If the NHL really does feel the players "acted unreasonably" in their rebuff of the four-conference realignment plan, then why doesn't the league file an expedited grievance in the hopes an arbitrator would side with the NHL?
Instead, it appears the NHL has thrown its hands in the air in frustration. It appears there is no willingness on the NHL's part to appease the players with their concerns and questions about the proposed four-conference arrangement.
"On realignment, we haven't decided what we are doing yet," NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly wrote in an email on Monday. "We have 60 days [now 57] to decide. No point in expedition now because we are past the point where decision could be helpful/instructive for 2012-13."
Just like some people have had difficulty with the players' reasons as to why they have issues with the NHL's proposed realignment plan, the players doubt a schedule for next season can't be delayed a few weeks and still be drafted in time.
The players have two concerns. First, they want to be assured that the travel doesn't become anymore arduous under the new format than the current schedule. Secondly, they don't like the fact that it will be easier to make the playoffs if a team is in one of the two seven-team conferences as opposed to one of the eight-team conferences.
The NHLPA found out on Dec. 6 exactly what the new four-conference realignment plan looked like, the same time the fans did. While NHL commissioner Gary Bettman visited each owner to discuss realignment, the players only were privy to how the new-look NHL could line up through the occasional media report or speculation since this became a hot topic at the NHL entry draft last June.
The NHLPA wrote a letter to the league last October to remind the NHL that any new realignment had to be agreed upon by the players. The NHL invited the union to submit its own proposal, but the players chose not to. Instead, they waited for the Dec. 6 decision and then they were given a month to furnish their consent.
This isn't about winning or losing a public relations battle against the league. How could the players win a p.r. fight when they know the fans want to see each team play a home-and-home with other teams? This isn't about firing the first shot across the bow in the upcoming collective bargaining battle. This isn't about the notion that travel has become easier because of the luxury charters the players fly on these days.
The players simply wanted more information on what the new-world NHL will look like next season. There is no doubt the wear-and-tear of travel influences a player's durability. Look at all the stars who have missed significant time this season, including the game's best player, Sidney Crosby.
The experts bring up the speed of the game, the size of the players, no red-line and less obstruction as reasons why there are more serious injuries and more concussions. The players believe the heavy travel schedule also has an effect. It's not only the length of road trips, it's the back-to-back games, the three-in-four nights or the eight-in-five nights that can shape a player's effectiveness and susceptibility to injury.
In an ideal world, the players would like to see a rough draft of a schedule so they could accurately gauge if the travel was worse, better or roughly the same. Instead, they were given a sample schedule of one team, the Vancouver Canucks, and estimates of travel miles for the other 29 teams. This, according to the NHLPA, wasn't enough to make an informed decision.
Meanwhile, not one player has come out in the last three days to say their union has been "unreasonable" in this process.
So, if the NHL feels strongly in its realignment plan, it should file an expedited grievance like the NHLPA did when it was unhappy with the rejection of the Ilya Kovalchuk front-loaded, long-term contract two summers ago. Or the NHL should put down its frustrated arms that it tossed in the air last Friday, roll up its sleeves and try to work out something with the players.
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