Monday, February 13, 2012

An open letter to the NHLPA and NHL Board of Governors


In early December the NHL Board of Governors approved a plan that included a new team realignment and playoff structure. Along with these, all teams would play each other at least once in each home city. Everyone that talked about it seemed to be greatly in favor, and it looked like a no-brainer, that it would be approved. I was shocked to find out the NHLPA pretty much stopped the plan cold in its tracks, with a virtual certainly it wouldn't be implemented for the 2012-13 season. I urge the NHLPA to reconsider the offering, and I also urge the NHL Board of Governors to consider allowing more input into the plan from the players, as it seems that has been the biggest complaint coming from their side. And if both parties have decided it is too late to work things out for next season, I urge the NHL Board of Governors to, at least, take care of the oddity of Winnipeg playing in the Southeast Division, despite being located nowhere near any of the other teams.

As a fan, I'd like to bring up my take on the points. Let me preface them all by saying I have been a full season ticket holder with the San Jose Sharks since they dropped their first puck back on October 4, 1991.

Fans have been without home-and-home series for several years now. When you went away from the balanced schedule it was said to be to save on travel costs, and to build on "natural" rivalries. While I'm sure it can be said that the travel benefits have been realized by teams on the East Coast, it can also be said the teams in the West have had some crazy road trips that call for insane amounts of travel. Just looking at mileage stats from this season's schedule there's nearly a 20,000 mile difference between the top team (Los Angeles Kings) and the the bottom three teams, who just happen to be from the New York metropolitan area (Rangers, Devils and Islanders).

To the NHLPA's problem in this, I think it's irrational to demand a sample schedule to examine things without also recognizing how hard it is to draw up a schedule every year, and how long that process takes.

It is only fair to the fans that you return to a balanced schedule so we can once again expect to see all teams play here at least once.

Realignment was also a hot button topic. Now that we have apparent stability, and are no longer practicing Franchise Roulette, it makes sense to look at the current layout, and how things might be tweaked. Obviously, you need to get the Winnipeg Jets back into the West. It's completely understandable that there was no time to make the change for the current season, and as a result they're playing more games against Florida and Tampa Bay than they are against Calgary and Edmonton. However, now is the time to fix this before having to repeat that avoidable mistake.

In looking over the approved four conference realignment it's pretty obvious it was drawn up based upon geographic lines. Makes perfectly good sense, and it does ease the burden on the westernmost teams that have, year after year, been spending the most time on the road. I will readily admit I am disappointed to see the Sharks would no longer be playing Dallas as many times, as they have become one of our biggest rivals. But, I'm eagerly anticipating more games against Vancouver.  Additionally, it breaks up the Southeast Division, which has got to be THE softest division of any of any since it's creation.

One of the complaints from the NHLPA has been the way playoff slots will be given out. Instead of the tried and true division winner, along with teams ranking in the top eight of their conference, regardless of division, the plan was to balance it out as four teams from each of the conferences. I will concede this is a big change, and creates a situation that mirrors many a complaint from fans of other sports; namely, why would a team with such a poor record make it into the playoffs over another team just because of the playoff makeup format. I would suggest scrapping that part of your plan, and go back to the top two teams from each conference, along with the next four ranked teams based purely on game results. That's enough of a happy medium to make sure most of the best teams aren't left out in the cold at playoff time, and that teams will fight extra hard to make it into the top two of their conference.

Going hand in hand with complaints about playoff structure is the NHLPA complaint that with the two eastern conferences have two less teams they would have an advantage when it comes to getting into the playoffs. While I can understand that, mathematically, I see of no easy way of pulling one team out of the middle western conference and placing it in the central, without causing a big change in rivalries.

Once last thing, and it has zero effect on schedule, player conditioning, or team layout. PLEASE don't call each of the conferences. They should be four divisions, which make up two conferences. Even before realignment that's what it was called; and I see no change in structure that would necessitate making such a strange change in terminology.

As we come careening towards the end of the current collective bargaining agreement, and what is going to, no doubt, be a very contentious negotiation, I can think of other things to cause divisiveness between the NHL and NHLPA than a schedule and realignment, and exactly how much input and/or approval they will have in such matters. What will be next, approval if a franchise wants to relocate?

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