Wild welcomes regional rivals in NHL's realignment

  • Article by: MICHAEL RUSSO , Star Tribune
  • Updated: March 15, 2013 - 12:22 AM
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In the realigned NHL, each team in the Western Conference will play 29 games in its own division, meaning the Minnesota Wild will play the Chicago Blackhawks more often.

Photo: Charles Rex Arbogast •Associated Press ,

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Mike Rupp has spent the majority of his career in the Eastern Conference, particularly with New Jersey and the Rangers. After experiencing only five-plus weeks of Wild travel, he said he believes the NHL’s new four-division realignment that was finally approved Thursday is fair.

“It’s such an advantage in the East. Huge. Huge,” Rupp said. “In the Atlantic, we got on a plane for one team in the division — Pittsburgh, which is a 45-minute flight. It’s nuts.”

For 12 years, the Wild has logged major air miles by playing in the Northwest Division with four teams west of the Central time zone — Colorado, Calgary, Edmonton and Vancouver. Starting next year, the Wild will move to a more sensible seven-team division with Chicago, Colorado, Dallas, Nashville, St. Louis and Winnipeg.

“It’s a big deal for our franchise,” General Manager Chuck Fletcher said. “It’s a great opportunity for our team to re-establish some of the regional rivalries that the North Stars used to have a while back.

“It should be great. You can see the emotion in the building when Chicago and St. Louis and teams like that come into our building.”

Commissioner Gary Bettman said the four divisions, which include Detroit and Columbus moving to the East, will be named in the next few weeks.

Wild owner Craig Leipold has estimated that the Wild will save between $800,000 and $1 million in travel costs. Wild fans should love realignment because more road games can be watched on television at more reasonable times. Wild players should love it because it’ll alleviate some wear and tear.

“It seems every game we’re not getting home ’til 2 or 3, where in the East, I’m getting off the plane or into my house by midnight,” Rupp said. “That’s a huge difference — going to bed at 1 o’clock as opposed to 4 o’clock. There’s no early night ever in the West.”

Injured Zucker out

Winger Jason Zucker missed Thursday’s 5-3 victory over Colorado because of an upper body injury.

Pierre-Marc Bouchard, scratched in three consecutive games because of season-long struggles, took his spot on the second line and assisted on Devin Setoguchi’s second-period goal.

Before the game, coach Mike Yeo said he wanted Bouchard to “make a point.”

Bouchard played a strong game and was visibly more physical and went into dirty areas. With Zucker potentially ready to return Saturday at Colorado, Yeo said Bouchard’s play “doesn’t make our decision any easier.”

Zucker, by the way, and fellow rookie Charlie Coyle moved into an apartment together Wednesday, so they should be sticking around. Most of their clothes and possessions, including their cars, are in Houston.

“I just have a suit bag. … Trust me though, I’m not complaining,” Coyle said, laughing.

 

Genoway traded

Two days after trading Matt Kassian to Ottawa for a 2014 sixth-round pick, the Wild dealt former University of North Dakota defenseman Chay Genoway to Washington for a conditional 2014 seventh-round pick. Genoway reported to AHL Hershey.

The Wild is trying to free up contracts in case it wants to sign college free agents or make trade-deadline pickups. Minnesota now has 48 contracts, two fewer than the maximum allowed.

 

Prosser’s pit

Nate Prosser’s hometown of Elk River will be the host city for Hockey Day Minnesota 2014. The outdoor high school games will be played at the Handke Pit.

“Me and my buddies would have our parents drop us off there and we’d pack our lunches and just stay out there for hours,” Prosser said.

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