Russo's NHL Insider: Wild needs league realignment

  • Updated: March 2, 2013 - 7:09 PM

Frequent flights to and from the West Coast have been a competitive disadvantage for quite some time.

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Mikael Granlund and Edmonton Oilers' Eric Belanger scrap for the puck during the a game in Edmonton, Alberta. Being in the Northwest Division has been a competitive disadvantage to the Wild.

Photo: Jason Franson, Associated Press - Ap

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Mike Yeo had a choice to make on Feb. 12.

The Wild had just played its third game in four nights in its third different time zone -- and second in 24 hours -- at Vancouver. On Feb. 14, the Wild had a home game against Colorado.

What to do?

1) Fly home immediately after the Canucks game -- which would have included a long bus ride to the airport, having to clear customs and departing after midnight Pacific time -- and land at 5:30 in the morning Central time. 2) Get a decent night's rest in a Vancouver hotel before a morning flight home for essentially a wasted day of travel on Feb. 13 by landing in midafternoon.

Either way, there was no way the Wild coach could have called a practice for his team.

Yeo took Option 2.

Neither choice was going to be a good recipe for good legs on Feb. 14 against the Avalanche, so as disappointed as Yeo was with the 4-3 shootout loss to Colorado, maybe getting a point should be considered a coup.

This is why the Wild needs realignment. Being in the Northwest Division has been a competitive disadvantage to the Wild for far too long.

From the players' perspective, think of the wear and tear when they have to jet time zone to time zone to time zone all the time.

From the fans' perspective, how is it fair that your favorite team starts so many road games so late?

There was a reason the Wild's game that night in Vancouver -- a game in which the Wild played quite well despite losing 2-1 -- was the lowest-rated telecast of the season on Fox Sports North.

"For our team, realignment is critical," said Wild owner Craig Leipold.

Under the NHL's proposed realignment, six divisions will go down to four (two in the East with eight teams each, two in the West with seven teams each) with the Wild moving into a Midwest Division with Chicago, Colorado, Dallas, Nashville, St. Louis and Winnipeg.

To Leipold, this is perfect. Most teams are in the Central time zone. There's a chance to foster genuine geographical rivalries. There will be less time wasted going through customs, more opportunities to get home from road games at a decent hour.

And there's the monetary implication. With less time in the air and fewer nights in hotels, the Wild estimates it'll save $800,000 to $1 million a year in travel costs.

Last week, all 30 teams and the NHL Players' Association received the league's plan for realignment, which includes Detroit and Columbus moving to the Eastern Conference.

"My input was I'm ready to vote on it right now, and frankly I think probably most of the other owners are right now," Leipold said.

The union has some concerns, though, particularly the imbalance in the East. If you play in the West, you have a 57 percent chance to make the playoffs as opposed to a 50 percent chance in the East.

Some say that Detroit or Columbus should stay in the West, but Wild player rep Zenon Konopka said, "Once you start tinkering, it brings a lot more variables into the equation. It could send a chain of reaction that blows up the whole thing."

This is not a collective bargaining agreement issue. The league doesn't have to make this decision in concert with the union. It's doing so as a courtesy, but the league frankly doesn't care when New Jersey's Ilya Kovalchuk says, "I don't think it makes any sense to change it."

"The bottom line is we have 30 teams," Leipold said. "You have four divisions. There are going to be some inequities, as minor as they might be. There is no perfect system. I mean, right now it's terribly imperfect and now we have something that will address the issues of probably 26 of the 30 teams.

"The issue of the playoffs, it's just marginally, mathematically different, and I think it's the best we can do."

 

RUSSO'S SHORT TAKES

Near disaster

In what would have been a colossal mistake by a franchise trying to build its barren prospect cupboard, the Calgary Flames should consider themselves lucky the Colorado Avalanche matched their offer sheet to restricted free agent Ryan O'Reilly.

If the Avs hadn't, the Flames would have had to give up a first- and third-round pick as compensation and would have wound up losing the player -- because O'Reilly would not have been able to play for Calgary without going on waivers since he played two games in Europe while holding out.

Next time Colorado's in Calgary, General Manager Jay Feaster and staff should probably pick up Avs GM Greg Sherman and staff's dinner bill.

Some big rips

Carolina's Alex Semin played his former team, the Caps, last week, and former teammate Troy Brouwer scorched him, saying, "Some nights you didn't even know if he was going to come to the rink. It's tough to play alongside guys like those because you don't know what you're going to get out of them."

That was still nothing compared to what Mike Milbury did to Alex Ovechkin. The NBC Sports Network analyst was absolutely unremitting by showing umpteen examples of Ovechkin's lazy play against Philadelphia.

"I don't listen to nobody right now, so they can talk whatever they want," Ovechkin said.

WILD'S WEEK AHEAD

Sunday: vs. Edmonton, 7 p.m. (FSN)

Tuesday: at Chicago, 7:30 p.m. (FSN)

Saturday: at Nashville, 7 p.m. (FSN)

 

Player to watch:

Patrick Kane, Chicago

The Chicago Blackhawks' 2007 first overall pick who once upon a time made his NHL debut at Xcel Energy Center is tied for seventh in the NHL in scoring with 24 points.

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    In what would have been a colossal mistake by a franchise trying to build its barren prospect cupboard, the Calgary Flames should consider themselves lucky the Colorado Avalanche matched their...

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