The NHL season begins Tuesday with three games scheduled. The Dallas Stars begin play Thursday at home against Florida.Here are five NHL stories to watch during the upcoming season:Conference realignmentThe NHL will feature four realigned divisions, two per conference. The Western Conference has the Pacific and Central divisions, the Stars’ former and current divisions. The Eastern Conference has the Metropolitan and Atlantic divisions. The Detroit Red Wings move from the Western Conference into the Atlantic Division of the Eastern Conference.New playoff structurePreviously, the top eight teams in each conference made the playoffs with the three divisional winners placed as the top three seeds.This season, 16 teams will enter the playoffs, but the top three teams in each division will make up the top six seeds, then two wild-card teams with the most regular-season points will round out each conference’s eight-team draw. The division winner with the most points in the conference will play the wild-card team with the fewest points in the first round.Hybrid icingThe NHL is experimenting with hybrid icing calls to help player safety. This would give the referee an opportunity to whistle a play dead if the defensive player reaches the face-off dot before a player from the team that cleared the puck. The rule would prevent full-speed collisions that sometimes occur with the current touch-icing rule.Hybrid icing was called during the preseason and, depending on the results, the players association will have the chance to vote the rule into play for the regular season.Goalies shrinkingIn an effort to juice up offenses, the league has cut down on the length of leg pads goalies can wear, hopefully opening up the “five-hole.” Under the previous rule that was put in place before the start of the 2010-11 season, the pad could go no higher than 55 percent of the distance between the center of the goalie’s knee and his pelvis. Now, the target number is 45 percent.Outdoor hockeyThe NHL’s best public relations tool in recent history has been the Jan. 1 Winter Classic, held in an outdoor stadium such as Fenway Park or Wrigley Field. This year, the NHL is playing six games outside, including a game between the Ducks and the Kings at Dodger Stadium. The Winter Classic will remain on Jan.1 and will feature the Red Wings and Maple Leafs at Michigan Stadium. The battle for SoCal will take place Jan. 25, followed by two games at Yankee Stadium on Jan. 26 and 29, featuring the Rangers and the Devils, and then the Rangers against the Islanders. On March 1, it’s the Penguins against the Blackhawks at Soldier Field in Chicago, and the outdoor schedule will wrap up at BC Place in Vancouver, British Columbia, as the Senators take on the Canucks.