SBD/January 9, 2012/Leagues and Governing Bodies

NHLPA Says No To Realignment Plan, Citing Questions Over Travel, Playoff Structure

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Fehr in a statement said NHLPA is ready and willing to have further discussions
The NHL announced Friday that it will not move forward with the implementation of the realignment plan and modified playoff format approved last month by the NHL BOG for the '12-13 season because the NHLPA refused to provide its consent. The league will maintain its current alignment and playoff format for the '12-13 season. Following the NHL's announcement, NHLPA Exec Dir Donald Fehr issued a statement that said, "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 but the League did not want to enter into such a dialogue." Fehr continued, "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. ... We continue to be ready and willing to have further discussions should the League be willing to do so" (THE DAILY). NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly said, “The travel issue is not really an issue at all. We put them in touch with (NHL VP/Scheduling, Research & Operations) Steve Hatze-Petros, who believes, given the new matrix, he can actually make travel more efficient.” Daly said there are "always going to be inequities in a playoff format.” Daly: “There’s no system that’s perfect. My concern is that those stated concerns were really just pretext for denying consent because the players’ association felt this was an issue that should be addressed in the broader collective bargaining negotiations that are about to take place...” He added the NHL could have implemented some of these initiatives if they wanted and see if the players took legal action. Daly said the league "discussed that internally and quite frankly, we don’t want to be in a situation where we declare war” on the NHLPA “six months out" from a new CBA. Daly: “We may or may not pursue our legal remedies. We certainly think we have rights that have been violated here and it’s possible we may pursue a grievance, but we did not want to act unilaterally” ("Hockey Central," Sportsnet, 1/6).

BREAKING DOWN THE ISSUES: USA TODAY's Kevin Allen notes the NHLPA "had proposed a wild-card playoff during the first round as a way to address its concern about uneven conferences in the NHL's proposed realignment." That information was included in an e-mail from NHLPA General Counsel Don Zavelo to Daly "explaining why the players wouldn't sign off on realignment." Zavelo wrote in the e-mail, "There are several ways to resolve this issue, including the incorporation of 'wild-card' teams into round one without adding any additional games" (USA TODAY, 1/9). The CBC's Elliotte Friedman reported the NHL did provide the NHLPA a partial schedule for the Canucks in '12-13. Only about 60 games were on the schedule, and "that's what the players association didn't like, the early look at the Vancouver schedule." Friedman: "I would love to see the NHL come back to the players tomorrow and say, 'Look, we'll work out a four-versus-five one-game or two-out-of-three playoff in each conference. What do you think of that?'" The players' "biggest issue is the playoff structure" ("HNIC," CBC, 1/7). In Columbus, Aaron Portzline asked, "Why not settle the final two spots in each conference with a wild card? Well, that would ruin the NHL’s plan -- driven by TV executives -- to have series in the first two rounds of the playoffs played within the conferences" (COLUMBUS DISPATCH, 1/8).

Chipman was surprised and disappointed at
prospect of Jets remaining in Southeast division

TEAM EXECS DISAPPOINTED: In Winnipeg, Adam Wazny noted Jets co-Owner Mark Chipman "was 'surprised' and 'disappointed' at the prospects of remaining in the NHL's Southeast division next season, but said it won't be a huge burden" for his team. The Jets were slated to move to a conference with other teams in the Central Time Zone under the plan, but Chipman said that the NHL "did ask the Jets to prepare for the possibility of having to stay in the Southeast for another year." He added, "I think (realignment) is something that will occur in due course. I was disappointed because I was looking forward to that alignment next year and playing those teams, but we're in this for the long haul" (WINNIPEG FREE PRESS, 1/8). Chipman added, "I suppose I could stomp my feet and say that’s not fair, but one thing I learned about this business a long time ago is you’re only as good as we are collectively in operating this business. I don’t think that taking another year in the Southeast is that burdensome" (WINNIPEG SUN, 1/8). In Minneapolis, Michael Russo noted Wild Owner Craig Leipold was "disappointed" by the NHLPA's decision. Leipold wrote in an e-mail, "To say I am disappointed in the actions of the NHLPA to deny consent to implement realignment for next season is an understatement. ... It appears everyone wanted this to happen except the leaders of the players union" (Minneapolis STAR TRIBUNE, 1/7). Stars President Jim Lites said, "It's depressing. I know fans overwhelmingly want this. We fought for this for years, and now to have it there and delayed for reasons that don't make any sense to me, I don't get it" (ESPNDALLAS.com, 1/6). Red Wings Senior VP & GM Ken Holland said, "I'm disappointed with the news, but it's not in our hands. I will say, when I left the board of governor's meetings, [NHL Commissioner] Gary Bettman made it very clear, I think we all understood, that he was going to approach the union and he wanted the union to sign off" (DETROIT NEWS, 1/8). Many players over the weeked also spoke out on the decision by the union not to approve the realignment plan.

