Realignment Killed, Future League/Union Problems Coming Up?

The NHL's realignment plan (that we called "basically official" when it was announced) is apparently dead and it's the NHLPA that killed it. From NHL.com:

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.

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There were obviously pros and cons to the realignment plan. What we liked was the renewed focus on rivalries and the fact that each team would play every other team at least twice. Most general managers generally liked the reduced travel. They also liked the plan because it would mean teams would play more games in their own time zone which is good for television start times. We were looking forward to some ridiculous battles with something that resembled the old Patrick Division.

The cons? The cons are why this plan was ultimately rejected.

Pro Hockey Talk lists the reasons why the plan was shut down:

According to ESPN’s Pierre LeBrun, the union was concerned about the extra travel the plan would necessitate, as well as the fairness of the new playoff structure.

The union was willing to keep discussing the issues, but the NHL set a deadline of today for schedule-making purposes. When the deadline arrived and there were still unresolved issues, the union withheld its consent.

The NHLPA issued a statement on the matter as well:

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.

Puck Daddy goes into more details and has more details on the rejection and on the disturbing point that this could be the beginning of future labor unrest:

Basically, the NHLPA felt that this realignment plan was created by and for the owners, and not in the best interests of the players. And when they reached out to attempt to reshape the plan to better serve their interests, that input was rejected, according to one source.

The NHLPA and NHL VP Bill Daly had traded letters for the last month, with the PA telling Larry Brooks of the NY Post as early as Dec. 4 that they had problems with the realignment plan. As late as Jan. 6, the NHLPA offered to meet with the NHL to hash out the realignment plan. The meeting never occurred.

Now, the death of realignment for next season — which will anger several fan bases that celebrated easier schedules and more rivalry-friendly conferences under the new plan — has been pinned on the NHLPA. The NHL fires the first cannon in the public-relations war that'll be waged well into next season, as the two sides battle over the CBA.

As soon as you hear the words "battle over the CBA" you have to consider that there could be bad news ahead. Could the NHL and the NHLPA be heading back down that dangerous road again? Anything's possible with Donald Fehr around.

Michael Russo from the Minnesota StarTribune has more:

Now before you panic, this is the first pawn in a big chess game. The collective bargaining agreement expires before next season. Negotiations are about to begin, according to Gary Bettman, around the All-Star break. You can bet this is just one big piece of leverage NHLPA Executive Director Donald Fehr wasn't going to just give away. You can bet this will be part of the negotiation. I don't buy yet that realignment is dead for next season.

As for the deadline being because of the NHL schedule, bogus! The NHL schedulemaker was able to book Winnipeg into the league in June because there were several drafts of the schedule — just like there could be this time. Don't buy that for a sec either.

NHLPA will issue statement soon, but issues with travel and playoff structure are apparently the union's big concern. The playoff structure, I'm not a fan of either. I don't like how two conference have a 4 out of 7 chance of making the playoffs and two conferences have a 4 out of 8.

Anyway, remember this date, because things are bound to get ugly during the upcoming CBA negotiations. Today was the start.

We could be in for bad times ahead…

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