- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 7, 2012

SAN JOSE, Calif. — A day after the NHL announced that realignment would be scrapped for the 2012-13 season, the Washington Capitals and San Jose Sharks brushed off the importance of the issue, though many did broach concerns that held up the NHL Players’ Association’s lack of consent.

“It’s one of those things that you want to play in the playoffs, Sharks NHLPA representative Joe Pavelski said. There’s definitely an advantage for the [conferences with seven teams] than for the eight. Travel. There’s probably a few things that need to be worked out still.”

That, and comments from Caps right wing Mike Knuble, mirror what NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr said in announcing the players’ position on not giving consent on realignment. The new format, which the NHL Board of Governors approved on a 26-4 vote in December, would have created two seven-team and two eight-team “conferences” with intra-conference playoffs for two rounds and home-and-home matchups with every team.

At the time, the NHLPA said it would need to approve the new plan, and a league-imposed deadline of early January passed without that approval.

Caps player representative Brooks Laich said, “I’m not worried about [realignment] right now,” and general manager George McPhee declined comment through a team spokesman.

But realignment was nonetheless the hot topic Saturday at HP Pavilion.

“It’s funny because I think the players’ association was clear on a couple things they wanted more — a little more information,” Knuble said. “And I think they all had a deadline when they wanted to agree to all talk about it by, and it didn’t happen. So the players, they went around and saw the players and the players all expressed their concerns.”

The coaches — the Capitals’ Dale Hunter and the Sharks‘ Todd McLellan — didn’t have much to say about the issue, but San Jose general manager Doug Wilson voiced disappointment in the decision to push realignment back.

“When we talked about it, it was something I thought would be great for the fans,” Wilson said. “We’ll see where it goes. We voted on our position, and we did — we thought it would be great for our fans and great for the game.”

For the Caps, it would have meant a Patrick Division reunion of sorts in a conference with the Pittsburgh Penguins, Philadelphia Flyers, New York Rangers, New York Islanders, New Jersey Devils and Carolina Hurricanes.

“Those rivalries are good,” Caps forward Jeff Halpern said. “[But] this team has built a rivalry with Tampa [Bay] in the Southeast Division as well.”

It looks like the Caps will spend another year in the Southeast with the Hurricanes, Tampa Bay Lightning, Florida Panthers and even the Winnipeg Jets. Halpern noted the Jets are “stranded” in the Southeast, but Winnipeg owner Mark Chipman said the team would accept another year of tough travel.

And though the Jets took it well, Knuble was taken aback by some of the uproar over realignment not getting pushed through for next season.

“I find some of the reactions like some executives calling it disgusting and like the world was going to end, I don’t see that,” he said. “I don’t know if that was called for exactly. It’s a work in progress. And for some of them to say like the world’s going to end and it’s disgusting and we’re out of order and stuff, it’s kind of annoying.”

Knuble pointed out that players wanted to see a draft of a possible 2012-13 schedule to decide whether it would make travel more onerous. The Sharks and many other organizations supported the new format because it would have helped current Western Conference teams by at least spreading the travel around to the East.

The Caps would have benefitted from more traditional rivalry games, but no realignment for next season won’t have much of an effect on them travel-wise.

“It looks like for us we’re in a pretty neutral spot no matter which way it goes or whatever happens,” defenseman Karl Alzner said. “I think that for us it’s just take it as it comes.”

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