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Wings mixed on realignment rejection

by Zack Crawford / Detroit Red Wings
TORONTO – The realignment that the NHL’s Board of Governors passed last month was to pit all 30 teams against each other at least twice a season, as, well as cutdown on travel time, two things that the Red Wings especially liked about the overall plan.

But after the players’ association rejected the league’s proposal late Friday night, the hopes of Wings’ fans having the opportunity to see every NHL team and it’s stars play at Joe Louis Arena are diminished.

“Obviously what we liked about realignment was that we were going to play everybody in the league at home; we were going to play everybody in the league on the road at least once,” Wings general manager Ken Holland said. “Our fans were going to see everybody; our players were going to see everybody. Then, playoffs were going to be within the conference.”

As a result of the players’ refusal to accept the plan, the league will continue with its current alignment and playoff setup for the 2012-13 season.

In a statement issued Friday, Bill Daly, the league’s deputy commissioner,  wrote: “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.”

In December, the proposed realignment plan was met with favor by the Wings, who under the new structure would have faced much less travel to western time zones in both the regular season and the playoffs. With the four new conferences based on geography, less travel and earlier game times would have alleviated the strain on players and allowed fans to watch away games at a reasonable hour.  

Coach Mike Babcock also pointed to the increased exposure to every team in the league as a plus for the fans.

“We were going to be in a situation with less time changes, less travel,” he said. “The other thing I think that was great for the fans is if you’re a team that doesn’t see (Ryan) Nugent-Hopkins, for example, your fans want to see that guy, he’s a star. I can’t imagine why we wouldn’t play everybody home-and-home. It just seemed to make sense to me.”

Defenseman Niklas Kronwall was the Wings’ player representative in the NHLPA negotiations and had an opportunity to hear other players’ objections to the plan.

“I think anytime when something like this gets raised, every team is looking from their own point of view,” Kronwall said. “And from our standpoint, obviously we felt that it was a fairly good compromise as far as the traveling goes, but at the same time, saying that, the unfairness of the playoff with some divisions being eight teams compared to some divisions being seven teams – it’s tough to get away from.”

The general consensus from the players was overwhelmingly against the realignment, Kronwall said. But at the same time, he feels that the communication between the league and the players was a move in the right direction.

“I think we just looked from our standpoint and I think that’s what every team did at first, until you get on the conference call and get to hear the other teams’ point of views,” he said. “And I truly believe that they all had valid things to say and I respect what they had to say.”

One of the concerns raised by the players was a lack of information on how the future travel arrangements would actually look.

“I think it affects everyone,” Wings center Henrik Zetterberg said. “But I think it’s the right call. I think we need to know more about it and we haven’t really got all the info that we wanted to yet. There will always be teams that it will affect negatively, but that’s the way it’s going to be.”

Getting all the teams to reach a consensus will be a difficult feat, and, for now, no solution is in sight until the players are appeased.

“The PA’s looking at this thing as a whole, for the whole 30 teams and that’s why we want to get more information about it,” Wings captain Nicklas Lidstrom said. “We want to see what the travel schedule’s going to be like for most of the teams.”

For the Wings, who play 16 regular-season games in the Mountain or Pacific Time Zones this season, a rejection of the realignment plan means maintaining business as usual in the future.

“We’ll just keep going like we always have so it’s not a major concern for us whatsoever,” Kronwall said. “There’s no doubt that we would like our schedule to be a little bit different with the traveling and all that but with saying that, this is how it’s been for the last however many years and we’ve been just fine.”

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