Players' wanted say in realignment
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,
Not so fast.
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
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
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
"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.
"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."
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
"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
This has the CBA written all over it, and both sides have taken their