Dallas Stars fans: put on another pot of coffee and don’t pack away the bathing suits just yet. Your time in the Pacific division isn’t over yet. In a bold, yet very expected move, the National Hockey League Player’s Association rejected the owner’s suggested realignment, thus causing the league to scrap the idea all together for next year.
Donald Fehr, head of the NHLPA (and famed leader of the baseball player strike in the mid-90s) said that because the league failed to provide a sample schedule and what the change would do to the playoff system, the players could not accept the league’s proposal.
Before I “pick a side” in these disputes, I always try to get as much info as I can. Right now, BOTH sides are garbage for reaching this point. Reports are, the NHL hammered out the realignment plan without the players’ input, as the league has pointed out, is not required to do so in the current CBA. However, any change to divisions and playoff structure DOES require players approval before being finalized. This is where the league is in the wrong. They knew the players would have to approve the final product, so why not invite their thoughts? I’ll tell you why. The NHL knew in order for the players to show their initial unity heading into the coming CBA negotiations, they’d have to reject ANY proposed change offered by the league. This makes the NHLPA look bad, therefore, the league comes out looking great in the public perception.
The players knew, however, the most recent Board of Governors meeting in December was going to revolve around realignment. The move to put a franchise back in Winnipeg created a horrific travel schedule for the Jets, having to play Florida, Tampa Bay and Carolina six times, as they took the spot in the Southeast formally held by Atlanta. Why did they not insist on being present for realignment talks? Again, I’ll tell you why. Everything I just mentioned, look at the mirrored reflection of it: the players knew the owners would put together a proposal that the players would reject in order to show a united front. This makes the NHLPA look good cause, like they just said, “We’re the ones who have to travel. We play the games. If you needed to realign, you should have included our opinions.” Plus-one for the NHLPA.
Two things are crystal clear at this stage: One, there will be NO realignment next season. The Jets will continue to have divisional games in southern Florida. The Stars will have games ending at 1:00 AM on the east coast at least fifteen times. Two, the sides of both the NHL and NHLPA have begun their posturing rehearsals when the real CBA dance starts. However, I do have a question about unity, both from the league and the players, and it revolves around the Stars. There is zero doubt the players were for realignment. Stars forward, Steve Ott was elated when the news broke the league approves the new four conference set up. Obviously, the players in Winnipeg are on board with the new set up. So, just how unified is the NHLPA? On the flip side, Stars new owner, Tom Gaglardi had been pushing for realignment well before being approved to buy the team. Plus, he’s the new guy in the fraternity of owners. He’s got a team and a fan base to take care of. He’s already cut ticket prices to put people in seats. A league stoppage would be homicidal to the new owner.
In the end of any contract dispute in sports between the respective league and it’s players, the fans never win. Be it a work stoppage or having to miss 25% of your team’s games cause they don’t start until 9:30-10:00 PM, the fans are left holding the broken pieces. NFL had a shortened training camp and preseason while they finalized their new deal. The NBA lost approximately 1/3 of their season this year. NHL is still the only league to cancel an entire season. As things seem to be going, they’ll be the first to do it again.