NHL Realignment: Contradictions, Inconsistencies In NHLPA Argument

Just a few more brief thoughts on this weekend's big news...

It's been interesting to see the reaction of the fans this weekend, especially in Dallas, after the NHLPA overwhelmingly voted against the NHL's proposed realignment plan. The Dallas Stars, perhaps more so than any other team in the NHL, would have benefited tremendously from the change of divisional format. The fans especially were looking forward to the change the most, considering how much more dynamic the rivalries would become and how we wouldn't have to deal with as many late starts to games -- like this coming week.

Yet the NHLPA ultimately rejected the plan and the NHL decided there just wasn't enough time to get the issues worked out for next season. While the realignment plan is certainly not dead as many fear, it's just unfortunate we're going to have to wait another season for this to get through.

In the wake of the decision by the union, there has been a wave of critique and analysis over what went wrong and who is to blame. Some are saying that this is nothing more than a power play between the two sides, with the emotions of the fans being used to sway public support. Others are saying that perhaps the NHLPA is being selfish and using this issue as a springboard for attempting to gain leverage for the upcoming CBA negotiations.

On Saturday evening, we talked to Adam Burish -- the team's representative for the NHLPA -- and he had some very interesting things to say as he expanded on why the union voted as they did. After the jump, I want to share some thoughts on what he had to say and why the NHLPA's argument doesn't exactly hold up when put to under the microscope.

First, there was a lot of talk about why the NHL decided to abandon plans for realignment after the union voted it down. We looked at the rules governing the NHL and how the CBA handles any changes to those rules, and some wondered whether the NHLPA had veto power over changes because realignment affected "working conditions" or something similar.

According to NHL VP Bill Daly, who spoke on NHL Home Ice this morning, that's not exactly the case. While there are certainly some questions about the legalities of these big decisions in regards to the CBA, the league feels that it is completely able, legally, to make these changes without any approval of the NHLPA -- and that the NHL would win that decision should it go to arbitration between the league and the union.

What's interesting is that right after the Board of Governors made their decision, the union quickly came out and stated they had their own issues with the plan and that nothing could happen without their approval. These public concerns were quickly ignored, mainly because it was believed the NHL had complete control over these changes without having to consult the union on this matter.

If this was the case, then why did the NHL abandon these plans as soon as the union voted it down?

According to Daly, the league does not want to start a war with the union over realignment as they gear up for CBA negotiations. Why the NHL could have forced these changes upon the NHLPA and the players, no matter what their vote may be, the league decided against this considering they consider their relationship with the union to still remain strong -- even after the disappointments of this weekend.

What's even more interesting is the fact that Daly states the NHL feels very strongly that they would win an arbitration hearing over this matter. He stated that while the NHLPA is certainly within their power of voting against these changes and then refusing to play along should the NHL force the realignment upon them, the CBA states that should the union vote against the changes proposed by the league that the arguments should be just and fair.

In other words, the NHLPA isn't allowed to vote something down just because they want to gain leverage on the league -- especially if they have no good reason to vote against it.

Therein lies the intriguing matter in this whole mess -- is the NHLPA correct in stating their concerns and why they voted this down?

Let's approach the most obvious contradiction in the union's argument first.

According to Burish, the players had major concerns with the amount of travel the league as a whole would have to endure with these changes. While the Dallas Stars, and several other Western teams, were certainly facing better travel arrangements -- travel would be increasing for just about every team in the East and some teams in the West.

This is the price to pay for the travel to become more balanced across the board; teams on the East coast are just going to have to deal with some increases in travel so that other teams, like the Stars, don't have to endure some absolutely hellacious travel over the course of the season.

The players attempted to address this with the NHL, asking for mock schedules and some estimates for travel. The union became frustrated when all they received where were mileage matrices and other charts, and not an actual estimate of what the schedule would look like with the new alignment.

The NHL says that the demands of the union in this matter were impossible to address, especially in regards to a mock schedule. According to Daly -- and you have to believe this is true -- the process of making schedules for the NHL is so complicated and lengthy that it would be not only impossible to get a mock schedule presented to the players, but also completely useless. The NHL must consult every team and factor in event schedules and building conflicts for nearly every single arena, a process that takes months -- there's no way, according to Daly, a mock would have been feasible in a short amount of time.

So, the players are concerned with the increase in travel and want to see what the changes in the schedule would look like. For teams like the Stars, these changes would have been greatly appreciated but as Burish stated -- they have to consider that not everyone on the Stars roster will remain in Dallas for the rest of their careers. This is something that the NHLPA had to think about as a union and this case, this was a concern that flat out wasn't addressed.

Except when you consider the fact that the main reason there would be an increase in travel -- the home and home scheduling for each team in the NHL -- was the one proposed change in the realignment plan that the NHLPA actually thought was great.

"That was something that everyone was excited about, that was the biggest positive throughout everyone that you got to see every team in your building," Burish said on Saturday. "I think eventually the NHL has to get there, I think they will get there but I think that was the biggest point that everybody loved about the whole thing."

So which is it? Either the NHLPA is concerned with the increase in travel schedule or they're ecstatic with the proposed home and home format, where every team hosts each team in the NHL at least once at home. The union cannot have a major issue with travel while also saying how great the home and home schedule will be.

What's more, the NHLPA has actually been petitioning the NHL for a change to the schedule format for a few seasons now, to incorporate this new format.

Now, the union states that their biggest gripe with the plan is with the inconsistencies in the division and the proposed playoff format and they certainly have good reason. The NHL has yet to say exactly how the final two rounds of the playoffs would work and with the "Eastern" divisions having just seven teams each, with the West having eight -- even fans were concerned about how much easier it would be to make the postseason for teams in the East.

As Burish said, it's much easier to make the playoffs when it's four out of seven, instead of four out of eight. That directly affects the likelihood of players making the playoffs in certain situations and considering the additional pay that comes with the postseason, it's understandable that there would be an issue here.

Except for the fact that a) no system is perfect and b) there was no guarantee that this would be the permanent alignment.

The NHLPA has stated that in the proposed change, one team that would make the postseason in one of the east divisions would actually have made the postseason in another -- and that wasn't fair. Yet, in the current two-conference format -- that situation occurs ALL the time, and it happens with teams in the West nearly every season.

The Dallas Stars missed the playoffs last year with 95 points, but easily would have made the postseason if they had been in the East. It happens like that every single season in the NHL, as neither conference is ever built comparably across the board.

Perhaps the players were upset that the West, just like now, would be facing even more problems in regards to difficulty in making the postseason.

If you break all this down, it's obvious that while there were certainly issues with the plan the NHLPA doesn't exactly have the greatest argument against a plan that would obviously have a tremendously positive impact on the league and the fans. While the NHL could have done a better job in some regards in planning and including the union in that process -- especially considering they shut it down as soon as they lost the union's approval -- the NHLPA is likely not going to have much leverage if an arbitrator gets involved on this issue.

The NHLPA is suffering from bad PR right now and many are saying this was all about trying to gain leverage for the new CBA. It's tough to say whether this is the case, especially considering how convinced Burish sounded when talking about his issues with the plan, but the fact remains that the NHLPA has voiced some specific concerns that weren't exactly so bad that it should have led to such an overwhelming vote against the plan.

All that is certain, as we approach some likely heated negotiations, is that the fans are the ones that are going to have to pay.

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