Flyers’ Coburn Says NHLPA Didn’t Get Fair Shake

8 Jan

WELLS FARGO CENTER — The lockout year nearly killed the NHL. Now they’re back and, some say, better than ever. But in the eyes of the players, the NHL gave reason to believe it could happen again.

On Friday night, the league released a statement saying that the NHL players association declined to consent to the realignment plan and subsequent new playoff format that the NHL Board of Governors voted on in December. As a result, the league said, next year will function just as this year. Same divisions. Same conferences. Same playoff structure.

“We could have worked around it,” said Braydon Coburn, the Flyers player rep. “There was some good ideas there, but it’s tough when you have some suggestions and they just go over unheard.”

While the Flyers were practicing back on New Year’s Day, the NHLPA held a conference call to discuss the matter.

“The main thing is when it came out, different guys had things in question,” said Coburn. “Basically, guys had questions about what was going on, especially with what happens with travel and how many back-to-back games we were gonna be having and actually, how many times guys have to cross the border. That’s a big thing too. I don’t know if you guys know, late at night, there’s a certain [annoyance factor].”

One trip to cover the Western Canadian teams would certainly benefit the players instead of going back and forth between the U.S. and Edmonton or Calgary or Vancouver or Winnipeg. But there is an even bigger issue.

Under the proposed realignment there would be two conferences of eight teams and two conferences of seven teams. Come March and April, that could mean a playoff spot depending on which conference a team is in.

“If you’re in a seven-team conference, you have a 14-percent better chance of making the playoffs than the teams in the eight-team conferences,” said Coburn. “I think there was a little bit of unfairness. That was one of the main sticking points that we wanted to try to keep working around with that issue.”

The NHL made it seem as though it was the NHLPA that wasn’t willing to cooperate.

“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,” said NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly in a press release. “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.”

Strong language from both sides insinuates that the first punch may have been thrown in the impending expiration of the collective bargaining agreement. The response from the NHL and their decision to make next season follow the same guidelines as the current season gave fans a reason to worry. But Coburn says he’s not so sure the two are connected.

“I don’t think so,” said Coburn. “I really don’t know what to say to that. We had legit concerns and we brought them up and we said we wanted to keep talking about it and keep expanding on their idea and that obviously — they just went back to what we had this year.”

At this point, there isn’t enough reason to start freaking out about a potential second lockout, but the first punch may have been thrown. The two sides haven’t come to blows quite yet, but if this keeps up…

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