- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 12, 2013

SUNRISE, Fla. — Expect NHL realignment to be a topic of conversation again this week at the Board of Governors meeting in Toronto. The league would like to pass changes to go into effect for the 2013-14 season.

It’s uncertain whether the radical, four-conference format that owners tried to implement for this season will remain the plan. The NHL Players’ Association withheld consent on that because of concerns about travel and uneven odds to make the playoffs.

“I think it’s supposed to be a partnership and you want to have some say in some things, and [the owners] just kind of threw it at us and said, ‘Here it is,’” Washington Capitals NHLPA representative Jason Chimera said. “And we didn’t have any say in it. So I think they’re working together on it now, which is good, and I think this game, we should be building things together now. And for realignment, it’s important to work together on it, too.”

Under the NHL’s proposal, the Caps would have been in a group with the Carolina Hurricanes and former Patrick Division rivals the Pittsburgh Penguins, Philadelphia Flyers, New York Rangers, New York Islanders and New Jersey Devils.

The issue in a 30-team league with four “conferences” is that some teams would have had an easier path to the playoffs.

Travel was also cited as a concern; Chimera said the Winnipeg Jets having to cross the border from Canada for every division game was not acceptable.

“They’re at airports all night and it wouldn’t be fair to that team to put them through that and give them a disadvantage,” Chimera said.

At the very least, the NHL must move the Jets out of the Southeast Division, a hardship on that team because of travel and a lack of games against geographic rivals.

Even if it’s a simple one-for-one switch that moves Winnipeg to the Western Conference, several teams would like to take its spot in the East, where travel is astronomically easier. The Columbus Blue Jackets, Detroit Red Wings and Nashville Predators are the most likely candidates.

Chimera knows all about the difference in travel from playing for the Edmonton Oilers and Blue Jackets in the Western Conference before joining the Caps in the East.

“In Columbus, it seemed like you were jumping time zones every time. East you don’t get that as much,” Chimera said. “It’s almost ridiculous how much some teams travel way more than others. … The league is so strong now, every game is such a big game and you want to have that competitive balance. And you don’t want to have one team have an advantage just because of travel.”

Fehr’s opportunity

With Marcus Johansson out of the Caps lineup, there’s opportunity for someone to step up into a power-play role. Eric Fehr already got a promotion to the third line and hopes to continue to make the most out of his minutes.

“Every player wants more minutes, obviously,” Fehr said. “I want to prove that I’m useful on the ice and I want to create a lot of opportunities offensively and find a way to get on the power play and help the team in that way.”

Fehr has been participating in power-play meetings and considers himself a “power-play guy.”

“I’ve got to show that I can be offensive five-on-five to find my way onto the power play,” he said. “I’ve got to do what I can with what I’ve been given. When I’m on the ice, I’ve got to try to create offense. Obviously the season didn’t start the way I wanted it to offensively, but I’ve just got to find a way.”

Laich doesn’t skate

Brooks Laich (groin) did off-ice workouts Tuesday at BB&T Center but did not skate with his Caps teammates before their game against the Florida Panthers. There’s no timetable on the forward making his season debut.

Asked for an update, coach Adam Oates said: “I was focused into the game-day routine, so I don’t have one right now.”

The next step for Laich is being cleared for contact. So far the regimen has included off-ice stretches and skating to test the groin injury.



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