It's a plan that Commissioner Gary Bettman called "fan-friendly," because it aligns teams by divisions that are mostly in the same time zones. And Bettman noted it will re-establish numerous rivalries by geography and tradition.
Detroit returns to the East in a yet-to-be named division that will feature three other Original Six franchises, Toronto, Boston and Montreal. And Winnipeg is now part of a central-based division after having spent the past 2 years playing in the Southeast.
"We think this is a common-sense, practical realignment," Bettman said.
Without providing details, Bettman said the vote conducted by email was not unanimous, but "well in excess" of the two-thirds majority required.
The new format also creates changes in determining the 16-team playoff field. The top three teams in each division will qualify for the postseason. The next two teams with the best records in each conference will then earn wild-card berths.
That will make it more difficult for teams to qualify in the East, because it will have two more clubs than the West competing for eight berths.
The NHL Players' Association had already signed off on the realignment format, which will be in place for at least three seasons.
In other news:
* Buffalo defenseman Alexander Sulzer will miss the rest of the season after having surgery to repair a torn ligament in his right knee.
In games Thursday *
At Boston, Tuukka Rask made 29 saves and Patrice Bergeron scored two goals to help the Bruins beat the Florida Panthers, 4-1. Boston won for the 10th time in 13 games and hasn't lost consecutive games in regulation since March 2012.
* At Toronto, Pascal Dupuis scored two of Pittsburgh's three goals in the third period, and the Penguins stormed back to beat the Maple Leafs, 3-1, their seventh win in a row.
* At Raleigh, N.C., Mike Ribeiro scored with 2:16 remaining, and the Washington Capitals rallied for a 3-2 win over the Carolina Hurricanes. Alex Ovechkin and Joey Crabb also scored for the Capitals, who got 36 saves from Michael Neuvirth come back from an early two-goal deficit.
* At Tampa, Evgeni Nabokov made 18 saves for second shutout this season and 54th overall in the NHL, John Tavares scored his 17th goal, and the New York Islanders beat Tampa Bay, 2-0.
In Lightning news, center Vincent Lecavalier is out indefinitely, placed on the injured list with an undisclosed lower-body issue.
* At Columbus, Patrick Kane set up Johnny Oduya's goal late in the second period and then got the decisive score in the shootout, leading Chicago to a 2-1 victory over the Blue Jackets.
* At Winnipeg, Antti Miettinen's first goal of the season broke a second-period tie as the Jets beat the New York Rangers, 3-1.
* At St. Louis, rookie Jake Allen earned his first NHL shutout, and Chris Stewart scored twice and added an assist to lead the Blues to a 3-0 win over Phoenix.
* At St. Paul, Minn., defenseman Jonas Brodin's first NHL score highlighted a three-goal second period by the Minnesota Wild in a 5-3 victory over Colorado.