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NHL: Wild hope realignment works in team's favor

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The early 2012 summer was one of unease for Minnesota Wild fans.

The team was fresh off a disappointing 2011-2012 campaign and the NHL lockout loomed.

The signing of Ryan Suter and Zach Parise ignited the fan base. After the lockout ended in January, expectations were high for the 2012-13 season.

The Wild made the playoffs, but a disappointing regular season finish, including home losses to Calgary and Edmonton, put Minnesota in the eighth spot with the daunting task of facing the Chicago Blackhawks in the first round of the NHL playoffs.

As Wild fans look to next season, there is excitement. Minnesota has most of its roster in place. On Monday, goalie Niklas Backstrom was signed to a three-year deal. Backup goalie Josh Harding, a recent winner of the 2013 Bill Masterton award, performed well in the Chicago series after Backstrom was injured before Game One.

Perhaps the most exciting development for Wild fans is the realignment of the divisions, which was approved by the NHL Board of Governors and the National Hockey League Player’s Association (NHLPA) in March. The Wild will now be in the same division with Chicago, Colorado, Dallas, Nashville, St. Louis and Winnipeg.

While Minnesota had a winning record against Nashville, Colorado and Dallas last year, it struggled against St. Louis and Chicago finishing a combined 1-5 against those teams. The Wild did not face Winnipeg last year.

Wednesday, Nate Prosser and Josh Harding were in town as part of the Wells Fargo Minnesota Wild Road Tour. Harding and Prosser weighed in on realignment and the rivalries that may come from it.

“I think a lot of people are excited about it and personally I think it is a good decision to make,” said Prosser. “It helps for travel and building rivalries. We are going to play at Winnipeg more often and St. Louis and teams like that. It will help in building up more of a hatred for those teams and I think we are all looking forward to it.”

While Chicago did win the Stanley Cup this year, Harding and Prosser both feel that parity has brought all of the teams closer to each other from a competitive stand point.

“I think the parity over the league is just ridiculous with the cap space that teams have,” Harding said. “ It doesn’t matter what division you are in, it is going to be tough and we understand that. We need to take care of what we can control and get better.”

Said Prosser: “It will be good to play against those teams and it doesn’t matter whether you are playing Nashville or St. Louis, you have to bring your game every night. We have a good team as well and I think we are just as good as them. We are building in the right direction.”

The argument is made that it takes a playoff series to build a rivalry, but Prosser believes that it doesn’t have to take that long.

“I think it can take a period to build a rivalry,” he said. “We can be playing Vancouver for one period and there are guys that will push buttons the wrong way. But the more times you play them the more it will build and I think it will be cool building that with realignment.”

One of the biggest advantages to realignment, and one of the main reasons that the NHLPA signed on to the change, is more games in a team’s time zone. Fans will watch more games at 7 p.m. as opposed to 9:30 p.m.

Even with the travel accommodations that players have today, Harding feels this will be a big advantage for the upcoming season.

“You need to get that eight hours of sleep no matter where you are at,” he said.” If we go to Vancouver and get in at four o’clock in the morning, what does that do to the rest of your day? I think it is going to be huge with rest for our guys and we have to take advantage of it and making sure we are taking care of our bodies.”