THE BLAME GAME: The GLOBE & MAIL's James Mirtle writes fans and media for the most part "spent the weekend teeing off on the NHLPA’s position, questioning the union’s motives and deriding the players’ concerns over travel and the fairness of uneven conferences when it came to the postseason." A Globe & Mail poll indicated that 82% of readers "opposed the NHLPA’s position as of late Sunday, evidence of just how strong fan support had been for the proposal" (GLOBE & MAIL, 1/9). In N.Y., Larry Brooks wrote the NHL has "gone out of its way to manufacture the perception of a crisis with its unilateral decision to abandon realignment for next year while simultaneously launching an attack on the NHLPA for the union’s refusal to approve the plan without receiving the information it is entitled to." What is "clear though, after the league pulled the plug, is the reflex of so many within the media as well as the NHL’s fan base to throw the first stones at labor regardless of the facts." Brooks: "What employee, given the contractual right to approve changes in working conditions, would simply waive it under pressure from his or her employer to meet an artificially imposed deadline?" (N.Y. POST, 1/8). SPORTSNET.com's John Shannon wrote the realignment story "is the first that has really become public, because the league wanted it to become public." Shannon: "Perhaps it's a glimpse of the style of negotiations we will witness over the next few months, but I suspect not" (SPORTSNET.com, 1/8). The NATIONAL POST's Bruce Arthur writes, "The easy suspicion here would be to heap blame on the players for scotching a plan that seemed like a relatively reasonable solution to the less-than-settled puzzle that is the modern NHL." But when the plan "was agreed upon, Daly and Bettman downplayed the need to seek consultation from the players, since this was clearly a league decision" (NATIONAL POST, 1/9).

SOUND THE ALARMS?
In Toronto, Damien Cox wrote, "Clearly we’re into a CBA negotiation environment now, and with new NHLPA head Don Fehr looking to establish a new attitude and philosophy after the disastrous internal infighting that followed the last lockout seven years ago, relations between the league and the union are already off to [a] rocky start." The stalemate on realignment "is the first concrete piece of evidence that suggests the working relationship isn’t particularly positive or constructive." Scuttling the realignment plan "puts a dark cloud over the relationship between the league and union at a time when hockey fans don’t want to hear of the possibility the NHL may shut down again" (TORONTO STAR, 1/7). In Winnipeg, Ted Wyman wrote, "This is really a shot across the bow from a group that is fixing for a fight." It is a "clear indication that CBA negotiations are not going to be easy and concerns about a potential lockout are only going to grow" (WINNIPEG SUN, 1/8). In Montreal, Red Fisher writes under the header, "NHLPA's Rejection Of Realignment A Precursor To Tense Negotiations." Fisher: "What we have here is the opening salvo by the NHLPA, which is certain to become a tug of war between Bettman and Fehr" (Montreal GAZETTE, 1/9). The CBC's Glenn Healy said, “It’s not about travel. … Call a spade a shovel. This is about collective bargaining. Don wants more of a voice and it’s just setting the table for what’s going to happen in six months.” The Calgary Sun’s Eric Francis said, “This is just posturing. This is just kicking off what we’re going to see for the next six, eight, 10, 12 months. … This was a very bad day for hockey yesterday when this first salvo was fired” (“HNIC,” CBC, 1/7). YAHOO SPORTS' Nicholas Cotsonika wrote, "This is about power, procedure and posturing, and this was the first shot of the larger war -- a war fans can only hope won't include yet another nuclear winter without hockey" (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 1/7). NESN's Gord Kluzak said, "This is a shot across the bow to the owners. It seems like a relatively minor thing. ... But I have to believe the NHL has done so well over the last few years despite what has been a very bad national economy that I would guess that cooler heads will prevail and they will get something done” (“NESN Daily,” NESN, 1/7).
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