Players and team executives from around the NHL reacted Friday night to the news that a realignment plan adopted by the League’s Board of Governors last month will not be put in place for the 2012-13 season after the NHL Players' Association did not consent to the changes.
The plan, which was approved by the BOG in early December, was to move the League's 30 teams from its current two-conference, six-division alignment into a new four-conference alignment. It also called for changes to the Stanley Cup Playoff format, including the fact that the top four teams in each conference would make the postseason and the first two rounds would be played within each conference.
"The issue is that we asked for some documentation to figure out if (the National Hockey League) had done any travel projections," Pittsburgh Penguins NHLPA team representative Craig Adams said. "We wanted to see how it would change the current setup and if it would change financials. Up to this point, they haven't given us [any information].
"We aren't turning it down outright. We just haven't seen anything from them that convinced us that it's a good idea."
The League, however, said in a statement Friday night that the delay in approval from the NHLPA has forced the League to continue with its current alignment for the 2012-13 season in order to produce a schedule in a timely and efficient manner.
The move to four conferences was especially supported by teams in the middle of the U.S. and Canada. Clubs like Minnesota, Columbus, Dallas and Winnipeg would all be placed in a conference with better television start times and more games against geographic rivals.
"It's very disappointing,'' Dallas Stars president and CEO Jim Lites told Mike Heika of the Dallas Morning News. "We said when this was passed that we might be the team most excited by the change, so now we're probably one of the teams most disappointed."
Team executives from Columbus and Minnesota expressed similar feelings. Winnipeg president Mark Chipman held a press conference at Saturday morning to speak to the issue. The Jets, which relocated from Atlanta this summer, are playing in the Southeast Division this season, but were expected to move to a more travel-friendly division for 2012-13.
"To say I am disappointed in the actions of the NHLPA to deny consent to implement realignment for next season is an understatement," Minnesota owner Craig Leipold said to Mike Russo of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune in an e-mail. "Our fans were universally excited to be playing against Midwestern teams in the previous old Norris Division.
"I'm disappointed for our fans, our employees and our players. It appears everyone wanted this to happen except the leaders of the players union. I pledge to Wild fans to continue to pursue this realignment plan as aggressively as possible."
Added Columbus president Mike Priest to Aaron Portzline of the Columbus Dispatch: “We are disappointed by today's developments as the realignment plan approved by the Board of Governors is one that we believe best serves our fans. For our organization, there were advantages with this plan that with its delay will be detrimental to our business. We are hopeful it will be implemented eventually.”
Two contentious issues cited by members of the NHLPA with the plan are an increase in travel for some teams and the unbalanced numbers of teams in each conference. Two conferences will have eight teams and two will have seven in the plan passed by the BOG. The players also expressed issues about teams qualifying for the postseason, arguing that qualification would be easier in the two conferences housing seven teams.