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Owner Jeff Vinik knows travel will be harder on Tampa Bay Lightning after NHL realignment

UNIONDALE, N.Y. — Lightning owner Jeff Vinik would not reveal whether he voted for or against next season's four-conference realignment.

"I'm not comfortable talking about my vote," he said.

But Vinik on Tuesday acknowledge that for Tampa Bay, the additional travel in a conference with Boston, Buffalo, Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto and Florida is "a definite minus."

The tradeoff, he said, is the league "promised" to make road trips "as efficient as possible."

"I'm confident," Vinik said, "that can be accomplished."

Added league spokesman John Dellapina: "I'm sure our guys will work hard to make the schedule as efficient for the Florida teams as possible."

Vinik, on the league Executive Committee, generally was a good soldier discussing the realignment adopted by the Board of Governors Monday in Pebble Beach, Calif.

He extolled the virtues of being in a conference with three of the Original Six teams — the Maple Leafs, Bruins and Canadiens — and that the intra-division playoff format will promote rivalries.

Vinik likes that every team will visit the St. Pete Times Forum, and said preliminary numbers for next season's travel budget show an increase "virtually insignificant from this year."

The caveat:

"It depends how efficient it is," he said of road trips. "The league is going to do their best to schedule our away games, try to hop from one city to another. They promised to do everything in their power to make that as efficient as possible for our travel."

Even so, it will be much different from when the Southeast Division for the Lightning had quick hops to Washington, Carolina, Florida and Atlanta. Tampa Bay's average travel distance in its new conference is 1,058 miles. The Florida teams and Edmonton are the only teams to top the 1,000-mile mark, Grantland.com reported.

"Any travel wears you down," Tampa Bay coach Guy Boucher said, and added, "Carolina was the closest team to us (other than Florida) and they're not in our conference. We built a rivalry with Washington and they're gone, too. I guess the league has their own agenda and we've got our own. Obviously, when you've got two agendas, they clash."

"It's really weird," C Vinny Lecavalier said. "But they voted on it, so … "

So, Tampa Bay is stuck, though Vinik said he doesn't see it that way.

"I'll go back to the context of the whole league," he said. "A lot was accomplished with this and a lot is great for us, like having all the west coast teams come in every year. Despite the travel we do have very strong conference opponents in terms of interest and rivalries for our fans."

Said general manager Steve Yzerman: "The whole concept, in general, works for the league. But it's not good for us, individually, or Florida. Our travel is going to increase significantly. It's going to make it more difficult and challenging."

MEDICAL MATTERS: C Nate Thompson left the game after the first period with an upper-body injury. There was no postgame update. … D Pavel Kubina (lower body) missed his second straight game. The Lightning, also without D Mattias Ohlund (knees), has another blue-liner nicked. Boucher declined to name the player, but as a precaution Evan Oberg was called up from AHL Norfolk.

ODDS AND ENDS: C Steven Stamkos' assist extended his points streak (five goals, six assists) to eight games, a league best this season. … W Adam Hall played after two games as a healthy scratch. … Oberg and RW Ryan Shannon were scratched.

Damian Cristodero can be reached at cristodero@tampabay.com.

Owner Jeff Vinik knows travel will be harder on Tampa Bay Lightning after NHL realignment 12/06/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, December 6, 2011 11:43pm]
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