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NHL: Realignment plan, modified playoff format delayed by union
NEW YORK (AP) ' The NHL said Friday that it won't go forward with its realignment plan and modified playoff format next season after the players' association refused to agree to the changes.
The changes were approved in December by the NHL's board of governors, with the league planning to switch from two three-division conferences to six divisions.
The league said it will maintain its current alignment and playoff format next season.
"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," NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly said.
"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."
The NHLPA wasn't immediately available for comment.
Last month at the board of governors' meetings in Pebble Beach, Calif., the board gave Commissioner Gary Bettman the authority to realign the league from its current six-division format to four conferences of seven or eight teams. However, the NHLPA said it needed to agree on any plan and wanted more details about how it would affect travel, competitive balance and revenues. Daly said at the time that didn't anticipate any issues that would prevent the issues from being resolved in a few weeks.
The impetus for realignment came when the Atlanta franchise moved to Winnipeg, leaving a central Canadian club in a geographically awkward group with Washington, Carolina, Florida and Tampa Bay. The new plan also would have guaranteed home-and-home series for every team.
With an unbalanced schedule, teams currently play each division opponent six times per season and non-division teams in their conference four times apiece. That leaves only 18 games against the 15 teams in the other conference, preventing fans from seeing certain opponents and star players on an annual basis. That also puts teams such as Dallas, Minnesota and Detroit on several long trips to the West Coast each season.
Under the realignment, the league planned to have two seven-team conferences based in the Eastern time zone: New Jersey, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, New York Rangers, New York Islanders, Washington and Carolina in one and Boston, Montreal, Toronto, Ottawa, Buffalo, Florida and Tampa Bay in the other.
The other two conferences would have had eight teams, with Detroit, Columbus, Nashville, St. Louis, Chicago, Minnesota, Dallas and Winnipeg in one, and Los Angeles, Anaheim, Phoenix, San Jose, Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton and Colorado in the other.