January 10, 2012
Realignment no contentious issue, say Flames
By RANDY SPORTAK, QMI Agency
CALGARY - Every hockey fan who remembers the build-up to the NHL’s iced season of 2004-05 must be getting that sickening feeling in the stomach.
In the waning days of the collective bargaining agreement, any issue between the players and the league became a massive fight.
And in the end, we all lost a season of hockey while millionaires and billionaires fought like children in the sandbox.
Therefore, the NHL’s decision to scrap the realignment proposed for next season because the players’ association wouldn’t sign off on it sure feels like deja-vu and that the league is headed to another stoppage.
“I don’t think that’s our worry right now,” said Flames defenceman Chris Butler, as his squad prepared to host the New Jersey Devils on Tuesday at the Saddledome (7:30 p.m., Sportsnet West/Sportsnet 960) . “I wasn’t part of that last lockout, but from talking to some of the older guys who were around, they knew a lockout was coming. I don’t think it’s that way now.
“I think, as a whole, the state of the game is awesome and I don’t believe the realignment issue is going to be the biggest issue. I don’t see it having to do with the CBA negotiations.”
It sure feels like the opposite in the outside world.
Back in December, the NHL’s board of governors announced a radical change to four conferences, two — both based in the east — with seven teams, while two had eight.
The NHLPA refused to agree to the plan by the deadline this past weekend, and the league announced it wouldn’t be implemented for the 2012-13 season.
It sure feels like the first blast in a coming labour war.
“When you come to collective bargaining, a lot of posturing takes place. There has to be some give, and there has to be some take. I’m sure both sides are doing just a bit of posturing,” said Flames centre Brendan Morrison. “First and foremost, we’re supposed to be in a partnership in this league. Is that right? It’s interesting to me the (governors) get together and have their meeting, and they solely come to the arrangement.
“We wanted to see if the NHL could present us with a mock schedule, and they said they could not. Then they went ahead with realignment and had a huge presser saying it’s going to be great for the game, everyone is going to benefit and it’s going to cut down travel. I’m not saying it’s completely negative, but I do disagree with how it’s realigned.
“Then the shoe falls on us to look like the bad guys and say we don’t want realignment. That isn’t the case. We want to have our input into realignment.”
From the beginning, players have questioned the fairness of having the top four clubs from each of those conferences earning a playoff spot when it could be easier from a seven-team division to reach the second season compared to an eight-team group.
“That’s a huge issue,” Morrison said. “If you’re in the business world, in a corporation, and one side has four units and one side has three, and three per side get a bonus — in our case, the bonus is the playoffs — you’d have an issue with it.”
It’s a valid point, but it still looks like the first blast in the re-enactment of 2004.
“I don’t think it’s a precursor of a huge blow-up, but I think they are legitimate concerns about this one issue,” said Flames winger Lee Stempniak.
“A partnership is what has been stressed since the last collective bargaining agreement, and the players feel it’s something that’s going to have such a huge impact on our schedules, time away from home and away from your families, so we should have an equal voice.
“If the union can voice their concerns and find middle ground, I don’t think it will be a huge issue.”
On Twitter: @SUNRandySportak