JONGSTOWN, North Korea - North Korea said on Friday that it would cut off all ties with the National Hockey League and threatened to strike the league's major markets with high-tech nuclear weapons over a dispute with the league's recently approved plan for realignment.
North Korea's latest threats came as the NHL Player's Association approved the league's revised realignment plan to be implemented next season. The new plan calls for a 16-team Eastern Conference and a 14-team Western Conference split into two divisions each. The top six teams from each conference and four wild card teams will qualify for the playoffs.
North Korea has always denounced sunbelt franchises Tampa Bay and Florida being included in a strangely-named "Central" division with northern cities Boston, Buffalo, Detroit, Toronto, Montreal and Ottawa. As full approval of the Board of Governors inches the plan closer to reality, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has visited military units and government bodies exhorting his country to stay on a war footing.
"As we have already declared, we will take countermeasures of greater intensity against the reckless placement of the Panthers and Lightning in the same division with the Senators, Maple Leafs and the rest of our enemies," the supreme command of the North's Korean People's Army said in a statement. "They had better heed our warning because this realignment plan is ridiculous."
Kim Jong-un, a devout and fervent fan of the Florida Panthers, has also vowed to take unspecified retaliatory steps if the NHL imposes the rejiggering of its teams, and the latest warning amplified on such threats. North Korea believes the extended travel of playing teams a thousand miles away will have a disastrous effect on the southern teams, effectively crippling their chances to compete with the rest of the league.
"Now that the hockey imperialists seek to attack my beloved Cats with such disrespect and dishonor, we will counter them with diversified precision nuclear strike, Korean style," the North Korean statement said. "The army and people of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea will be prepared with 1996 Stanley Cup Champion Panthers apparel and ready for a fight to the death."
The Panthers lost to Colorado in the 1996 final. According to the country's Ministry of Public Relations, Athletic Exhibitions and Child Labor, much of the prematurely prepared championship gear was sent to Christian missionaries in North Korea sometime around the turn of the millennium. Many in the country, including its supreme leader, believe the Panthers to be one of the greatest sports teams and underdog stories of all time.
"We will rise and strike our enemies as the glorious Panthers once did, with the collective strength of its workmen, powerful leadership, a flawlessly executed gameplan and veteran goaltending," the statement said.
The NHL would not comment on the threats but deputy commissioner Bill Daly did offer Kim Jong-un a 15% off coupon for any single item at the NHL Powered By Reebok Store in New York City.