NHLPA Approves League's Realignment Plan; Will Be Up For Re-Evaluation Following '14-15
The NHLPA Thursday "signed off on a bold realignment plan" which will see the Red Wings, Blue Jackets and Jets switching conferences but will leave an "imbalance in the league, with 16 teams in the Eastern Conference and just 14 in the West," according to Eric Duhatschek of the GLOBE & MAIL. NHLPA Exec Dir Donald Fehr in a statement said that after "discussions with the union’s executive board, it had given its 'consent to realignment,' but with the proviso that it be re-evaluated following the 2014-15 season." The move also requires approval from the NHL BOG, but that is "viewed as a formality and could be accomplished within a week." Duhatschek reports the NHLPA until now had "objected to the NHL’s realignment proposal for two main reasons -- travel issues and the inequities involved in the playoff format." The NHL previously had wanted to wait to "put the new realignment plan in place until after the 2015-16 season." It now will "just be for two years before it is re-evaluated, which gives the league time to ponder expansion options and the future of unsettled franchises," such as the Coyotes (GLOBE & MAIL, 3/8). In N.Y., Jeff Klein notes the "reshuffling was spurred by complaints from Western Conference teams about the heavy travel." The Canucks, Wild and other teams in the West will "have their travel burdens significantly eased by the new setup" (N.Y. TIMES, 3/8). The move of the Red Wings and Blue Jackets to the Eastern Conference is a "selling point to those teams because they had some of the worst travel and road TV times as the lone Eastern Time Zone teams in the Western Conference" (USA TODAY, 3/8).
BENEFICIAL MOVE FOR SEVERAL TEAMS: The Stars will be placed in the Midwest Division, and team President & CEO Jim Lites said the move is "one of the best things that can happen to us." Lites: "From a competition standpoint, from a cost standpoint, from a player health standpoint, but mostly from the standpoint that this is so much better for our fans." In Dallas, Mike Heika notes the Stars joined the Pacific Division in '98, and the team has "had some great rivalries with the Sharks, Ducks and Kings." However, many of those games "ended in exciting overtime or shootout games past midnight for local viewers." Lites: "It just kills the television ratings, but it’s more than that. A lot of our fans missed some of the most important games in our history." Heika notes this format "pretty much assures" that the Stars will play in the Central time zone "for many years going forward." That is something that "can be added to the list of good things that have happened for Stars fans in the last two years" (DALLAS MORNING NEWS, 3/8). Meanwhile, Blue Jackets President of Hockey Operations John Davidson said of the team's impending move out of the Western Conference, "This just makes common sense." He added, "This is the right thing for our group (of fans) who come to our games, because it’s more of the teams they really want to see." Blue Jackets President Mike Priest: "This is a reward for our fans in many regards. This is a win for our market and our fan base" (COLUMBUS DISPATCH, 3/8).
PICK YOUR BATTLES: ESPN.com's Pierre LeBrun wrote while there were "still reservations among player membership regarding the unbalanced 16/14 split in conferences, it wasn’t worth the fight it would have become." Had the NHLPA "pushed, the league could have had the matter resolved through a systems arbitrator whose decision would have been binding." However, NHL owners "still haven’t consented to participating in the Sochi Olympics next February," and it was "perhaps not worth poking the bear on realignment if your players desperately want to go to Sochi" (ESPN.com, 3/7).