Once NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman completes his behind-the-scenes work and finds a buyer for Mario Lemieux’s Pittsburgh Penguin shares and then helps him (or someone like him) to put together an investment group to front a new Quebec City expansion bid (so that the NHL can collect its second $500 million expansion fee), the NHL will restructure itself into an NFL pattern of 2 Conferences with 4 divisions with 4 teams each. This structure will allow the NHL to continue to expand to the next symmetrical number 40 (5 teams) and probably to 48 (6 teams).
So probably within a short time the NHL will have the pattern shown below. Unfortunately, the NHL failed because of its greedy terms to get the number of teams it was seeking for the current expansion (ie. Quebec and 3 western teams) so that will mean that one eastern team (probably Columbus, second choice Detroit) will be shifted back to the western side temporarily.
I may be wrong but this is what I believe NHL fans will see for the next temporary period within the next few years.
Quebec New York Rangers
Montreal New York Islanders
Ottawa New Jersey
Tampa Bay Pittsburgh
Los Angeles Dallas
San Jose Arizona
Las Vegas St. Louis
This arrangement will only be temporary. More western expansion is coming (future article to come on this subject). In particular, the NHL wants Columbus and maybe Nashville shifted to the east and Pittsburgh to be reunited with Philadelphia in a division.
The playoff structure will change too. Either the top two teams from each division will make the playoffs meaning 16 teams like there is now or the NHL will introduce a new preliminary round with the second and third place teams in each division meeting in a best of 3 or 5 format and the division winner getting a bye.
But this will only be temporary. If you live in a western North American city and have the money and want to see your town get an NHL expansion team, your timing could not be better. Two more western cities are going to join the NHL as soon as possible. Bet on it.