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Stars vs. Wild rivalry revived by realignment

by Dan Rosen /
PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. -- The Dallas Stars and Minnesota Wild were each out for the same equitable solution in the NHL's realignment discussions.

In getting the geographical map they were looking for through Monday's vote at the Board of Governors meetings, the Stars and Wild might have also added fuel to a rivalry that already has a link that dates back 18 years, to when Norm Green moved the old North Stars to Texas.

Under the NHL's new four-conference alignment that it plans to install  next season, the Wild and Stars will play in the same conference, along with fellow Midwestern franchises Detroit, Columbus, Chicago, St. Louis, Winnipeg and Nashville.


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It'll be the first time that the Wild and Stars will play within the same small grouping of teams. Despite the almost 1,000 miles between the markets, there is an expectation that the rivalry will intensify in both markets, especially for the fans -- even those not old enough to remember when Green shifted the team from Minnesota to Dallas 18 years ago.

"They've always been a natural rival for us, but just the fact that we're going to be in the same conference, playing each other more often, it's clearly going to create more fan interest," Craig Leipold said. "If we're playing them in the playoffs it's just going to intensify the rivalry we have with them in the regular season."

Leipold, though, wasn't limiting his excitement to just having a new type of rivalry with the Stars. He's just as excited that the fans in Minnesota will once again be united in rivalries against the Red Wings, Blackhawks and Blues -- the way it used to be in the old Norris Division.

"That's who our fans look at as the traditional rivalries, not Calgary, Edmonton or Vancouver," Leipold said. "It's the old Norris Division rivalries."

Stars President Jim Lites echoed that excitement, both with having a chance to become even bigger rivals with the Wild and the opportunity to re-establish rivalries with the rest of the Central time zone teams, rivalries the Stars used to have in their early days in Dallas.

"When we came to Dallas, we were still in the Central Division, so our players didn't like Detroit or Chicago because of their history as the Minnesota North Stars," Lites told "Then when we got shifted out west, we developed rivalries through playoffs like with Edmonton and others that we met a couple of times, but because of the historical context and the lack of a geographical connection between the city and anywhere else there wasn't really a rivalry.

"We have a connection to those other places and we're delighted to be back. These will be great returning rivalries and I think it will light up immediately."

Both Leipold and Lites said a key to any rivalry is the ability for their fans to watch the games that narrate that rivalry on a consistent basis.

It has been near impossible for either team to develop intra-division rivalries in the current two-conference, six-division alignment because of time-zone constraints.

With Dallas in the Pacific Division and Minnesota in the Northwest Division, 20 of their 41 road games are played west of the Central time zone. That means roughly half of their road games have start times ranging between 8 and 9:30 p.m.

"Fans really want the rivalry to be with the teams in the Central time zone so they don't have to stay up at 9:30 at night just to start watching the games," Leipold said.

Lites mentioned that the later start times have dramatically reduced the Stars overall television viewing audience since they shifted to the Pacific Division in 1998-99.

"We watched our television product go to literally losing 75 percent of viewership over time," Lites said. "In Dallas, you understand that people watch television from 7-10 because network television dictates it. In the East, it's 8-11. So, when you're starting your games at 9 or 9:30, at least a good amount of them, you lose the ability to storytell from one game to the next to the next.
"There is a continuity and a flow to your season, and that gets broken by people not watching your road games because of television issues and late starts. For us to have our road games in our time zone or earlier with Columbus and Detroit is dramatic. It's so important for us. No one benefitted by this change more than Dallas and Minny."

Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter: @drosennhl
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