The MTS hockey arena in seen on Portage Avenue in downtown Winnipeg

What are the most likely scenarios for Southeast Division realignment?

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With the Atlanta Thrashers moving to Winnipeg, one of the first logistical questions revolves around the Southeast Division and next year’s schedule. The league has stated the Winnipeg Thrashjets will remain in the Southeast for the first season—but after next season, there will certainly be changes coming down the road. For a frame of reference, here are the distances between Winnipeg and their Southeast Division rivals next year:

Carolina: 1346 mi (2166 km)
Florida: 1893 mi (3047 km)
Tampa Bay: 1701 mi (2737 km)
Washington: 1246 mi (2005 km)

Now with the sale to True North completed and confirmed, the question of realignment is no longer “if and when” and more about “who and where.” When realignment goes down for the 2012-13 season, the three most likely suspects are the Detroit Red Wings, Columbus Blue Jackets, and Nashville Predators. Pierre LeBrun has already started asking around about the realignment question:

“But a league source told me recently that the reason realignment is being delayed a year is that the league wants to properly canvass all its governors and get everyone’s feedback on what is always a contentious issue. The Red Wings desperately want to move east. They’re tired of playing most of their games outside of their time zone, and it’s brutal for TV ratings when you’re asking your fans to stay up late to watch most of your road games. Having said that, many Western Conference governors will oppose losing Detroit because of the Wings’ gate power. So then, what to do? I think the league will examine all kinds of possibilities, perhaps use this opportunity to revamp the entire division and conference setup, not just plug in one team for another. There will be lots of talk and ideas leaked in the next 12 months.”

Detroit Red Wings: Detroit ownership has wanted the Wings moved to the Eastern Conference for the better part of two decades. Already in the Eastern time zone, West Coast road trips mean games are starting at 10:00 or 10:30 every night. For opponents, the games at Joe Louis arena start too early for West Coasters during the week. There’s a reason that teams three time zones apart, aren’t supposed to play each other four times per season.

Red Wings’ senior vice president Jimmy Devellano has made no secret of his desire for the team:

“(Realignment’s) going to be a long, tough process. We have our fingers crossed.”

“It’s a lot of wear and tear (on the players),” said Devellano, adding the cost of the travel for the Red Wings is an issue.

“Once in a while (the West Coast starting times are) OK, everybody has to do it. But we’ve had to do it many times. It’s difficult.”

Columbus Blue Jackets: Like the Red Wings, the Blue Jackets are also a Western Conference team stuck in the Eastern time zone. Since the time zone isn’t changing anytime soon, the other option is to switch conferences. Also like the Red Wings, attendance plays a factor in the decision—but for the opposite reason. The Red Wings bring in fans to opponents all over the Western Conference, but the Blue Jackets would love to create a rivalry with the Pittsburgh Penguins who are only 162 miles apart. By starting all of the Eastern Conference games at the same time, the Blue Jackets hope it would help with both building a stronger foundation with their fanbase and also help the ratings for Blue Jackets telecasts.

Nashville Predators: If the Predators were to move to the Southeast Division, they’d be the only team in the Eastern Conference that was not in the Eastern time zone. However, even though the city is in the central time zone, Nashville makes the most sense geographically. Just pull out a map for the best argument for the Predators moving to the Southeast. It makes sense for a team in the middle of Tennessee to play against Carolina, Florida, Tampa, and Washington.

Just how much power does the Detroit organization have with the NHL? It’s understandable that they’d want to move to the Eastern Conference—just like it’s understandable that the Predators and Blue Jackets management would want to move to the East. All would benefit from better start times and improved travel. But if the Red Wings flip, it has the potential to cost most of the Western Conference teams in terms of revenue and exposure. The struggling franchise in Columbus could gain stability from a better schedule. From a common sense point of view, Nashville just seems like the right market to slide into the Southeast Division. Regardless, let the lobbying begin!

Let’s throw this to the readers. If you could shift the Red Wings, Blue Jackets, or Predators to the Eastern Conference, who would it be?

Eaves to stick with Benn, Seguin on Dallas’ top line

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Patrick Eaves‘ cameo alongside the dynamic duo of Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin looks like it’ll continue at least one more game.

Eaves, who along with Benn assisted on Seguin’s goal in Saturday’s loss to Chicago, practiced on Dallas’ top line today and should be there tomorrow when the Stars take on the Wild.

“Seguin, Benn and Eaves were in on 11 chances [Saturday against Chicago],” head coach Lindy Ruff explained, per the Stars’ website. They could have three or four [goals]. They should have had three or four. We missed too many good opportunities.”

This latest development is a positive in what’s been a tough year for Eaves. He was hurt early in the season after an awkward fall against the Oilers — a game in which he opened on the club’s top line, next to Benn and Seguin.

