By ANDREW OMRAN
The National Hockey League could be headed into its second lockout in a decade as tensions escalate between the league and the players’ association.
The collective bargaining agreement between the NHL and NHLPA is set to expire at the end of the year and will need to be renewed if there is going to be a 2012/13 season.
The main obstacle that will have to be seriously reviewed over the next few months is the division re-alignment.
The NHL came up with a plan that they thought was fair, new and exciting in mid-December, only to have it vetoed by the players’ association.
The association claims that the league came up with the plan on their own and ignored association input when they pointed out certain issues they had with the alignment over a month ago.
The rumblings for a division re-alignment began when the Atlanta Thrashers moved to Winnipeg and became the Jets. Currently, Winnipeg is in a division playing teams such as Florida, Tampa Bay and Carolina and it makes little sense. They are travelling across the continent much more than other teams and they see it as a disadvantage.
The proposed alignment creates issues for all 30 teams in the league for a few reasons, but one stands out from the rest.
The current alignment has the league being made up of two conferences with three divisions each and five teams in each division; the top eight teams from each conference move into the post-season.
The proposed re-alignment would see the league being made up of four divisions. Two of the divisions would have eight teams while the other two divisions would consist of seven teams. The top four teams in each division would move on to the post-season.
This is a big area of concern for many hockey fans because the teams in the two divisions with seven teams will stand a better chance of making it to the playoffs.
But is there a solution that the league and the player’s association can agree upon?
I think that the league is attempting to make too much of a change and they shouldn’t be trying to shake up a league and a playoff format that has been working for the last few decades.
They say the best answer is often the simplest answer.
Bob Mackenzie, a hockey analyst for TSN, has pointed out that simply swapping the Winnipeg Jets, in the Southeast division, and the Detroit Red Wings, in the Central division, would be the quick fix that could solve the league’s problems.
There is clearly an issue here that both the NHL and the NHLPA have taken notice of but to this point, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman has been trying to handle the issue without help from the players.
If this issue is going to be resolved, Bettman will have to communicate with the NHLPA and respect their input.
With the collective bargaining agreement set to expire at the end of the season, this is not the time for Bettman to test the patience of the players’ association.