Thoughts about the NHLPA’s no-go on realignment

I’d thought about mentioning this, but since it’s an NHL issue and doesn’t directly affect the AHL and Checkers, I decided against it.  Until I read Jason Shaya’s commentary about the situation in his weekly ten thoughts, and figured I’d offer a stab at it, and share my opinions.

Two months ago, the NHL announced this grand realignment plan that would divide the 30 teams into four divisions, and have every team in the NHL play each other twice, and within each division, teams would play each other six times each.  For the most part, the divisions were divided geographically, with the exception of the two Florida teams, which were lumped in with the teams in Eastern Canada, forcing them to travel a few extra times across the border for games.

The teams all voted, and 26 of 30 said yes to the new realignment.  (I’m assuming, that since the Phoenix Coyotes are “owned” and operated by the NHL that their voting right was with the NHL, but I could be wrong.)

So yesterday, over a month after the alignment deal got the NHL stamp of approval, the NHLPA said NO GO, as the players association had determined it unfair.  As Jason Shaya mentioned in his ten thoughts, just weeks ago the players were enthusiastic about the deal, but are now being forced to side with the NHLPA and it’s decision that the new alignment goes against the current Collective Bargaining Agreement.

Now, here’s where I feel I have to insert my own personal experience with unions (even though the NHLPA claims to be an “Association” and not a “Union”, in this case, it’s the same thing.)

I’m a very proud, and card-carrying member of a Union.  I live and work in a “Right to work” state, but my Union membership has benefited me a great deal, and without it, I would be

My union "bug"... you've probably seen it in the credits of just about every TV show and movie you've watched. Look for it in the upcoming Hunger Games film, which I worked on last summer!

lucky to be making minimum wage.  In a business that relies on hundreds of independent freelancers to work on shows, movies, events, etc., my membership in the I.A.T.S.E. (International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees) is the one unifying thing I have with my colleagues.  It’s an organization that is responsible for the behind-the-scenes works in films and television, Broadway shows, and large concerts and events all over the world.  The local in Charlotte gives all of us who freelance the ability to negotiate with employers on wages, benefits, working conditions, etc., and allows the companies we work with in Charlotte to have the most skilled, experienced and educated staff possible for their events where safety, skills, timeliness and experience are of the utmost concern.

With this in mind, and my personal experience with the I.A.T.S.E., I know all Unions aren’t like this.  Some have gotten out of control as far as strikes, wage demands, etc. are concerned.  I’ve heard stories about pilots unions forcing flights to be delayed and faking mechanical concerns just to make a point and get what they want as far as wages, etc., but that’s not been my personal experience.

So the NHLPA is saying they are vetoing the move by the NHL to have a four-division realignment.  From what I’ve read and heard, one of the biggest issues they are citing is travel.  The teams in Florida and Eastern Canada, in particular, are going to have to go through the hardship of clearing customs a couple of extra times a year, and that takes about 90 minutes each way to do, which on top of a long flight over the east coast, makes travel a hassle.

But when I think about the benefit to the league… to EVERY SINGLE TEAM in the 30-team league, I’m overwhelmed.  For example, having a team like the Red Wings in Raleigh every year would be a huge boost to ticket sales, not to mention facing teams like the Penguins, Rangers and Devils three times each at home.  For the Canadian fans who love to travel to warm places, fans in Toronto, Montreal and Ottawa would be able to travel to Florida three times a year, where what they pay for tickets is probably 1/5 of what they would at home in Canada.

So for the NHLPA to cite “travel hassles,” I’m having a hard time getting on board.  They travel in luxurious, private charter planes.  The teams often fly out of private airports that make security easier to manage, and while I’m sure it sucks to go through customs a couple of extra time, isn’t that why the 700 or so players in the NHL, as top-tier athletes and therefore compensated greatly to play a sport, do exactly that, when there are millions who only dream of that kind of opportunity?

This year, the Montreal Canadians have to clear customs about 26 times at the most, assuming all games are one offs when they come to the U.S. (which of course, they rarely are).  Next year, under the new now-defunct realignment, they’d have to clear it at the maximum, 34 times.  Tampa Bay, on the other hand, currently only has to cross the border for games approximately seven or eight times, and the new alignment would require them to go to Canada for 12 games.

But really, in the whole scheme of things, what amounts to an extra hour here and there, is that REALLY worthy of throwing the whole scenario down the toilet? I don’t think so.

I guess I keep coming back to the travel issue because it’s such a hot button topic with me, personally.  In the last workplace negotiations I faced that almost resulted in my co-workers signing an agreement with a union to allow them to negotiate for us, we were faced with major workplace changes, and travel situations that were much more complex than an extra 90 minutes 5 or 6 times a year.  We wanted fair turnarounds between shows and performances, and compensation when that wasn’t possible.  We would leave one show, have to DRIVE a 24′ truck to another state, and then load in another show, all within an eight-hour window.  No time to sleep, no hotels between events, nothing.  That to me is something worthy of a discussion, but not when we’re talking private planes and a whole assembly of staff who take care of the details, handle the luggage and gear, and so on, it just seems like it’s less of a hassle in the whole scheme of things.

The NHLPA says that the change in divisions essentially changed the nature of the job, and the contracts players signed with their respective teams.  They also say the NHL didn’t come forward with an example of what the schedule might look like next year even though it was requested.  I’m not saying that creating a 30-team schedule is a breeze, but wouldn’t it have been worth the effort by the NHL to create a hypothetical one based on this years dates, conflicts, etc. so the NHLPA could have all of the information they requested?  I thought it was fishy from the beginning that the NHL didn’t fully list what divisions would play each other in the playoffs, and how the Stanley Cup finals would be reached, but to completely shut down the proposal I think is a step in the wrong direction for both parties, especially with a Collective Bargaining Agreement that’s set to expire this year.


So Checkers fans… what are your thoughts?







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