When the NHL’s realignment plan was approved by the Board of Governors in December, the Capitals appeared to be one of teams that would greatly benefit from the proposed changes. They would be able to rekindle old Patrick Division rivalries, have an easier division travel schedule, face each team twice a year and would be in one of the smaller, seven-team conferences.
The NHLPA’s refusal to give its consent for the current plan because of uncertainty about whether the new structure would result in more strenuous travel and an uneven opportunity to make the playoffs between the two seven-team and two eight-team conferences resulted in the league opting to delay the plan.
Members of both the Capitals and Sharks said that the players want to be more involved in the process of sorting out a realignment plan and a new playoff structure.
“It’s a tough situation when the board of governors votes on something and there’s 700 guys that are involved but weren’t communicated with,” Jason Chimera said. “I think a lot of guys on different teams spoke their opinions and I don’t think it’s the end of the discussion... There’s a lot of good things about realignment, but for now I think guys want to learn more about it. We didn’t have much information and say on the whole thing.”
Chimera brought up the fact that while the Capitals may have been winners with the proposed plan, other teams were not necessarily in the same boat. He brought up Winnipeg, which, despite being in a more geographically-friendly conference, would still have to go through customs on every trip for a divisional game as the lone Canadian team in the group, and Florida and Tampa, which would be traveling to face northeastern teams Ottawa, Boston, Buffalo, Montreal and Toronto for their divisional matchups.
“The travel would have been big for a lot of teams, would have changed things,” Mike Knuble said. “We just wanted to request more information – show us a schedule what the schedule might look like and how the teams might be run around the country. It’s a lot of time and a lot of grind, the season’s a grind enough was it going to add a lot more? It might have.”
Neither General Manager George McPhee nor Washington’s NHLPA player representative Brooks Laich wanted to comment on the matter. San Jose’s player representative Joe Pavelski did, however.
“I think playoffs was big. It’s why we play the game,” Pavelski said. “There’s definitely an advantage four to seven, four to eight.”
Across the hockey world, many have portrayed the lack of an agreement on realignment as a precursor of what may be to come with the labor negotiations that will begin soon between the league and players’ association. The NHL’s current CBA expires on Sept. 15, 2012.
“I want to make sure we play hockey next year. I think that’s first and foremost the most important thing,” Sharks defenseman Dan Boyle said. “Realignment is secondary to that. I went through it last time and nobody comes out winning. Hopefully we’ll get it figured out.”
Even with the delay, the players believe realignment will eventually take place at some point – with more of the players’ input.
“I wouldn’t say it’s dead, probably just dead for now,” Knuble said. “I find some of the reactions — like some executives calling it disgusting, like the world was going to end — I don’t see that. I don’t know if that was called for exactly. It’s a work in progress.”