The posturing has begun.
With the current collective bargaining agreement coming to an end after this season, the first public battle between the NHL and the NHL Players' Association took place Friday with the release of separate statements.
The NHL announced Friday that that NHLPA denied its plan for conference realignment and, as a result, it will not move forward with it next season.
On Dec. 5, the NHL's board of governors passed commissioner Gary Bettman's plan for realignment, which was inevitable with a team in Winnipeg and not Atlanta. Instead of the current Western and Eastern conferences, there would be four starting next season.
The changes were supported by Hawks chairman Rocky Wirtz, who believed it would help all teams and renew traditional rivalries.
In a statement, NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly said: "It is unfortunate that the NHLPA has unreasonably refused to approve a plan that an overwhelming majority of our clubs voted to support, and that has received such widespread support from our fans and other members of the hockey community, including players.
"We have now spent the better part of four weeks attempting to satisfy the NHLPA's purported concerns with the plan with no success. 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.
"We believe the union acted unreasonably in violation of the league's rights. We intend to evaluate all of our available legal options and to pursue adequate remedies, as appropriate."
It didn't take long for the NHLPA to respond. Here is executive director Don Fehr's full statement:
"On the evening of December 5, 2011, the NHL informed the NHLPA, that they proposed to put in place a four-conference format beginning with the 2012-13 season. As realignment affects Players' terms and conditions of employment, the CBA requires the League to obtain the NHLPA's consent before implementation. Over the last month, we have had several discussions with the League and extensive dialogue with Players, most recently on an Executive Board conference call on January 1. Two substantial Player concerns emerged: (1) whether the new structure would result in increased and more onerous travel, and (2) the disparity in chances of making the playoffs between the smaller and larger divisions.
In order to evaluate the effect on travel of the proposed new structure, we requested a draft or sample 2012-13 schedule, showing travel per team. We were advised it was not possible for the League to do that. We also suggested reaching an agreement on scheduling conditions to somewhat alleviate Player travel concerns (e.g., the scheduling of more back-to-back games, more difficult and lengthier road trips, number of border crossings, etc.), but the League did not want to enter into such a dialogue. The travel estimation data we received from the League indicates that many of the current Pacific and Central teams, that have demanding travel schedules under the current format, could see their travel become even more difficult. On the playoff qualification matter, we suggested discussing ways to eliminate the inherent differences in the proposed realignment, but the League was not willing to do so.
The League set a deadline of January 6, 2012 for the NHLPA to provide its consent to the NHL's proposal. Players' questions about travel and concerns about the playoff format have not been sufficiently addressed; as such, we are not able to provide our consent to the proposal at this time. We continue to be ready and willing to have further discussions should the League be willing to do so."