When the Winnipeg Jets moved from Atlanta last summer, it was certain the NHL would consider realignment.
That proposal was all but rejected by the Players Association, and the NHL called off plans Friday to realign and adopt a modified playoff format next season.
Defenseman Ron Hainsey, the player union representative for the Jets, discussed the travel concerns Saturday before the game against the Buffalo Sabres.
The changes were approved in December by the NHL's board of governors, with the league planning to switch from two three-division conferences to four seven- or eight-team conferences.
“The playoff format, with eight teams in two conferences and seven teams in the other two, there was no willingness on the other side to have a conversation about how to possibly tinker with that,” Hainsey said. “The travel, from the limited stuff we got, could potentially be worse for some western teams, including Winnipeg. Without knowing what it looked like, it's hard to consent or not consent.”
NHLPA Executive Director Don Fehr issued a statement Friday night citing the potential for “more onerous travel” and “the disparity in chances of making the playoffs between the smaller and larger divisions.”
Fehr noted that the league set a January 6 deadline for consent and that the NHLPA is “not able to provide consent to the proposal at this time.”
Jets coach Claude Noel said he would not answer any questions about realignment, but did deflect a question about travel concerns.
“I coach the team,” said Noel, whose club is 10th in the Eastern Conference but only three points out of first in the Southeast Division, where the Jets compete with Washington, Florida, Tampa Bay, and Carolina — all teams at least 1,200 air miles from Winnipeg. “I've come from the American League where you're on the bus forever. So travel to me is a non-issue.”
Buffalo player representative Paul Gaustad said the players who participated in a conference call this week were unanimous in their decision.
“The best way to go about it is both discussing it and finding the best format,” Gaustad said. “There's a lot of scenarios and detail to go over.”
Hainsey defended the players' position.
“We were more than willing to sit down,” Hainsey said. “The plug was pulled last night when we sent essentially the same concerns that we sent on Tuesday. They decided to go on the offensive with their press release claiming that players were being unreasonable and that they were going to shut it down.
“It's a judgment about whatever's reasonable or unreasonable, and you guys can have fun writing about that for the next couple of months.”
Hainsey also cautioned that the realignment issue likely would become part of the discussions between the league and the NHLPA about a new collective bargaining agreement. The current agreement expires in September.
“The two are unrelated, but now they'll be related,” Hainsey said. “It'll be one big issue now.”