Quick update on where we stand: It looks like the predictions of the earlier post are coming true, although not quite in the chronological order suggested. The National Hockey League Players Association is on the verge of filing a Letter of Disclaimer, which will remove the NHLPA as a representative of the players and set the players loose to challenge the National Hockey League’s lockout in court. Somewhat surprisingly, the NHL leapfrogged the NHLPA and preemptively filed a suit requesting that the courts disallow such a Letter. Interesting stuff, especially if you have a law degree.
Regardless of how this act in the play ends up, the point remains that we are coming closer and closer to a “drop dead date” for the NHL and the NHLPA to strike a deal or risk losing the 2012-13 season altogether. As we fans eventually try to justify this crazy lockout, I think (hope?) that we actually will have more interest in the margins of a new CBA and not the revenue split between the owners and players. The dollars and cents are too big, and the fans have no skin in the money game (besides forking over ticket money and buy $9 adult beverages at the arena). Where we are most interested, I suggest, is in the actions and decisions that change the way the game is presented to the fans and played on the ice.
One non-monetary change has the potential to drastically change how Columbus Blue Jackets fans watch their team. I’m talking about the concept of league realignment, or the restructuring of the NHL’s conferences and divisions.
The NHL attempted to realign the league in the summer of 2011 with the 30-team, 2-conference, 6-division league moving to a 30 team league of four conferences. The NHLPA, citing an inability to get information from the NHL as to the implementation of a realignment-influenced schedule, vetoed the proposal. (Personally, I’m glad that the 2011 plan failed. It would have had two conferences with eight teams and two conferences with seven teams…but four teams per division would make the playoffs. Now, it’s possible that the two conferences of seven teams could jump to eight with an NHL expansion of two more teams, but nobody in authority has linked the two topics together.)
For a while, realignment fever swept the hockey media and fanbase. Some proposed minimal tweaks, like swapping Winnipeg (formerly the Atlanta Thrashers and still occupying Atlanta’s spot in the Eastern Conference’s Southeast Division) with either Columbus, Detroit or Nashville. Others got a little carried away; I devised a three-conference system with a round-robin Stanley Cup Final. It may have been crazy, but it was a fun exercise.
We fans may not have a direct stake in the money game, but we certainly are invested in the league’s alignment. We care about the teams that our Columbus Blue Jackets play. I think it’s safe to say that with very few exceptions, we are VERY interested in getting more games played in our Eastern Time Zone. More Eastern Time games will allow fans a much easier time in catching the team’s away games. And let’s face it – Columbus has a greater affinity toward, say, New York and Pennsylvania than California and Colorado.
I’m not sure anything can justify this lockout in the minds of the fans. However, a realignment that makes sense sure would go a long way.
But are the negotiators even talking about realignment?