Michael Russo has covered the National Hockey League since 1995. He has covered the Minnesota Wild for the Star Tribune since 2005, after 10 years of covering the Florida Panthers for the Sun-Sentinel. He uses “Russo’s Rants” to feed a wide-ranging hockey-centric discussion with readers, and can be heard weekly on KFAN (100.3 FM) radio and seen weekly on Fox Sports North.

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Realignment approved; Zucker out tonight, Bouchard in; Genoway traded

Posted by: Michael Russo under Wild pregame skate, Wild trade news Updated: March 14, 2013 - 1:17 PM

UPDATED

NEW YORK (March 14, 2013) -- The National Hockey League's Board of Governors has approved realignment and a division-based format for the Stanley Cup Playoffs, effective for the 2013-14 season. The realignment plan creates two eight-team divisions in the Eastern Conference and two seven-team divisions in the Western Conference. The names of the divisions will be formalized at a later date.

The new alignment will place several clubs in more geographically appropriate groupings and will intensify already-fierce rivalries throughout the League. The new scheduling matrix will ensure that all 30 teams play in all 30 arenas at least once a season.

The new alignment:

WESTERN CONFERENCE EASTERN CONFERENCE

Division A Division B Division C Division D

Anaheim Chicago Boston Carolina
Calgary Colorado Buffalo Columbus
Edmonton Dallas Detroit New Jersey
Los Angeles Minnesota Florida NY Islanders
Phoenix Nashville Montreal NY Rangers
San Jose St. Louis Ottawa Philadelphia
Vancouver Winnipeg Tampa Bay Pittsburgh
                                      Toronto Washington

Said GM Chuck Fletcher: "It’s a big deal for our franchise. It’s a great opportunity for our team to reestablish some of the regional rivalries that the North Stars used to have awhile back. We’ll save on some travel costs, but more importantly, the wear and tear that our players are enduring, the travel should be easier, road games will be on TV at a normal time for the most part at hours where more people can watch them.

"It should be great."

Said Wild coach Mike Yeo: "Travel-wise what it's going to do for us is huge. As much as anything else, I love rivalry hockey and I think that's going to bring that here."

Among the many strategic goals achieved by the realignment plan:

* provides the Winnipeg Jets a more geographically suitable grouping of rivals;

* enables the Columbus Blue Jackets and Detroit Red Wings to compete primarily against clubs in their own time zone;

* moves the Dallas Stars out of the Pacific Division to a more geographically appropriate and time-zone friendly grouping;

* changes the Minnesota Wild's alignment to a more historically relevant and time zone friendly grouping;

* ensures that the Colorado Avalanche, as the only U.S.-based team in the Mountain Time Zone, is placed in a more geographically suitable grouping.


NEW REGULAR-SEASON SCHEDULE MATRIX

Western Conference (7-Team Divisions)

Within Conference (Division): 29 games
* 5 games vs. five teams (3 Home/2 Away vs. two teams, 2 Home/3 Away vs.
three teams) AND 4 games vs. one team (2 Home/2 Away). Teams rotated on a yearly basis.
* 5 X 5 =25 games
* 1 X 4 = 4 games

Within Conference (Non-Division): 21 games
* 3 games vs. each team (2 Home/1 Away vs. four teams, 1 Home/2 Away vs.
three teams). Teams rotated on a yearly basis.
* 3 X 7 = 21 games

Non-Conference: 32 games
* 2 games vs. each team (1 Home/1 Away)
* 2 X 16 = 32 games

(Exception: one team from each division plays one less game inside Division and one more game inside Conference outside Division)

Eastern Conference (8-Team Divisions)

Within Conference (Division): 30 games
* 5 games vs. two teams (3 Home/2 Away vs. one team, 2 Home/3 Away vs. one
team) AND 4 games vs. five teams (2 Home/2 Away). Teams rotated on a yearly basis.
* 5 X 2 =10 games
* 4 X 5 = 20 games

Within Conference (Non-Division): 24 games
* 3 games vs. each team (2 Home/1 Away vs. four teams, 1 Home/2 Away vs.
four teams). Teams rotated on a yearly basis.
* 3 X 8 = 24 games

Non-Conference: 28 games
* 2 games vs. each team (1 Home/1 Away)
* 2 X 14 = 28 games


NEW STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF FORMAT

Playoff qualification will be primarily Division-based, with the top three finishers in each Division qualifying for the first 12 spots in the Stanley Cup Playoffs (and the first three "seeds" in each Division).

The two additional playoff spots in each Conference, designated as "Wild Cards," will be awarded to the next two highest-placed finishers in each Conference, ranked on the basis of regular-season points and regardless of Division.

"Seeding" of the Wild Card teams within each Divisional Playoff will be determined on the basis of regular-season points. The first-place finisher with the highest number of regular-season points in the Conference will be matched against the Wild Card team with the lowest number of regular-season points, and the first-place finisher with the second-highest number of regular-season points in the Conference matched against the Wild Card team with the second-lowest number of regular-season points.

The Playoffs will proceed as follows:

* #1 vs. #4 / #2 vs. #3 -- winners play each other for berth in Conference Championship
* Conference Finals -- Two advancing teams in the West and two advancing teams in the East meet in Conference Championship
* Eastern and Western Conference Champions will meet in Stanley Cup Final.

The National Hockey League Players' Association has given its consent to play under this new Alignment and Playoff System for a minimum of three seasons, through the 2015-16 NHL season.
 

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Jason Zucker won't play tonight with an upper body injury. He did skate before practice. Yeo anticipates he will go on the upcoming 3-game trip to Denver, Vancouver and Detroit but isn't 100 percent positive yet. If Zucker doesn't, the Wild will need to call up a forward.

Zucker and Charlie Coyle moved into an apartment together yesterday, by the way. All their stuff is still in Houston though. "I just have a suit bag," Coyle said, laughing, quickly adding, "I'm not complaining."

Pierre-Marc Bouchard, scratched in three straight and with two goals and three assists in 20 games, gets in the lineup on the Matt Cullen-Devin Setoguchi line.

"I want to see him come in and not play the type of game where you're afraid of making a mistake, not playing the type of game where you play safe," Yeo said. "I want to see him come in and play with confidence and make a point basically. He has the ability to do that. He has the ability to control the play and create. ... He has to find a way to be a factor."

Niklas Backstrom in goal. Rest of the lines and defense pairs the same. Brett Clark did skate today, but he won't play until he gets a few practices in.

Also, the Wild has traded former University of North Dakota defenseman Chay Genoway to the Washington Capitals for a conditional 2014 seventh-rounder. He will report to Hershey. After the Brett Clark signing yesterday, this puts the Wild back to 48 of a maximum 50 contracts. This allows the Wild more flexibility to either sign college free agents maybe or add players at the trade deadline.

Fletcher said the Wild had 10 defensemen in Houston, meaning four healthy scratches a night. This gives Genoway a chance to move on.

I'll be on Hockey Night in Canada radio at 3:30 p.m. CT on XM and NHL Network tonight from the arena cam at 5:40 p.m. CT

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