One of the most highly anticipated issues that the NHL and NHL Players’ Association still have to work out is when and how realignment will occur. NHLPA Executive Director Donald Fehr told the New York Post’s Larry Brooks that he expects to meet with the league this week to discuss the issue.
A year ago, the NHLPA rejected the league’s radical realignment plan that would have shifted teams into four unbalanced conferences, largely because the players weren’t consulted in the creation of it.
So as the two sides prepare to tackle realignment once again, Capitals NHLPA representative Jason Chimera said the players simply want a voice in the process.
“That’s all you ever want. As a player, when you play hockey you want a voice, you want to, you know, voice your opinions,” Chimera said. “They realigned everything without our consent, so that was the biggest thing. I think it’s supposed to be a partnership and you want to have some say in some things and they just kind of threw it at us and said, ‘Here it is.’ And we didn’t have no say in it, so I think they’re working together on it now, which is good, and I think – you know, everything, like you said, this game we should be building things together now.”
Some of the players’ main concerns last year were that the conferences were unbalanced, creating an easier path to the postseason for some and a tougher one for others.
They also believed it would lead to even more lopsided travel schedules for some teams. For example, under the league’s plan last year, Winnipeg would have to cross the United States-Canada border for each game in its conference and Tampa Bay and Florida would be facing three-hour flights to face opponents that currently are in the Northeast Division.
“We’re certainly prepared to work with the league on realignment,” Fehr told the New York Post. “If they present the same type of four-conference structure but have the information for us to review regarding scheduling and travel, and have a different playoff format that can ameliorate our concerns in that area, we’ll take it from there.”
Chimera said that the NHLPA’s biggest goal is to get a travel schedule that is as balanced as possible for all teams.
“Especially in the West, I played in the West for a bit there. 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, so you want to get that – 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.”
While it’s unknown how realignment will ultimately play out, it seems likely that Winnipeg, which is playing its second year in the Southeast Division, will shift into a conference or division with more Western teams. It’s also possible that teams that have long lobbied for more games in the Eastern Time Zone, like Detroit, Columbus or Nashville, could get their wish.