Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Realignment agreement expected soon

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THE NHL and NHLPA are working to solve the league's alignment issues and a solution should be reached in the coming weeks.

The NHL proposed a realignment plan to its board of governors in December of 2011 and it passed. The NHLPA, however, refused to accept the proposal and the league elected to put it on the backburner until a new CBA could be negotiated.

The proposal would have seen the Jets move to a conference with Chicago, Detroit, Columbus, St. Louis, Nashville, Dallas and Minnesota.

League sources say work is being done with the union to try and forge a new plan. The NHL would like to begin work on its schedule for next season and realignment must be approved before that work can start.

The schedule is also being held up by a decision on NHL player involvement in the 2014 Winter Olympics.

Some teams liked the realignment proposal, however, it wasn't viewed as being all-encompassing. That's what the NHL and NHLPA are striving for.

Expect tweaks to the previous plan but there is one certainty -- Winnipeg will be moved to the West.

BIG BUFF BACK: Jets' head coach Claude Noel would not reveal his starting goaltender or if Zach Bogosian would make his 2013 debut against the Flyers tonight, but he did confirm -- as expected -- that Dustin Byfuglien would be back. Byfuglien missed five games with a "lower-body" injury. Here's Noel on what they missed most in his absence:

"He's a good player in a lot of ways. He's good on the breakout, he gets the puck stopped in the D-zone. He makes really good breakout passes, your forwards really like playing with him because he'll hit at any time. He gets a lot of shots to the net, so you're creating a lot of offence with him out there. He's good on the power play... he's a pretty effective player in a lot of areas. He's a strong man. He's a guy that can get it stopped in the D-zone which helps you in other ways. It helps your positioning a lot better and that's one of the things I think we've missed."

HOW MUCH IS TOO MUCH? Noel has been experimenting with his line combinations since Day 1 of the condensed training camp. Now that Bryan Little is back centering Blake Wheeler and Andrew Ladd and his third line -- Alex Burmistrov between Alexei Ponikarovsky and Kyle Wellwood -- played so well in Ottawa, he wants to let his trios percolate a bit.

"I don't want to get into a merry-go-round with the lines," Noel said. "You've got to allow the lines to find their way a little bit. The Little line has been together in the past and you have to allow them to get back to potentially finding that chemistry again. You've just got to wait and see."

gary.lawless@freepress.mb.ca ed.tait@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 12, 2013 C2

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