January 7, 2012
Jets players react to realignment news
By Ted Wyman, QMI Agency
The uneven playoff format is the biggest sticking point in the escalating battle over realignment between the NHL and its players, says Winnipeg Jets NHLPA rep Ron Hainsey.
Hainsey spoke with media Saturday morning as his team prepared to take on the Buffalo Sabres at the First Niagara Center. No other Jets players were answering questions about the labour issue.
He said the playoff format with eight teams in two conferences and seven in the other two needs tinkering but rather than discuss that possibility the NHL simply decided to postpone realignment until 2013-14 at the earliest.
“There was no willingness on the other side to have a conversation about how to possibly tinker with that,” Hainsey said. “If you are in one of those two eight-team divisions you are at a disadvantage to make it to the playoffs and have as much success as the other two divisions. If you’re in an eight-team conference for your entire career, you are at a 7% disadvantage per year to make the playoffs and have playoff success for your entire career.
That’s an issue we felt could be tinkered with and that was not accepted.”
Hainsey said travel is also a big issue.
“The travel part is just a huge unknown,” Hainsey said. “How many more back-to-backs? How much longer would trips be? If travel is going to be worse for western teams, including Winnipeg, that’s an issue. The travel, from the limited stuff we got, was that it could potentially be worse for some of the western teams, including Winnipeg.
It’s hard to consent or not consent when the potential is there for worse travel.”
NHL governors meet in Pebble Beach, Calif., in early December and approved a plan to realign next season, moving from a two-conference, six-division format, two a four-division format.
Under that plan, four teams would make the playoffs in each of the conferences, which were based on time zones. The Jets would play in an eight-team central conference with Minnesota, Chicago, St. Louis, Detroit, Columbus, Nashville and Dallas.
Jets players talked positively about the plan when it was first announced, but the NHLPA immediately said it would have to approve the deal and when it voted against it, the NHL chose postponement over negotiation.
That’s a clear indication that this is part of the bigger negotiations for a new Collective Bargaining Agreement. The current deal expires after this season and there has been talk of another lockout looming.
“I think the two were unrelated but now they will be related,” Hainsey said. “It looks like it will be one big issue now.”
The Jets will remain in the Southeast Division of the Eastern Conference for at least another year, which means they will continue to have one of the harshest travel schedules in the league.
“I think we’ve handled the travel well as a group under this format,” Hainsey said. “I don’t see it being an issue.”
Hainsey was asked if the players were still willing to negotiate on this matter.
“We have continued to request to meet and Friday night they decided to go on the offensive with their press release claiming that the players were being unreasonable and they were going to shut it down.
“The reports this morning were that we blocked it. That’s incorrect. We didn’t block it, we asked to continue to meet to address concerns. That’s not blocking.”
Hainsey said players, like the fans, liked the idea of teams playing home and homes with every other team in the league under the new format. But the playoff format and the travel concerns were too great to ignore.