The NHLPA rejected the league’s new realignment plan last week. While there were a few tweaks that needed to be made regarding the playoffs, it was a plan worth salvaging.
It appears between the players having their noses out of joint for not being involved in the initial plan and some legitimate concerns about the playoffs, the players union decided to nix the plan. This seems to be more of a league issue and it should be their call. This is basically a schedule issue, the players do not vote on the schedules each year so why on this? As the collective bargaining agreement is expiring this year, this was not the issue to start a fight on. It sets the tone for ugly negotiations.
The Detroit Red Wings along with the Winnipeg Jets appear to be the biggest losers out of this. While there is still some hope that a simple swap will be made it is unlikely that Detroit would be involved. Several Eastern Conference teams fear a powerful Detroit team entering their conference and will work behind the scenes to block any such move.
Pack your bags boys; you are forced to travel….a lot. Year after year the Red Wings are one of the most traveled teams in the league.
Owner Mike Illitch has to pay more throughout the season due to the increased distances traveled. For instance, before Atlanta moved, the longest road trip in the Eastern Conference is when the Canadiens take on the Florida Panthers. Detroit has eight road trips that are over that distance with two more just below it.
Over a season that means an increased travel cost and more wear and tear on the body with all the extra travel.
The Red Wings only play one team that is in their time zone, Columbus. The rest of their games are out of their time zone, which means late night games. It is amazing how popular and how well the Wings TV ratings are when fans are forced to stay up past midnight to watch them when they are on the road.
Without having a balanced schedule that the new plan would have brought, the Wings will be forced to have more late night games.
Weight of the West
One argument against having Detroit move to the east has been the value they bring other Western Conference teams. With the old system still in play the weight of the west still falls on them. They are the marquee team; they are the team that will draw fans to fill opponent’s seats in order to keep them afloat.
Every sport has the star teams that people either love to cheer for or against. The Red Wings are that team in hockey. The difference is that no other league handicaps their star team as much as the NHL does.
Should the players have approved the league's plan?
Come playoff time the travel unfairness is even more obvious. When Detroit last won the Stanley Cup, the three rounds leading up the finals saw them travel roughly 350 more miles per trip than Boston, last year’s champions, did. That was also a low mileage total for the Wings as they didn’t have to play a West Coast team.
Again the late game times and cross country travel come into play, but with the pressure and tighter time frame of a playoff series, the effects are magnified even more. As they advance round after round the effects of the extra travel and time zone changes keep building up.
In the end it makes what the Red Wings have accomplished even more impressive as they seem to have more hurdles placed in front of them in order to win. Hopefully the league and players can come to a decision that makes the playing field more level for ALL of the teams.