In a surprising show of defiance, the NHL Players Association rejected an NHL realignment plan for the 2012-2013 season — but some see this as a bargaining chip in the upcoming CBA talks.
The rejection was surprising because players, when interviewed, didn’t really voice many objections to a drastic — and long overdue — realignment plan spurred by the move of the Atlanta Thrashers to Winnipeg unveiled last month. The plan calls for four conferences and home-and-away series with every other team, with a new league lineup looking like this:
Los Angeles Kings
San Jose Sharks
Columbus Blue Jackets
Chicago Black Hawks
Detroit Red Wings
St. Louis Blues
Tampa Bay Lightning
Toronto Maple Leafs
New Jersey Devils
New York Islanders
New York Rangers
It addressed many political concerns among team owners and managers, creating four conferences split along time zones and kept intact most established rivalries.
In opposing the realignment, union head Don Fehr said players were concerned over increased travel (particularly for Western teams) and the fact that the odds are a little better at making the playoffs for Eastern teams than for Western teams.
“In order to evaluate the effect on travel of the proposed new structure, we requested a draft or sample 2012-13 schedule, showing travel per team,” Fehr said in a statement. “We were advised it was not possible for the league to do that. We also suggested reaching an agreement on scheduling conditions to somewhat alleviate player travel concerns (e.g., the scheduling of more back-to-back games, more difficult and lengthier road trips, number of border crossings, etc.), but the league did not want to enter into such a dialogue.
“The travel estimation data we received from the league indicates that many of the current Pacific and Central teams, that have demanding travel schedules under the current format, could see their travel become even more difficult. On the playoff qualification matter, we suggested discussing ways to eliminate the inherent differences in the proposed realignment, but the league was not willing to do so.”
Indeed, the league issued a pretty pointed statement under Bill Daly‘s name, showing some frustration about talks with the union:
“It is unfortunate that the NHLPA has unreasonably refused to approve a Plan that an overwhelming majority of our Clubs voted to support, and that has received such widespread support from our fans and other members of the hockey community, including Players,” Daly said. “We have now spent the better part of four weeks attempting to satisfy the NHLPAâ€™s purported concerns with the Plan with no success. Because we have already been forced to delay, and as a result are already late in beginning the process of preparing next seasonâ€™s schedule, we have no choice but to abandon our intention to implement the Realignment Plan and modified Playoff Format for next season.
“We believe the Union acted unreasonably in violation of the Leagueâ€™s rights. We intend to evaluate all of our available legal options and to pursue adequate remedies, as appropriate.”
For the future, that is; the current alignment is expected to be maintained for the 2012-2013 season.
Of course, it’s purely a coincidence that talks over a new collective bargaining agreement are slated to begin later this month. Just a coincidence.
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