Updated 10:06 p.m.: The NHL announced Friday night that it will not go through with the realignment plan that was recently approved by the Board of Governors for the 2012-13 season because the players’ association would not give its consent.
According to a statement released by NHLPA Director Don Fehr, the players did not agree to realignment because questions about the proposed playoff format and excessive travel were not sufficiently addressed by the league..
This means that the NHL will maintain its current configuration and playoff format – with six divisions and where the top eight teams in each conference reach the postseason – for the 2012-13 campaign.
“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 in a news release.
The players had two primary concerns according to Fehr: Whether the proposed realignment would create more strenuous travel schedules and the unequal opportunity to make the playoffs. With two seven-team conferences and two eight-team conferences the teams in the smaller groups would have a better chance — 57 percent as opposed to 50 — of making the playoffs.
“The travel estimation data we received from the League indicates that many of the current Pacific and Central teams, that have demanding travel schedules under the current format, could see their travel become even more difficult,” Fehr said in a news release. “On the playoff qualification matter, we suggested discussing ways to eliminate the inherent differences in the proposed realignment, but the League was not willing to do so.”
The league set Friday as a deadline for the players’ association to provide its consent to the new structure, when it did not the NHL opted to delay the plan.
“We have now spent the better part of four weeks attempting to satisfy the NHLPA’s purported concerns with the Plan with no success,” Daly said. “Because we have already been forced to delay, and as a result are already late in beginning the process of preparing next season’s schedule, we have no choice but to abandon our intention to implement the Realignment Plan and modified Playoff Format for next season.
“We believe the Union acted unreasonably in violation of the League’s rights,” Daly said. “We intend to evaluate all of our available legal options and to pursue adequate remedies, as appropriate.”
The NHLPA’s refusal to reach an agreement on realignment comes in the midst of the final season under the league’s current collective bargaining agreement, which is set to expire on Sept. 15, 2012.
While neither side wants a work stoppage like the one that erased the entire 2004-05 season, that doesn’t mean the negotiations for a new CBA will be easy and realignment can now be added to a long list of items that will need to be worked out.
The league’s decision to keep the current alignment for 2012-13 means the Capitals will remain in a Southeast Division that includes the Winnipeg Jets. The additional travel impacts all teams in the division, no more than the Jets themselves which fly more than 22,000 extra miles than the franchise did as the Atlanta Thrashers.
For the Capitals, a round trip flight from Dulles International Airport to Winnipeg is 2,460 miles. While the Capitals don’t always go directly to face the Jets from home, they will tack on more travel mileage for divisional play than they would have with the proposed realignment plan.
According to the realignment plan that was blocked by the players’ association, Washington would have played in a seven-team conference with the Penguins, Flyers, Rangers, Islanders, Devils and Hurricanes. It was a move that was viewed as allowing the Capitals to rekindle some of their old Patrick Division rivalries.