All told, he has just three goals and six points in 33 games.

Last year, Eaves was plagued with concussion issues but still managed to produce well, scoring 14 goals and 27 points in just 47 games.

After re-upping in Winnipeg, Byfuglien says leaving ‘never really crossed my mind’

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There was some speculation Dustin Byfuglien would be out of Winnipeg by the Feb. 29 trade deadline or, failing that, when free agency hit on July 1.

But according to him, leaving was never really an option.

“I’ve been here five years and from where we’ve started and where we’re at now, I don’t feel as an organization or a group that we’re far off,” Byfuglien told TSN 1290 on Monday, after inking a big five-year, $38 million extension with the Jets. “My family and I have found Winnipeg nice, and we’re very happy to stay here.

“It never really crossed my mind of going anywhere, and I’m excited to be a Jet.”

Prior to this extension, though, some thought leaving had definitely crossed Byfuglien’s mind.

Back in mid-December, the Free Press reported his initial ask was a whopping eight-year, $55 million deal. Some viewed that as his first potential step out the door.

It would’ve been big money and a lot of term for the Jets to commit, especially given 1) Byfuglien is 30, 2) the team still hasn’t signed captain Andrew Ladd, and 3) the club has some prized youngsters that need new deals this summer, specifically Mark Scheifele and Jacob Trouba. (In that same Free Press report, Trouba’s ask was $56 million over eight years.)

Then, there was Byfuglien at All-Star weekend.

When asked about his future — sign, trade or head to free agency? — Byfuglien said he had “no problem” with Winnipeg, adding “I just want to put on a jersey, to be honest with you.”

Some, like TSN’s Frank Seravalli, who was in attendance for the Byfuglien media scrum, noted the response “did not exactly sound like a ringing endorsement.”

Of course, Byfuglien later clarified his remarks following the All-Star Game.

“Yeah, I’d love to,” he told reporters when asked about re-signing in Winnipeg. “I’ve met a lot of good people and now some really good friends. I’ve been here for a long time. You never want to leave home. I’ve been here long enough; my family has been here and I’ve had two kids here.

“It’s somewhere you don’t want to leave.”

And now — well, for the next five years anyway — Byfuglien won’t have to.

Video: Jets’ Stafford suspended one game for ‘forceful, reckless’ high-stick

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The NHL has dinged Winnipeg forward Drew Stafford one game for his ugly high stick on Colorado’s Nick Holden over the weekend.

“While we accept Stafford’s assertion that he did not intentionally strike Holden in the face, he is responsible for the consequences of swinging his stick in such a forceful and reckless fashion,” the Department of Player Safety explained.

Stafford, who wasn’t penalized on the play, will now miss Winnipeg’s next game — tonight, in St. Louis — and will be eligible to return on Thursday when the Jets host the Bruins.

Stafford will also forfeit $23,387.10 in salary to the Players’ Emergency Assistance Fund.

Big Buff, Big Bucks: Jets ink Byfuglien to five-year, $38 million extension

Dustin Byfuglien
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One of the most prized trade deadline targets is no longer.

On Monday, Winnipeg locked in pending UFA d-man Dustin Byfuglien to a five-year, $38 million extension, one that carries a $7.6M cap hit and makes him the highest-paid player on the team.

Byfuglien, 30, was in the last of a five-year, $26 million deal with a $5.2M average annual cap hit. One of the league’s most unique players — a 6-foot-5, 265 pounder that’s played forward and defense, and participated in this year’s fastest skater All-Star skills competition — his bio from the Jets’ release pretty much sums up how much he means to the club:

[Byfuglien] has recorded 32 points (15G, 17A) so far this season while appearing in all 52 games and sits in a tie for second amongst all NHL defencemen with his 15 goals.

Byfuglien leads the Jets so far this season in shots (163), penalty minutes (78) and ice time (24:14 per game).

The native of Roseau, MN, was named to the 2016 NHL All-Star Game in Nashville, TN where he recorded a goal and an assist for the Central Division team.

Byfuglien has been named to the All-Star Game in each of the last four seasons that the game has taken place (2011, 2012, 2015, 2016).

The deal keeps Byfuglien in Winnipeg through 2022 and is the latest long-term deal on the blueline: Tobias Enstrom is at $5.75M per through 2018, and Tyler Myers is at $5.5M per through ’19. Byfuglien’s deal also comes after some questioned how badly he wanted to stay in Winnipeg — at All-Star weekend, he raised eyebrows by responding “I just want to put on a jersey, to be honest with you,” when asked about his playing future.

The five-year term is also down from Byfuglien’s reported original ask, which was $55 million over eight years.

With this move done, Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff can now turn his attention to another prized pending UFA: Andrew Ladd, the club’s captain and another player that’s believed to have high interest around the league as a trade deadline rental.