With realignment on NHL's agenda, Wild longs for the Midwest

  • Article by: MICHAEL RUSSO , Star Tribune
  • Updated: December 4, 2011 - 11:59 PM

Tired of traveling to the Western time zones for most of its road games, the Wild is hoping the league will adopt this week a four-conference plan.

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Wild coach Mike Yeo would welcome the chance to play more road games in the Central time zone.

Photo: Marlin Levison, Star Tribune

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ANAHEIM, CALIF. - Not that realignment will go in the Wild's favor and it'll end up in an old-Norris-like Division, but if anybody would like the Wild to take fewer trips to Canada, it's Mike Yeo.

The Wild coach, a Canadian citizen, is in the process of getting his green card, so every time he crosses the border, Yeo is directed into a special room for further questioning, paperwork and rubber stamps.

"The worst part is I'm holding everybody up," Yeo said.

On Monday and Tuesday in Pebble Beach, the Board of Governors will gather to discuss and potentially vote on a realignment plan for the 2012-13 season.

There appear to be two possibilities -- one simple, one radical. The easiest thing, and the one that has the best chance of passing, is to move Winnipeg into the Central Division and Detroit into the Southeast. The most radical, and the one the Wild endorses, is a four-conference plan made up of seven or eight teams in each conference

The Wild's conference would also include Winnipeg, St. Louis, Dallas, Nashville, Chicago and Columbus. Wild owner Craig Leipold has been persistent in his wish to get the Wild out of the Northwest.

The reasons? 1) Better geographical rivalries; 2) shorter flights; 3) fiscally more desirable; 4) fewer times through customs; 5) earlier start times, meaning fans can watch more road games on TV.

But it takes 20 teams to get any realignment plan approved, so many believe the less upheaval created, the easier it will be to realign.

So the Wild could very well be left disappointed, but Leipold hopes not.

"I think all the Western Conference teams would vote for [the four-conference format]," Leipold said. "It works to their benefit and I think there are enough Eastern Conference governors that will frankly do the right thing for the NHL.

"We get five or six from the Eastern Conference, and it should pass. There would be a lot of winners if that were the case -- teams, fans and the NHL."

Yeo agrees with Leipold that the Wild should be out of the Northwest.

"We haven't played one road game in our own time zone yet. How amazing is that?" Yeo said.

"It just makes no sense," Leipold said.

Yeo added: "Think of how many times we go into Canada compared to other divisions. Most teams get security checks at the rink and zip, right to the plane. We're a half-hour, an hour -- at least, if not more -- through customs. That doesn't sound like much, but that's a big deal when the amount of sleep the players need is already in short supply."

The Wild's first road game in the Central time zone is Dec. 13 in Winnipeg (ironically, an Eastern Conference team). That is 16 road games into the Wild's 41-road game schedule.

Yeo spent five seasons as an assistant coach with the Pittsburgh Penguins.

"You're traveling longer distances in the Northwest Division and you're bouncing from time zone to time zone," Yeo said. "But also, your trips are longer. Pittsburgh, you go play one, two road games and then come back home for two. Here it seems you play four or five at home, then four or five on the road."

Added defenseman Nick Schultz, who has spent his whole career in the Northwest, "This is all I know, but I know it's pretty wearing being in the Northwest, and the fans seem to love when Chicago and St. Louis come to Minnesota."

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