Winnipeg Jets’ travel schedule shouldn’t be too tough after all

Once it became clear that the Winnipeg Jets would remain in the Southeast Division, many people believed that their far-from-southeastern location would make their 2011-12 season extremely difficult. (Both for themselves and for opponents, particularly in their division.)

As it turns out, the NHL’s schedule makers didn’t beat them up too badly. According to Dirk Hoag’s mileage figures, there are nine NHL teams who will rack up more frequent flyer miles next season. The Jets’ overall miles traveled should be around 44,627, which is just 548 more than they endured during the 10-11 campaign.

With that in mind, it’s pretty reasonable that the team is downplaying the impact that traveling will have on their first year back in Winnipeg. In fact, the biggest thing they might have to complain about is their preseason schedule.

“Not many teams travel more than 7½ hours in the exhibition season and we’re in the 23-hour range,” said Jets assistant general manager and director of hockey operations Craig Heisinger. “But, hey, we inherited this schedule and we’ve got to get through these situations.”

(snip)

“Is it the best schedule? No. Is it the worst? No,” said Heisinger. “But the other part of all this is the other teams have to come all this way to play us as well. They may be more encumbered by it because they haven’t had to do it, especially in the East, until we got dropped in their lap.

“We’re probably more happy to deal with it than they are. I don’t know if it’s an advantage for us – I haven’t looked at the travel of other teams – but maybe our attitude toward it will be different than those who had this forced upon them.”

For another season, the Western Conference features more teams that have to deal with tougher travel arrangements. The Florida Panthers are the only other Eastern Conference team in the top 10 in expected travel miles, as they’ll rack up the second most at 52,751 (second only to the Los Angeles Kings’ 55,591).

A quick look at the Jets’ toughest stretches

So does this mean that the Jets will be a long way from home during considerable stretches to make their schedule more reasonable? Here’s a quick glance at some of their more challenging runs.

The season begins with a challenging first couple months. They’ll play four of their first six games on the road, then two games at home followed by a seven-game road trip between October and November. The other big run of road games happens between January and February. They’ll start 2012 with four road games with a middle area that mixes up home and away dates until they reach late January, which includes a stretch in which they play eight of nine games on the road into mid-February.

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Most NHL teams have a trying month or two, so if the Jets can maintain a level altitude through a pair of tough runs, they could have a puncher’s chance of making their first year in Winnipeg a competitive one. If nothing else, jet lag won’t be much of an excuse for the Jets in 11-12.

‘Dialed in’ Hurricanes could add more drama to playoff race

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At first glance, Carolina’s potential playoff push seems like a longshot.

The ‘Canes head into tonight’s action five points back of Boston for the final wild card spot in the Eastern Conference, and would need to leapfrog both the Bolts and Isles just to get there.

BUT!

The ‘Canes have a game in hand on both New York and Tampa Bay, and two on Boston. They also get to play six of their last nine at home, and are currently riding a terrific streak in which they’ve collected 17 of a possible 20 points (7-0-3 in their last 10).

“Guys are playing well, guys are dialed in,” head coach Bill Peters said, per the Raleigh News & Observer. “You’ve got to continue to keep pace. Around the league everyone seems to find a way to win, so you’ve got to keep pace and then hopefully somebody falters.”

Looking ahead, the next 48 hours will decide if this dream becomes a reality. Carolina begins a crucial back-to-back set against the Red Wings tonight, with both games to be played at PNC.

Tonight’s game, you may recall, is the makeup date for the Dec. 19 postponement due to unplayable ice.

As such, the ‘Canes now get a Red Wings team playing its third game in four nights, following Friday’s 2-1 OT loss to Tampa Bay and yesterday’s 3-2 OT win over Minnesota. Veteran Detroit d-man Niklas Kronwall isn’t expected to face Carolina, and the club is unsure if Darren Helm (lower body) can go.

The ‘Canes, meanwhile, are pretty healthy and firing away. Jeff Skinner has a five-game goalscoring streak, Elias Lindholm has points in each of his last 10 contests and Sebastian Aho in each of his last six. The club has also received terrific netminding from Eddie Lack, who has gone 5-1-1 in March with a .931 save percentage.

If they can get a result tonight, attention will be turned to the out-of-town scoreboard. The Isles are at home to the streaking Nashville Predators (6-1-0 in their last seven), and the Bolts host the Blackhawks, who are coming off an embarrassing 7-0 loss in Florida.

The Bruins aren’t back in action until Tuesday, when they host the Preds.

Report: Coyotes majority owner has a ‘potential new partner’

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The Arizona Coyotes’ ownership group may be getting a new member.

According to Sportsnet’s John Shannon, Randy Frankel is a “potential new partner” for majority owner Andrew Barroway.

Frankel, who made his money on Wall Street, is already a part owner of MLB’s Tampa Bay Rays.

Shannon also reported that the Coyotes required a mid-season cash call, to the tune of $20 million, from their ownership group. Arizona has averaged just 13,020 fans at home games this season; hence, the revenue shortfall.

The Coyotes, of course, are trying to get a new arena built in the greater Phoenix area. So far, their efforts have been for naught.

Related: Arizona lawmaker suggests Coyotes pledge more money for new arena

Report: Rangers land Gophers standout Lettieri

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University of Minnesota senior Vinni Lettieri has agreed to join the Ranger organization, per the Star-Tribune.

Lettieri, 22, finished second on the club in goals this year, with 19, and third in scoring with 37 points in 38 games. The Star-Tribune’s Mike Russo reports Lettieri is joining New York’s AHL affiliate in Hartford, and that he and the Blueshirts are closing in on a two-year, entry-level contract.

Lettieri has some interesting bloodlines. His grandfather is former Minnesota North Stars player/head coach/GM Lou Nanne, and his father is former professional soccer netminder Tino Lettieri, who represented Canada at the 1986 World Cup.

The younger Lettieri went undrafted, and was a free agent following Minnesota’s NCAA championship loss to Notre Dame.

Zetterberg on pace to play 1,000th game in Joe Louis Arena farewell

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Barring injury, Red Wings captain Henrik Zetterberg will get the opportunity to make his 1,000th NHL game even more special.

Detroit head coach Jeff Blashill confirmed today that Zetterberg will play tonight and tomorrow in Carolina, putting the 36-year-old on pace to play his 1,000th game on Apr. 9, the date of the final Wings game at Joe Louis Arena.

The Wings, who will miss the playoffs for the first time since 1990, have eight games left in their regular season. They host New Jersey on Apr. 9.

Tonight’s game was originally scheduled for Dec. 19, but had to be postponed due to poor ice conditions at PNC Arena.