NHL realignment plan delayed

Updated: January 7, 2012, 12:28 AM ET
ESPN.com news services

NEW YORK -- The NHL called off plans Friday to realign and adopt a modified playoff format next season after the players' association refused to agree to the changes.

The changes were approved in December by the NHL's board of governors, with the league planning to switch from two three-division conferences to four seven- or eight-team conferences.

"It is unfortunate that the NHLPA has unreasonably refused to approve a plan that an overwhelming majority of our clubs voted to support, and that has received such widespread support from our fans and other members of the hockey community, including players," NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly said.

"We have now spent the better part of four weeks attempting to satisfy the NHLPA's purported concerns with the plan with no success. 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."

A source told ESPN.com's Pierre LeBrun a possible next step for the NHL could be to bring a grievance against the NHLPA, if the league feels the players' association unreasonably withheld its consent. If the league wins that grievance, it could unilaterally implement realignment for the 2013-14 season.

Daly told LeBrun the league got the final "thumbs down" from the NHLPA Friday.

NHLPA executive director Don Fehr issued a statement Friday night.

"As realignment affects players' terms and conditions of employment, the CBA requires the league to obtain the NHLPA's consent before implementation," Fehr said. "Over the last month, we have had several discussions with the league and extensive dialogue with players, most recently on an executive board conference call on Jan. 1. Two substantial player concerns emerged: whether the new structure would result in increased and more onerous travel; and the disparity in chances of making the playoffs between the smaller and larger divisions.

"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. 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 ... but the league did not want to enter into such a dialogue."

Last month at the board of governors' meetings in Pebble Beach, Calif., the board gave commissioner Gary Bettman the authority to realign the league from its current six-division format to four conferences of seven or eight teams. However, the NHLPA said it needed to agree on any plan and wanted more details about how it would affect travel, competitive balance and revenues. Daly said at the time that didn't anticipate any issues that would prevent the issues from being resolved in a few weeks.

The impetus for realignment came when the Atlanta franchise moved to Winnipeg, leaving a central Canadian club in a geographically awkward group with Washington, Carolina, Florida and Tampa Bay. The new plan also would have guaranteed home-and-home series for every team.

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.

-- NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly

"Obviously, there's been some conflict as far as the decision-making goes, so eventually, probably going to have to find a common ground, to find some way to make it work," Carolina captain Eric Staal said.

"The way it is now, I don't mind. I think for us, for our team, going into a division against Washington, New York, Pittsburgh, Philly, whatever. The division we were in, it would have been tough."

Teams currently play each division opponent six times per season and non-division teams in their conference four times apiece. That leaves only 18 games against the 15 teams in the other conference.

Under the realignment, the league planned to have two seven-team conferences based in the Eastern time zone: New Jersey, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, New York Rangers, New York Islanders, Washington and Carolina in one and Boston, Montreal, Toronto, Ottawa, Buffalo, Florida and Tampa Bay in the other.

The other two conferences would have had eight teams, with Detroit, Columbus, Nashville, St. Louis, Chicago, Minnesota, Dallas and Winnipeg in one, and Los Angeles, Anaheim, Phoenix, San Jose, Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton and Colorado in the other.

"I was surprised to hear that it didn't go through," New Jersey captain Zach Parise said. "I didn't like the change in the playoff format, so it's not bad for us. But I know some teams are going to be upset with the travel. I personally like it the way it is and didn't want any changes."

Florida player representative Mike Weaver also commented about the move.

"We were prepared for the realignment from the NHL, but we weren't given every bit of information regarding it. How can you make an educated decision without all the proper information?" Weaver said. "We asked for the reasoning and that reasoning was not produced. They were not open to discussions about it.

"As far as travel goes, it's a big important issue. I don't know why the NHL wouldn't make it easier for everyone. More travel means being away from families more. It is going to make it tougher. It's already tough now. I just wish they were fair with us. They didn't want to give us any information about it. We're going to have longer road trips, like 10 days on the road. It's tough enough now and they didn't make it any easier."

Pittsburgh player rep Craig Adams also stressed that the players want more information.

"The issue is that we asked for some documentation to figure out if they had done any travel projections," Adams said. "We wanted to see how it would change the current set up and if it would change financials. Up to this point, they haven't given us any information. We aren't turning it down outright. "We just haven't seen anything from them that convinced us that it's a good idea."

Information from ESPN.com's Pierre LeBrun and The Associated Press was used in this report.

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