When it comes to their league’s grand plans for realignment next season, NHL players seemed to be mostly onside with the plan on Tuesday.
Some were in favour of the fact that travel will be lessened for what was formerly known as the Western Conference.
Others questioned the conference-only format of the first two rounds of the playoffs.
And most liked the idea of seeing every NHL city, even if only once, in every season.
“I think it's great for fans that they can get superstars from around the league in their rink at least once,” Leafs winger Colby Armstrong said.
“A team like ourselves, we go everywhere and there's millions of Leafs fans all over the place at every rink. To get us to go to every rink, I think it's good for the game and good for the fans.”
“I like playing in every building,” Calgary Flames winger Tanguay added. “I think it’s really nice that every team goes everywhere. It’s fun for the fans. Everybody wants to see Sidney Crosby, Alex Ovechkin, Jonathan Toews in their building.”
Flames teammate Jay Bouwmeester said that, after playing in Florida for years, he can see how the realignment proposal should be good for business there with both the Panthers and Lightning joining what was the Northeast Division.
“I remember, for a few years, we used to play Montreal around Christmas time or just after Christmas,” he said, “and it would be like playing in Montreal because there were a lot of French Canadians who spent the winter down there or other Canadians on vacation.
“The thing you realize when you’re down there is everybody is from somewhere else - so they go to cheer on the team they grew up with.”
Cutting down travel time between games, meanwhile, is another added benefit, one New Jersey Devils sniper Ilya Kovalchuk felt was worthwhile for teams in the West despite never having played there.
“It's better for teams in the West because some of them have horrible travel schedules,” Kovalchuk said. “That'll be nice for them. On our side, they didn't change much. We'll kind of play the same teams almost.”
While a lot of players in the Western Conference applauded the fact that their Eastern counterparts will need to travel more, however, Bouwmeester made a sensible point: Realignment doesn’t change the geographic challenges or bring Calgary any closer to Los Angeles or Phoenix.
“Out west, the biggest problem is just the distance between the cities,” he said. “If you go for a three-game trip and you’re playing back-to-back games, it’s not a half-hour flight or a 45-minute flight (as it is in the East), but it’s a two- or three-hour flight. That’s where it adds up.
“Philly and New York are still going to be right beside each other. That’s just the way it is; there’s nothing you can do about it.”
If there was a concern among players surveyed on Tuesday, it’s that making the playoffs in some conferences could be more difficult than others - especially those with eight teams or even those with four or five teams who have traditionally had a lot of financial muscle.
“As far as some conferences having eight and some having seven, I’m just not sure,” Tanguay said. “Because personally, I’d like to have the same shot at making the playoffs as everyone else and if you’re in one of those conferences that has eight teams, it’s definitely going to be much tougher to make the playoffs than in one that has seven teams.”
“It's going to be tough,” Devils veteran Patrik Elias said of New Jersey’s conference with the Penguins, Capitals, Flyers and Rangers. “On the other hand, I like playing those teams. You always have to rise up to the occasion. That format's interesting and intriguing for the fans.”
Elias added that he hadn’t heard all that much dressing room conversation about the changes.
“We talked about it a little bit,” Elias said. “But we're just hockey players. We'll just play wherever we play and travel wherever we have to go next. That's all we've got to worry about.”
The players may, however, have some say on realignment as part of the collective bargaining agreement, and the NHLPA has already voiced some concerns to commissioner Gary Bettman.
“Realignment requires an agreement between the league and the NHLPA,” union spokesman Jonathan Weatherdon said. “‘We look forward to continuing our discussions with the league regarding this matter.”
Bettman is expected to talk about the issue with union head Donald Fehr before the league’s plan is implemented in time for next season.
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