NHL insider: Union scores key win in realignment plan
By Rob Rossi
Published: Sunday, March 10, 2013, 12:01 a.m.
Updated: Sunday, March 10, 2013
TORONTO — Two years will be enough.
Upon consenting to the NHL's realignment plan on Thursday, the Players' Association gained an important victory: The new-look NHL will get a closer look after the 2014-15 season.
That was no small victory for the union.
The realignment plan is not perfect, and perfection is not possible unless the NHL expands and does so into two western markets.
That cannot happen soon enough, but it is unlikely to happen soon.
This realignment plan is mostly flawed because 16 of 30 NHL clubs will play in the Eastern Conference. The playoff format calls for two wild-card participants to join the top three finishers from each division.
Do the math.
There are 10 teams that will battle for those wild-card slots in the East. There are only eight going after those spots in the West.
That is not competitive balance, something the NHL has prided itself on during the salary-cap era that dates to the 2005-06 season.
Dig deeper, though, and there is potential deepening rot to this realignment plan, which is why the NHLPA was dutiful to insist on re-evaluation after two years of the format.
There likely will be less incentive for some Eastern Conference clubs to spend to the salary cap.
Consider the new eight-team Atlantic Division, which will feature five franchises that generally spend to the cap: the Penguins, Flyers, Rangers, Devils and Capitals. Of those, only the Capitals have missed the playoffs more than once over the past seven seasons.
Joining these postseason regulars that routinely spend to the cap are the Blue Jackets, Hurricanes and Islanders — two clubs in nontraditional markets (Columbus, Ohio, and Raleigh, N.C.), and one in a lame-duck situation (the Islanders will move to Brooklyn for 2015-16).
What, exactly, should compel these owners to spend to the cap?
Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, two former MVPs, will play for the Penguins the next two seasons. Henrik Lundqvist and Rick Nash will lead the Rangers over that span. Ilya Kovalchuk will be with the Devils, as will Alex Ovechkin with the Capitals and Claude Giroux with the Flyers.
Keeping stars and building around them is expensive, even for clubs with billionaire and corporate ownership.
Perhaps the first or second part of that equation will prove too expensive for the Columbuses and Carolinas of the hockey world, especially considering the payoff — a couple of home playoff games at a total revenue of about $4 million to each franchise — would not offset the cost of going to the cap.
Any club that needs to make a deep playoff run to break even is a franchise in big trouble. Those are clubs that will always spend only what is required.
The 119-day lockout proved, without question, there are owners who want to curtail spending so as to maximize revenue.
Well, why would owners in Columbus or Carolina spend more if the odds are already against them finishing in the top three of their new division?
The NHLPA had all of that in mind when negotiating the two-year term on the realignment plan.
This term limit benefits the players — and hockey fans.
Rob Rossi is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @RobRossi_Trib.
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Not sure how you can call that a victory for the union but more power to you if thats how feel about it. It's a win-win situation and a smart decision all the way around to evaluate the structure of the league in a couple of years. The biggest issue with this league is trying to even things out based on "East" and "West". It's a losing battle because there are and will always be more teams in the northeast compared to any other part of the continent. There are altenative ways of setting up the league. As for the two Florida teams, they will end up on the short end of the stick no matter which format you deploy due them being geographical outliers. But the league should get out of this paradigm of east-west and come up with alternative options which are still driven by time-zones and geographical locations to the extent possible. As for some teams not spending to the cap is driven by how deep the ownership's pockets are and not necessarily the market. Pittsburgh almost lost the Penguins not too long ago and got bailed out by Super Mario. Columbus just enhanced their financial stability in a major way this season. Carolina has an owner with deep pockets. So, these emerging hockey markets are poised to succeed. However, the truly resilient hockey markets are in Canada where they will fill up the arena irregardless of on-ice performance. The Canadian dollar is also a lot stronger now and they can compete economically with their US-based counterparts.