Die-hard fans of the Minnesota Wild, who had also been die-hard fans of the North Stars before them, were drooling at the idea of realignment when it was presented by the NHL back in late 2011. Minnesota was slated to join Detroit, Chicago, St. Louis, Nashville, Columbus, Winnipeg…oh…and Dallas in what looked to be the reincarnation of the old Norris Division. Momentum was lost, however, when the NHL Players Association voted down the proposed realignment in a move indicative of what would soon be a bitter lockout battle between the players and owners. With the details of the new proposal released, realignment is almost assuredly going to happen next season. The NHL will have four conferences—two comprised of eight teams and two of seven teams. Minnesota’s conference will also include Chicago, St. Louis, Winnipeg, Nashville and Dallas, while also maintaining the existing rivalry with Colorado. Here are a few reasons Minnesota benefits from the newly proposed conferences.
One—travel; fans don’t have to worry anymore about 9pm intra-conference puck drops! The only team in the conference that isn’t on Central Time is Colorado. Travel is going to be a lot easier, and less tiresome than in the previous conference format.
Two—it helps solidify Minnesota’s existing rivalries within the Central Division. Minnesota and Chicago have had some great, intense games here lately and games between St. Louis and Minnesota are always physical and fun to watch. Nashville has always been a tough opponent for Minnesota, and a move to the same conference/division would definitely make the whole Weber/Suter debate that much more fun to watch with more games against each other. Winnipeg has been a great opponent as well, and Wild players can’t wait to get their revenge on Zach Bogosian for his brutal boarding of Pierre-Marc Bouchard. Plus, it would be fun to watch Mikael Granlund, Charlie Coyle, Jason Zucker, Jonas Brodin and Mathew Dumba play against Alexander Burmistrov, Evander Kane, Mark Scheifele and Jacob Trouba. Then there is the epic rivalry—in the minds of many fans—of “the old team” (Dallas) versus “the new team” (Minnesota).
Three—it’s character building. Though Detroit will not be in the conference, Minnesota will still face very tough opponents that will make the Northwest Division appear to be a cakewalk, aside from Vancouver, of course. If Minnesota can make the playoffs out of that conference, then they will certainly have earned every bit of it.
Four—Craig Leopold stands to make a lot of money with teams like Chicago, St. Louis, Nashville and Winnipeg gracing the Xcel Energy Center night in and night out. Fans will be more than willing to come watch Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Marian Hossa, Evander Kane, Shea Weber, Jaromir Jagr, Loui Eriksson, Jamie Benn, Vladimir Tarasenko and Minnesota natives T.J. Oshie, David Backes, Dustin Byfuglien and Alex Goligoski make regular appearances in downtown St. Paul.
Bottom line, this realignment could be the best thing to happen to Minnesota since the July 4th blockbuster signings of Zach Parise and Ryan Suter. Minnesota will either sink or swim in a conference as competitive as the one they are likely to be in. I have no doubt the team will rise to the occasion and succeed. One thing is for sure, next season is going to be a blast.