There’s a good chance the NHL will experience the same type of labor troubles the NBA and NFL went through last year when their collective bargaining agreements expired. The National Hockey League recently announced a major realignment scheme for next season, but the NHL Players Association (NHLPA) shot it down on Jan 6 and it could be a sign of things to come since their CBA runs out on Sept. 15.
The last time the union and league went to war over the bargaining agreement the entire 2004-05 NHL season was lost. After the NHLPA said it didn’t agree to the realignment the league had no choice but to announce the 2012-13 realignment and new playoff format had been delayed. The NHL said the majority of its 30 teams voted for the changes, but the NHLPA unreasonably refused to give its approval even though fans and players alike appeared to be in favor of it.
But according to the union, the players aren’t in favour of realignment because two of the conferences will have seven teams and the other two conferences will have eight teams. They feel it will be easier for teams in the smaller conferences to make the playoffs and there are also travel concerns when playing non-conference games.
The players’ union has a new boss in Donald Fehr and this will be his first time at the negotiating table with the NHL. He said the players have competition and travel concerns and that’s why the union refused to go along with the proposal at this moment. Fehr said the players have many questions regarding the amount of travel, days off, later flights, and unfair competition advantages for some teams.
The league announced plans for realignment late last year and it was mainly done to accommodate the Winnipeg Jets. The Jets re-joined the league this season after the franchise moved from Atlanta. However, the team was placed in the Eastern Conference in the Southeast Division even though it’s based in a western time zone. Realignment would have seen the Jets placed in a western conference while Detroit, which is currently in the West Conference, would be moved back to the east.
The simple solution would appear to be just swapping places between Winnipeg and Detroit. This scenario may be addressed when the union and league begin talks in late January. Things might not get off to a good start though since the league said the union acted unreasonably and is exploring legal avenues to see what can be done about it.
Craig Adams, the NHLPA representative of the Pittsburgh Penguins said the union asked the league if any studies were done regarding the amount and cost of travel in the new format, but no information was given by the NHL. He said the league basically hasn’t proven that realignment and a new playoff format is any better than what’s in place now. Adams added that if the league can prove things will be better then the union might agree to the changes in the future.
However, the league said things will have to remain the same for next season since the schedule and teams’ travel arrangements need to be worked out well ahead of time.