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NHLPA Rejection of Realignment Raises Bigger Issue | January

If you’ve ever been flipping through the channels, then you may have come across the prank show Scare Tactics. A show that puts prank victims in the middle of their worst nightmares only to have the actors reveal the prank by asking them, “are you scared?” Then going on to say, “well you shouldn’t be, cause you’re on Scare Tactics!”

It was seven years ago that hockey fans were in the middle of their worst nightmare when the league locked out its’ players and eventually cancelled the 2004-05 season. Now, with the CBA set to expire on September 15 and the league ready to begin negations with the NHLPA soon, an interesting turn of events has taken place that could impact negotiations between the league and the players association.

That turn of events, the NHLPA’s decision to reject plans for conference realignment.

NHLPA Executive Director Donald Fehr cited several concerns about the realignment plan and the lack of transparency. Through a press release, Fehr stated that the concerns centered around whether the new conference realignment would increase and create more onerous travel. He also raised concern regarding the disparity of playoff chances between the small and larger divisions.

According to Fehr, the league was not too accommodating when the players association requested more information.

“In order to evaluate the effect on travel of the proposed new structure, we requested a draft or sample 2012-13 schedule, showing travel per team,” Fehr said in a statement released to the media. “We were advised it was not possible for the League to do that. We also suggested reaching an agreement on scheduling conditions to somewhat alleviate Player travel concerns (e.g., the scheduling of more back-to-back games, more difficult and lengthier road trips, number of border crossings, etc.), but the League did not want to enter into such a dialogue.  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. 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 NHL has a different side to the story. Deputy commissioner Bill Daley called the NHLPA’s decision to refuse to approve the plan “unreasonable.”

"We have now spent the better part of four weeks attempting to satisfy the NHLPA’s purported concerns with the Plan with no success,” Daley said in a statement of his own.  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.  We intend to evaluate all of our available legal options and to pursue adequate remedies, as appropriate."

This is definitely not the way you want to enter CBA negotiations if you’re the NHL or the NHLPA.

The NHL has taken a stronger stance, at least through the message they’re conveying. The threat of legal against the players is one that could be construed as power play move and most likely is. Though what legal action they can take is unclear, it sends a message nonetheless.

The players association seemed to take a softer approach. Airing their grievances, yet still presenting them selves as being open to working with the league on the matter. “We continue to be ready and willing to have further discussions should the League be willing to do so,” Fehr said in the end of his press release.

In hindsight that’s the approach the two sides need to take to resolve the issue. Legal action is not the answer and will only create ill will between the two groups going into CBA talks. A sit down between the two sides to hash out the issues with realignment would be beneficial in two ways; you resolve the issues with the current plan and it would almost be like a practice round for CBA negotiations.

Think of it like the PSAT.

Plus what kind of message does it send to hockey fans across the U.S and Canada? As Yahoo! Sports’s Nick Cotsonika tweeted, “How are the NHL and NHLPA going to agree on a new CBA when they can't agree on what is reasonable under the current one?”

Neither side can afford to mess this up, because it has implications so much bigger than just realignment. The NHL cannot afford another work stoppage and would look horrible if this episode was looked at as the beginning of bad blood between the league and players association.

For hockey fans this may be the way some of their Scare Tactics nightmare scenarios might begin. Except  if things turn sour there will be no actors, camera crew, or the friend who set you up popping out to tell you this was all a prank.

So this whole thing begs the question, are you scared yet?