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Wild hope schedule change leads to other moves

by Roger Phillips /
News that the NHL agreed to adopt a more balanced scheduled beginning in 2008-09, brought some joy to Minnesota.
Strange geographical combinations have always been a part of the alignment of divisions in all sports, not just the NHL.

For instance, the Dallas Stars reside in the NHL's Pacific Division, the mismatched member of a group of teams that includes Anaheim, Los Angeles, San Jose and Phoenix (which is a mere 350 miles from the coast).

Check out mileage charts and you will learn that Dallas is roughly 1,360 miles from the Pacific Ocean. By contrast, Dallas is only a little more than 1,000 miles from the Atlantic Ocean. Based on this, the Stars really ought to be playing in the Atlantic Division, at least until the NHL comes to its senses and adds a Gulf of Mexico Division.

This brings us to the Minnesota Wild. While not as glaring, perhaps, as the lonesome state Dallas finds itself in, the Wild are clearly stuck out there in the wild in the Northwest Division, the sole Central time zone team in a grouping that includes three teams in Mountain time (Colorado, Edmonton and Calgary) and one in the Pacific time zone (Vancouver).

St. Paul, Minn., is 1,200 miles from Calgary, 1,240 miles from Edmonton, 1,800 miles from Vancouver and a mere 900 miles from Denver.

When you consider that in recent seasons teams have played 32 of 82 games within their divisions, it makes it understandable why the Wild might like to move into a division closer to its neighborhood.

And that’s exactly what Wild General Manager Doug Risebrough said he would like to do recently in an interview with the Minneapolis Star Tribune.

“Everything is in time,” Risebrough said. “My feeling is if we can dramatically change the schedule, I think then the next target is let’s start to look at where we are in terms of creating rivalries that might be more geographical.”

In terms of geography, it would make more sense for the Wild to play in a division with Chicago (400 miles), Detroit (680), St. Louis (530), Columbus (750) and even Nashville (870), the teams comprising the current Central Division.

The good news for the Wild is that last week, the NHL agreed to adopt a more balanced scheduled beginning in a year, meaning that teams will play fewer games within their division starting in 2008-09.

Though the exact schedule formula for the 2008-09 season will not be decided upon until a board of governors meeting in December, the scheduling change could provide some travel relief for the Wild, who currently make four trips a season to visit each of their division rivals.

But complete relief for the Wild is likely only to come from the realignment Risebrough spoke of. And at the moment, that does not seem to be a front-burner topic.

No advice needed -- The Oilers hosted the NHL’s last outdoor stadium game in 2003. The Sabres are hosting the Penguins on Jan. 1 at Ralph Wilson Stadium. But according to the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, the Sabres are bitter at Edmonton and won’t be asking the Oilers for any tips on hosting an outdoor game.

The Sabres are irked because the Oilers tried unsuccessfully to sign Buffalo winger Thomas Vanek over the summer to a seven-year, $50-million deal. Vanek was a restricted free agent, and the Oilers’ offer sheet forced the Sabres to pay him much more than they otherwise would have.

“We’re not real happy with Edmonton right now,” Sabres managing partner Larry Quinn told the paper. “We won’t be talking to Edmonton.”

If the Sabres are irritated, imagine how the Ducks feel after losing young forward Dustin Penner to the Oilers over the summer. Chances are Anaheim won’t be calling the Oilers for any tips if they someday host an outdoor game in Laguna Beach.

Kipper fans Flames -- It’s been known for some time that the Calgary Flames will have their work cut out for them if they are to keep premier goalie Miikka Kiprusoff off the unrestricted free agent market next summer. Now, the parameters of the negotiations have been reported by the Calgary Herald.

According to the newspaper, Kiprusoff is looking for $35 million over five years – or, as the paper referred to it, “Jarome Iginla money.” That works out to $7 million a year – about $1 million a season more than the Flames would like to pay.

The problem for Flames GM Darryl Sutter is that he also will be looking next summer at re-signing potential UFAs Daymond Langkow and Kristian Huselius, not to mention potential restricted free agent Dion Phaneuf.

A new deal is not imminent, according to the Herald. Kiprusoff is looking to vault past the Canucks’ Roberto Luongo and the Blackhawks’ Nikolai Khabibulin ($6.75 million apiece) as the NHL’s highest-paid goalie.

Tough start for Carter -- Forward Anson Carter’s tryout with the Oilers took a bad turn when he suffered a concussion in a preseason game last week. He still may have a chance to make the team once the symptoms subside.

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