The NHL realignment plan still has unbalanced conferences. It still presents a playoff advantage in one conference because there are fewer teams. And yet this time, after careful deliberation through a series of conference calls, the NHLPA has signed off on the drastic realignment that sends the Detroit Red Wings and Columbus Blue Jackets to the East and the Winnipeg Jets into a division that makes geographical sense.
So what was the difference this time around that earned the NHLPA's approval? The league worked much more closely with the players and was better prepared to answer questions about concerns than it was after the last attempt at realignment.
According to Red Wings player rep Niklas Kronwall, the league worked up four mock schedules so players could get a sense of what travel would look like in the new plan. That helped.
"Compared to last year, they didn't have anything really mocked up; that was our concern," Kronwall said when we chatted following Detroit's win over Edmonton on Thursday night. "If [travel] is not going to get much worse, how much worse is it going to be? It was hard to make a call without seeing any numbers whatsoever. This time around we did get to see some numbers. It felt like the league wanted to work with the PA on a completely different level. It wasn't just, Here it is, take it or leave it."
And in very deliberate Donald Fehr-type fashion, the players took it, reviewed it and gave every player an opportunity to have his say through conference calls with player reps. Along the way, they found a counterargument to the notion that the West has a playoff advantage.
"People were saying that Well maybe in the East, maybe you'll have a little bit easier schedule," Kronwall said. "That would make up for the advantage."
It's a fair point when you consider some of the grueling travel for a team like the Vancouver Canucks over the course of the season, compared to teams in the East. And come playoff time, there are Eastern Conference teams that can make it to the Stanley Cup finals without getting on a plane. That's an advantage, and that was considered.
It's not perfect, but it's going to get done and the league can move on. The board of governors must still approve the plan, but that isn't expected to be a hurdle. The biggest hurdle has been cleared. Now the league and the PA can focus on the next issue: getting NHL players in the Olympics. Even though some owners are against it, Kronwall is confident the two sides can successfully work together again to have NHL players in Sochi.
"I think it's going to happen," he said. "I don't see how it's not going to happen, to be honest with you. It's a great opportunity to widen the hockey market even more."
Now on to the Friday mailbag:
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