governors vote within the next week.
"The NHL Players' Association confirmed to us today that it has consented to a revised plan for realignment, effective for the 2013-14 season," NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly said in a statement. "Our next step will be to bring the proposed Plan for Realignment to the NHL Board of Governors for its consideration. We will update the status of the process as future developments warrant."
The NHL sent details of its realignment plan to owners Feb. 26 after discussing it for more than three weeks with the NHLPA.
The league had hoped to get consent last week, but had to wait because the NHLPA needed more time to get feedback from its membership. All 30 team player reps held calls or had face-to-face meetings with union officials to discuss the realignment plan, and some players had reservations about unbalanced conferences, a source told ESPN.com.
The NHL's realignment plan calls for 16 teams in the Eastern Conference next season. Columbus and Detroit would move there from the Western Conference, which would be left with 14 teams. The plan also calls for the league to go from its current six-division format to four.
The realignment plan also introduces wild-card playoff spots within the conferences.