“Oh no….NOT AGAIN!”
That had to be the response of the whole hockey world when it was announced that the NHLPA had refused consent to the NHL’s Realignment plan. Returning visions of 2004…the rhetoric, the posturing, and the lock out must have some to mind.
Some would say that when the NHL couldn’t get the Players’ Association to buy into the new 4 Conference plan, and playoff format, it signalled the beginning of the negotiations between the two sides for the next Collective Bargaining Agreement. Others have suggested, that it reflected a meek attempt by the NHL to re-align the league, when there was little need the change the format instead of just moving a team or two from West to East.
In any event, it has created a small buzz around the league and perhaps has polarized observers and given us a preview to the Gary Bettman vs. Donald Fehr showdown that appears inevitable.
The players claim that the onerous travel would hurt playing conditions for union members, and the new playoff format would give players in the seven-team conferences an unfair advantage for playoff opportunities. I understand the playoff implications, but there has to be a bit of scepticism on the travel debate.
While I have not done a ton of analysis on the more balanced schedule approach, at first glance it probably evened the misery of travel for all teams. While helping clubs like Dallas, Minnesota, Winnipeg and Detroit, it definitely would punish both Florida and Tampa for living so far from the Northeast.
Regarding the League’s point of creating a January deadline for a PA decision, because of scheduling needs, I think if these changes were that important to the NHL, they could have talked for a few more weeks before shutting the door on the plan for next year.
On HOCKEYCENTRAL last Friday, NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly told us that the Union had in fact been approach in October to weigh in on the topic, to no avail. Opinions from both suggest the beginning of a Cold War.
One Manager told me, “Typical of Fehr, and his negotiating style”, while another said “If Gary wasn’t going to get his way, he didn’t want to waste anyone’s time”. Tag those comments on to those of someone sympathetic to the players, who told me “All Donald wanted to do, was be part of the process, long before October and long before the Board meeting in December”, and you get a sense of what we might be seeing over the next few months.
Truth be told, the League and Players Association have been in constant dialogue on many contentious issues for the past few months. Among the topics are escrow, supplemental discipline and concussions.
This realignment story is the first that has really become public, because the league wanted it to become public. Perhaps it’s a glimpse of the style of negotiations we will witness over the next few months, but I suspect not.
We can only hope that both sides understand the angst of hockey fans that worry more about wins, losses, goals and assists, than they do about Hockey Related Revenue, escrow and the Salary Cap.
Please, Don. Please, Gary….Not Again.