On Friday night, the NHLPA did not give consent to the league's plan for realignment, which had been approved by the NHL's Board of Governors a month ago. The plan slotted and isolated both the Lightning and Panthers in a Northeast conference with Boston, Buffalo, and three Canadian teams. It was unclear why the union voted against realignment plans, with speculation ranging from travel concerns to playoff structure to the unbalanced number of teams between conferences.
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The realignment plan was approved a month ago by the teams, who have been working with the NHLPA since then to try and assuage some of their concerns over the past four weeks. The NHLPA did consult all the player reps so there was an awareness of this potential outcome among the players, but's it's still unclear just how prevalent the disapproval of the realignment structure was - presumably it's not unanimous.
NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly released this statement on the union's move:
"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."
"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 league had set a deadline for approval which has now passed. Negotiations over the next week or two are still a possibility but the league must start planning and scheduling for the future so it's likely that the current divisions with carry over to next season. That means that the Lightning and Panthers will remain in a Southeast Division along with Winnipeg - the impetus for this year's realignment plan.
The league has limited options at this point. It may consider filing a grievance. It's too soon to say this tension is a precursor to a CBA impasse later this year, but some NHL observers did worry that what once seemed pro forma is now a point of contention.