Originally posted on Fox Sports North  |  Last updated 3/7/13
ST. PAUL, Minn. Every trip the Minnesota Wild make to play a Northwest Division road game, they change time zones. Traveling to the Mountain Time zone for games at Colorado, Edmonton and Calgary or going with the two-hour switch in the Pacific Time zone in Vancouver, Minnesota's players are well accustomed to changing their wrist watches. Their watches could get a break if the NHL gets its way. The NHL has revived its hope for conference realignment and reportedly sent out a memo to all teams two weeks ago outlining the latest plan. The Wild, long one of the heaviest travel teams in the league, could be one of the biggest beneficiaries of the new plan, losing divisional games against Vancouver, Calgary and Edmonton in lieu of better geographical opponents like Chicago, Nashville, St. Louis and Winnipeg. "I think it's huge for us," Minnesota coach Mike Yeo said of the proposal. "I would argue its bigger for us than possibly anybody in the league, minus maybe a couple teams. The travel that we have, it's not just the distance, it's the time zones. So I think the realignment would be a huge factor for us." Reportedly, the NHL's plan, which would go into effect next season, cuts the current six division format into four divisions, two in each conference. In the Western Conference, the Pacific Division would be comprised of Anaheim, Calgary, Edmonton, Los Angeles, Phoenix, San Jose and Vancouver. The Wild would be slotted in the Midwest division with Chicago, Colorado, Dallas, Nashville, St. Louis and Winnipeg. Detroit and Columbus, which both play in the Central Division of the Western Conference now, would join the Eastern Conference. The Central Division in the East would feature Boston, Buffalo, Detroit, Florida, Montreal, Ottawa, Tampa Bay and Toronto. The Atlantic Division would have Carolina, Columbus, New Jersey, the New York Islanders, New York Rangers, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and Washington. Minnesota, projected to travel the most miles in the NHL this season, was immediately in favor of the proposed changes. Zenon Konopka, voted to represent the Wild players during the realignment talks, said it was a quick meeting when he brought the plan up for discussion in the locker room. And travel wasn't the only benefit. The plan will remain for eight teams in each conference to still make the playoffs, and there are 14 teams in the Western Conference, as opposed to 16 in the East. "It's pretty cut and dry," Konopka said. "We've got 14 teams on our side, so anytime you've got a better chance to make the playoffs, it's a bonus, and there's a lot less travel for us. So, for us, it was a no-brainer that we approved it right away. We hope it goes through. I'm sure there's a few other people that have something to say about it." The plan resembles a previous attempt at realignment, agreed to by the NHL in December 2011, but voted down by the players' association, but that plan kept Detroit and Columbus in the West. Opponents of the current plan don't like the lopsided nature of the conferences with more teams in the East. Minnesota forward Mike Rupp, who's spent the majority of his career in the Eastern Conference including the last six seasons before coming to the Wild in a trade this year, understands the perspective of the East, with more teams fighting for the same amount of playoff spots. "I don't know how I feel about the lopsidedness of it," Rupp said. "But, the scheduling makes sense as far as the geographic locations of the teams. Hopefully being able to stay in your time zone for your division is a big thing. I think that all makes sense. My personal opinion, I'm not sure how the more teams in the one is going to fare, but that's for them to figure out." One issue, for the players and the league, is there is no perfect solution to realignment with the 30 teams that currently construct the league. Reportedly without the ability for an all-encompassing conference call, the players have had several smaller meetings to discuss the plan and a resolution could come later this week. "The problem is there's no perfect way," Konopka said. "There's no perfect solution, so it doesn't matter what you're going to do, there's going to be teams that aren't happy. So you just try to find that happy medium that kind of caters to most of the league and then everyone else has to live with it. But there is no, no perfect way to go through it." In the reported plan, three teams from each division would qualify for the playoffs, with the final two spots designated as wild -card teams. The division winners would face the wild-card teams in the first round. "I think it's the 14 teams on this side," Konopka said. "Having two extra teams, the parity of the league is so good now that 95 percent of the teams are in the playoff running and have a legit chance to make the playoffs. You add two more teams, that's a big deal." Reportedly, the league and players association have been working together on this proposed plan. But there are no qualms from Minnesota's side. Each year, the Wild have to travel multiple times to Western Canada skipping several time zones. A reduced schedule fits Minnesota just fine. "To me, I just think that the travel factor would help us," Yeo said. "You look at the injuries that we've had to deal with the last couple years and you look at the amount of times that we lose practices, we're handcuffed in a lot of situations because of that travel." Follow Brian Hall on Twitter.
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