(Updated at 9:01 p.m. CST)
This one is personal. I am in love with the National Hockey League Players Association tonight. Even though I still believe that the NHLPA and the league’s owners will eventually agree on realignment for next season, I’m in heaven on this beautiful Friday night.
Now, as I said, this one is personal. Later this month, I will once again head to Tampa and Sunrise to follow the Winnipeg Jets through sunny Florida. My daughter — suddenly a huge Jets fan again — lives in Orlando, about 57 minutes down Hwy. 4 from the front door of the St. Pete Times Forum in Tampa. When I’m in Florida, I feel at home. I’m in love with the beaches, the restaurants, the smooth jazz, the Orlando Airport, the warm breezes, the ballparks, the three NFL teams, the House of Blues, the occasional hurricane and even ol’ Mickey Mouse himself.
I was in heaven this year when the Atlanta Thrashers moved to Winnipeg, not just because Winnipeg got an NHL team back, but because the league said it would keep the Jets in the Southeast Division for one more season.
Now, I’m not crazy. I knew it wouldn’t last. The league couldn’t leave the Jets in the Southeast. From the moment Winnipeg entered the league, we all knew that realignment was coming and when the board of governors voted 26-4 to accept the plan that put the Jets in a eight-team "conference" that included Columbus, Detroit, Chicago, Nashville, Minnesota, St. Louis and Dallas, I wasn’t necessarily happy, but I certainly understood. It made sense. Most of the teams were in the Central Time Zone and from a "rivals" standpoint, having Winnipeg back in the old Norris Division (with an extended family) was an intelligent and financially sound decision.
And then came Friday night. This was the statement that arrived in my email box from the National Hockey League’s deputy commissioner Bill Daly:
"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.
"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."
Oh thank you, gods of hockey. The league went on to say it would stick to its current alignment with six divisions and with the top eight teams in each conference making the playoffs for the 2012-13 season.
Now the Players Association (which really should be called The National Hockey League Agents Association if you want to be precise) claimed it didn’t refuse any plan. The agents said that the league imposed a deadline, the deadline was Friday and the NHLPA simply wasn’t ready at the deadline.
Frankly, I don’t care. The league and the agents association can fight amongst themselves for eternity (just so long as they ratify a new collective bargaining agreement by Sept. 15, but that’s another column for another day) for all I give a crap.
The Jets are going back to Florida three times in 2012-13. Walt Disney World, here I come.
* * *
At 8:50 p.m. CST, the following statement arrived from the National Hockey League Players Association:
“On the evening of December 5, 2011, the NHL informed the NHLPA that they proposed to put in place a four-conference format beginning with the 2012-13 season. As realignment affects Players’ terms and conditions of employment, the CBA requires the League to obtain the NHLPA’s consent before implementation. 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 January 1. Two substantial Player concerns emerged: (1) whether the new structure would result in increased and more onerous travel; and (2) 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 (e.g., the scheduling of more back-to-back games, more difficult and lengthier road trips, number of border crossings, etc.), but the League did not want to enter into such a dialogue.
“The travel estimation data we received from the League indicates that many of the current Pacific and Central teams, that have demanding travel schedules under the current format, could see their travel become even more difficult. On the playoff qualification matter, we suggested discussing ways to eliminate the inherent differences in the proposed realignment, but the League was not willing to do so.
" The League set a deadline of January 6, 2012 for the NHLPA to provide its consent to the NHL’s proposal.
“Players’ questions about travel and concerns about the playoff format have not been sufficiently addressed; as such, we are not able to provide our consent to the proposal at this time. We continue to be ready and willing to have further discussions should the League be willing to do so.”