Why must you make me watch so many Minnesota games?

Just over a month ago, I got excited that the divisions/conferences would get realigned as per the December 5, 2011 announcement by the NHL. More games against teams in the Pacific, home and home games against each team in the league and a new playoff format, among some of the highlights. Now late today, the NHL releases a statement that the NHLPA rejected the proposed realignment and wish to continue with the current format for next season.

Per the NHL:

The National Hockey League announced today that it will not move forward with implementation of the Realignment Plan and modified Playoff Format recently approved by the NHL Board of Governors for the 2012-13 NHL season because the NHLPA has refused to provide its consent.

"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," said NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly.  "We have now spent the better part of four weeks attempting to satisfy the NHLPA’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 season’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 League’s rights.  We intend to evaluate all of our available legal options and to pursue adequate remedies, as appropriate."

As a result of the League’s decision today, the NHL will maintain its current alignment and Playoff Format for the 2012-13 season.

Here is the statement released by Donald Fehr of the NHLPA:

"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."

Their main qualms have to do with:
  • The unbalanced conferences
  • The request for a sample 2012-13 schedule showing travel per team was not addressed by the NHL

But this story has so much more than just the points that they have outlined in their statement.

They are upset that they were not consulted in the process of realignment and per their statement did not seem to have their concerns about the new schedule addressed in a complete fashion by the NHL. But this is also about the NHLPA putting their foot down in a radical plan that the owners thought up. It give them leverage heading into the upcoming CBA negotiations. This is the start of the many public stands that I see them making as we head into the end of this CBA.

During the last CBA renegotiation's, both during the lead up at the end of the CBA and the actual lockout, it got ugly from a PR standpoint for the NHLPA. This seems to be the first move by the NHLPA that tries to show that the NHL is being a bully. And more importantly from the NHLPA is that they won't agree to being just pushed around.

When you issue a statement/press release on a Friday afternoon/night, you do it to make the story die. Because traditionally it would be too late for most publications to write about it and make the info into a story. Happens all the time with polititions, corporations and celebrities. Was there some strategy to this? Or was the strategy coming from the NHL setting the deadline for January 6th? Did they foresee this rejection occurring? Perhaps didn't want a shitstorm of bad press during the Winter Classic, so they set the date for a few days after? Oh maybe.

They say that the deadline of January 6th for the NHLPA to agree to the proposal was set for today because the NHL needs time to create the schedule for next season.


I'm sure they have tons of time, or at least can work hard to get it done in less time than normal. Maybe they can even make two schedules, one for non-realignment and one for realignment, thus giving the NHLPA more time to have their questions addressed. Remember when they were thinking about if they should revamp the schedule when they moved the Thrashers to Winnipeg? They didn't make a big fuss about the schedule tweaks that would have to be made and that was during the summer.

Right now the NHLPA is just saying they can't consent to the proposal now, but say they are willing to further discuss the proposal if the NHL is willing to do the same. That is also just being polite and writing a response that consists of 'screw you, signed NHLPA'. This definitely makes it interesting as we head closer to the All-Star game, which is also the start of when the NHL and NHLPA will begin discussion a new CBA.

Smart move by the NHLPA though from a leverage standpoint heading into CBA talks. This is just one more thing they can say they will agree to when they discuss the new CBA. Why agree to it now when you get nothing for it when you can just agree to it in a couple of months and use it as a bargaining chip?

So for now, the realignment proposal may not be dead forever, but right now it does not look like its going to happen next season. As a fan of what was proposed, that sucks.