The players had until yesterday to accept or reject the NHL’s plan. They went for the latter, on the following basis, per their executive director’s statement:
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.
As a result, realignment will not happen for at least another season. So, basically, the players are throwing Winnepeg and the Southeast Division under the bus for 2012-13. Thinking of the good of the many at the expense of the fewer, even if that expense is as high as flying across half the continent for a divisional game.
I have to admit this really makes me angry. I’m usually an NHLPA partisan in just about everything, but on this, I’m completely with the NHL and the individual organizations. There was uncommon unity on this issue on the Board of Governors, where only four teams voted against this plan. Even if more teams were uneasy about it, just four of 30 explicitly said “no.” That’s big. And the NHLPA going all Washington, DC on the BoG (“You’re for that? Then I’m against it.”) is not going to help things going forward.
This was not the issue to roll out the big hardline stance guns on, Don Fehr. Olympic participation? Guaranteed contracts? Long term contracts? All of those legitimate. Bringing the League’s structure into the 21st Century in a way that levels the playing field across the board? Not so much.
It’s going to elevate the antagonism between the sides, as the NHL’s statement on the news suggests. Possible legal action? Oh joy. At first glance, the League doesn’t seem to be off base: why wouldn’t it be the owner’s prerogative to settle this question?
There’s a ton of separation between the PA and League on a lot of issues, but this is one that should involve a lot less space. Individual organizations are thrilled and at that level, team interests and player interests can’t be that far off. Right? In a relationship that makes sense, I guess. But this is ridiculous.
Later in the statement, Fehr says,
“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.”
This is some rancid bull. Anyone who can read a map and the NHL’s plan in conjunction knows the real reason behind this element of the objection is current Eastern Conference players. I would be stunned at the stupidity of a Central Division player complaining about having to go West half as much as they used to, for example. This is the PA ironically in sync with the four teams who voted against the plan, widely believed to be Eastern teams.
Then there’s the 7/8 disparity. Yeah, that’s a problem. But the PA should be looking at it this way: a two-team shortfall is an excuse for the NHL to expand, which means two more teams providing more PA jobs and increased membership. Sure they don’t get any of the expansion fee, but this is where the fabled long view comes into play. I know hardly anyone uses it, but this would have been a good opportunity to bust that out.
I’m incredibly disappointed by this. For one thing, it’s a PR win for the League on an issue that should have been a slam dunk for everyone. Instead, the NHL comes off as the reasonable side, because, well, in this case it is. Realignment makes sense in a world where Winnepeg is in the Southeast of anything but Manitoba. And that plan had a lot going for it. Neither of the PA’s reasons in and of themselves constitute grounds for shooting it down, it seems to me. But the PA’s always sucked at the PR side of this relationship. Witness how many people still call the Lockout a strike.
Anyway, I was very much looking forward to next season and particularly the playoffs, with that format promising to be, frankly, awesome. Now who knows what kind of realignment we’ll get. If the legal avenues for the League don’t pan out and they’re forced to dialog with the PA on this, we could very well end up with some kind of pedestrian 1-for-1 replacement of Winnepeg with another team, with the status quo on the playoffs (though a swap is not something the NHL would go for). How exciting.
Wyshynski has more on the mechanics of this move by the PA. The aggrieved party being left out of the planning process stuff annoys me even more. I’m not entirely sure I see a place for the players in the planning of realignment, per se.