NHL: Realignment plan, modified playoff delayed
NEW YORK (AP) - The NHL called off plans Friday to realign and adopt a modified playoff format next season after the players’ association refused to agree to the changes.
The changes were approved in December by the NHL’s board of governors, with the league planning to switch from two three-division conferences to four seven- or eight-team conferences.
“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,” NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly said.
“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.”
NHLPA Executive Director Don Fehr issued a statement Friday night.
“As realignment affects players’ terms and conditions of employment, the CBA requires the league to obtain the NHLPA’s consent before implementation,” Fehr said. “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 Jan. 1. Two substantial player concerns emerged: whether the new structure would result in increased and more onerous travel; and 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 … but the league did not want to enter into such a dialogue.”
The impetus for realignment came when the Atlanta franchise moved to Winnipeg, leaving a central Canadian club in a geographically awkward group with Washington, Carolina, Florida and Tampa Bay. The new plan also would have guaranteed home-and-home series for every team.
“Obviously, there’s been some conflict as far as the decision-making goes, so eventually, probably going to have to find a common ground, to find some way to make it work,” Carolina captain Eric Staal said.
“The way it is now, I don’t mind. I think for us, for our team, going into a division against Washington, New York, Pittsburgh, Philly, whatever. The division we were in, it would have been tough.”
Teams currently play each division opponent six times per season and non-division teams in their conference four times apiece. That leaves only 18 games against the 15 teams in the other conference.
Under the realignment, the league planned to have two seven-team conferences based in the Eastern time zone: New Jersey, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, New York Rangers, New York Islanders, Washington and Carolina in one and Boston, Montreal, Toronto, Ottawa, Buffalo, Florida and Tampa Bay in the other.
The other two conferences would have had eight teams, with Detroit, Columbus, Nashville, St. Louis, Chicago, Minnesota, Dallas and Winnipeg in one, and Los Angeles, Anaheim, Phoenix, San Jose, Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton and Colorado in the other.
“I was surprised to hear that it didn’t go through,” New Jersey captain Zach Parise said. “I didn’t like the change in the playoff format, so it’s not bad for us. But I know some teams are going to be upset with the travel. I personally like it the way it is and didn’t want any changes.”
Florida player representative Mike Weaver also commented about the move.