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January 6, 2012 | 9:02pm ET
Players' wanted say in realignment process
 The NHLPA was willing to move forward with a realignment plan, but were shut out by the League, sources say.

TORONTO, ON -- About a month ago, during the NHL's Board of Governors' meetings in Pebble Beach, California, a plan was put into motion that would change the landscape of the NHL.

It seemed simple enough. The League would take its six divisions and group them into four separate conferences. It looked decent on paper. Yes, some teams would still end up traveling more than they already do, but it appeared to be good for the NHL, as a whole.

Not bad. Good news. Right? Especially heading into CBA negotiations, right?

Not so fast.

It turns out the NHLPA wasn't overly fond with the idea.

In fact, in speaking with several players in both the Eastern and Western Conferences (the current ones), nobody seemed overly enthused or excited about the whole concept.

Am I surprised the plan was rejected? No. Actually, it wasn't even formally rejected, according to a source close to the situation.

The NHLPA had three major issues with the entire plan.

Let me clarify... the plan wasn't exactly the problem. The way the NHL went about making its decision proved to be a serious matter for the Players' Association.

When the NHL came up with the idea of realigning its 30 clubs, they informed the PA that they would be creating an action plan and they'd get back to them when the time was right.

That didn't exactly sit well with the Players (Issue 1). They wanted to be involved in the decision process, and voiced their concern, but the NHL turned them down. Thanks, but no thanks.

Once the League came up with its four conference concept, which was approved by the BOG, they presented the PA with the plan and waited for their authorization... their approval, if you will, which they appear to be entitled to.

Enter Issue 2.

Upon reviewing the idea, the NHLPA voiced several questions and concerns. The most intriguing was the players' disappointment with the idea that there would be an uneven, and unfair, opportunity to make the playoffs. Keep in mind, two conferences would have seven teams and two would have eight... expansion notwithstanding (and that's still about five years away from entering the conversation).

It makes sense, and it echoes some of the skepticism I heard in the voices of some of the guys I spoke with weeks ago.

But that wasn't the only problem the union had with what they saw. Travel posed another great concern (Issue 3).

And I'm not talking about jumping on a plane and flying across the continent. Their concern revolved around the length of their road trips. They asked the League for data on how this might affect travel schedule, but were refused. The PA then asked for a draft schedule -- a rough idea of what the 2012-13 campaign would look like -- but that request was also denied.

At this point in the discussions, the NHL imposed a Jan. 6 deadline. Take it as it is, or the League would consider it a rejection of the plan.

Sources say the PA responded delicately, asking the PA to work with them on certain issues. They appeared to be willing to move ahead with some sort of realignment, once their concerns were eased -- and there were others aside from these major three.

What happens now is a bit of a mystery. There's obvious disappointment on both ends, and this will undoubtedly factor into the upcoming CBA talks, which are expected to commence in Ottawa during the 2012 NHL All-Star Game.

"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," NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly said in a statement.

Strong words.

"We believe the union acted unreasonably in violation of the League's rights. We intend to evaluate all of our available legal options and to pursue adequate remedies, as appropriate."

Stronger words.

Did I say "this will undoubtedly factor into the upcoming CBA talks?" Correction, it already has.

Buckle up, folks. This is only the beginning.

UPDATE: 9:49pm ET

NHLPA Executive Director Don Fehr released a statement by regarding today's events:

"On the evening of December 5, 2011, the NHL informed the NHLPA that they proposed to put in place a four-conference format beginning with the 2012-13 season. As realignment affects Players' terms and conditions of employment, the CBA requires the League to obtain the NHLPA's consent before implementation. Over the last month, we have had several discussions with the League and extensive dialogue with Players, most recently on an Executive Board conference call on January 1. Two substantial Player concerns emerged: (1) whether the new structure would result in increased and more onerous travel; and (2) the disparity in chances of making the playoffs between the smaller and larger divisions.

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. 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.

The League set a deadline of January 6, 2012 for the NHLPA to provide its consent to the NHL's proposal. Players' questions about travel and concerns about the playoff format have not been sufficiently addressed; as such, we are not able to provide our consent to the proposal at this time. We continue to be ready and willing to have further discussions should the League be willing to do so."

At the same time this was released, Daly responded to me regarding some of the NHLPA's concerns.

"In short, we don't believe they had any legitimate justification for denying consent to the Realignment Plan," he wrote in an email. "This was all about the Union insisting on a right it did not bargain for and did not have under our CBA."

Undoubtedly factor into the upcoming CBA talks... I really said that?

This has the CBA written all over it, and both sides have taken their stand.

Game on.

David Pagnotta is the Editor-in-Chief of and The Fourth Period Magazine. Follow him on Twitter.



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