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Debunking The NHL Realignment Travel Issue


While January 6, 2011 is not a date which will live in infamy, it nonetheless is one which angered many fans of the game of Hockey. And since Hockey is combat and Hockey fans are the Clausewitzian Center of Gravity (“…the source of power that provides moral or physical strength, freedom of action, or will to act…”) in the NHL (through ticketing, merchandising, parking, concessions and sometimes, taxes), we do not want an impasse to ensue over Realignment and the CBA process.

Did you hear that NHL and NHLPA? Hockey is not the NFL and NBA.

That said this blog serves to debunk some of the excuse for the NHLPA not consenting to Realignment. First will be the words, some data in explanations and a win-loss call on points stated.

The NHLPA Statement In Part

“…In order to evaluate the effect on travel of the proposed new structure, we requested a draft or sample 2012-13 schedule, showing travel per team.  We were advised it was not possible for the League to do that. We also suggested reaching an agreement on scheduling conditions to somewhat alleviate Player travel concerns… but the League did not want to enter into such a dialogue.  The travel estimation data we received from the League indicates that many of the current Pacific and Central teams… could see their travel become even more difficult….”

Going point-by-point makes this argument interesting.

1. A requested, draft schedule was not provided by the League to the NHLPA. We laymen out here do not know if the League can gin up a draft schedule between the announcement of Realignment on 5 December and the 6 January deadline for NHLPA ratification of the process. But since we are talking just a draft, you can see two of them that were done in a matter of days, not weeks, on the OGA Blog “The 2012-13 NHL Realignment Schedule…” by one of our contributors. NHLPA 1-0, the League 0-1.

2. Discussions on an agreement on scheduling conditions were not entered into by the League with the NHLPA. Why not? I would assume since the two organizations are partners, once the Board of Governors had agreed by a huge margin to the change and media accounts indicate huge support from the NHL’s Center of Gravity, that, while somewhat behind the popularity 8 Ball, the next step would have to be discussion with between the League and NHLPA. Did they refuse to discuss it, or was it simply not discussed to the satisfaction of the NHLPA? We fans out here do not know, so let’s call this one a pre-Lockout tie. NHLPA 1-0-1, The League 0-1-1.

3. And increased travel for the old Pacific (Conference A) and Central (Conference B) teams? Yes, Conference A would travel more, to include coast-to-coast hops for VAN, SJS, ANA and LAK. Travel under this system is going to increase for all. But do estimates show that Conference B would also have a more strenuous schedule? Actually, if you do the worst-case math where every game away is a one-game road trip, Conference B is the best one to be in if fatigue is measured in straight-line air miles. Here is the worse-case, average, total miles per team in terms of air miles between arenas:

Conference A – 114,541

Conference B – 35,550.1

Conference C – 38,732.9

Conference D – 37,101.5

Here are the total, worse-case scenario numbers:

What? Those numbers are HUGELY disadvantageous to Conference A! Is 3.22 times more travel than Conference B fair at all? If you use the actual estimate for 2011-12 (see On the Forecheck’s work at http://www.ontheforecheck.com/2011/6/23/2240779/nhl-travel-miles-by-team-super-schedule), the worst mileage incurred is 55,591 for Los Angeles. San Jose was worst in 2010-11 with 56,254. So Conference A teams are supposed to suffer twice the travel burden?

No. In actuality, a draft schedule does not come out to be close to the worse-case scenario. Again, you may not agree with the methodology of playing lots of pairs and triples on the road as in the blog mentioned above, but as a draft scenario, it is illustrative. Looking at Conference A teams who have the most road miles to log, the highest total was for Vancouver at 67,162.8 air miles. That’s a 19.39% increase in travel from the San Jose max in 2011-12. The per-team average for Conference A is 60,007 miles, or about 52.45% of the all-one-game-road-trips worst case scenario. Again, this is days, not weeks of analysis. (Due in part to such great references as Sport Map World at http://www.sportmapworld.com/map/ice-hockey/north-america/nhl/.) Could the League have provided this to the NHLPA? Or maybe an even better question is could or did the NHLPA, do the estimating themselves? Since the League could have, and the NHLPA should have, this is a loss for both sides in my book. NHLPA 1-1-1, the League 0-2-1.

Bill Daly’s Statement In Part

“…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….”

I also heard The Deputy Commissioner being interviewed on XM Homeice the day after the decision was made. To the question about a request for draft schedules, he said there were several letters that went back and forth between the League and the NHLPA reference scheduling. When the NHLPA said they would even take a draft schedule irrespective of building (arena) availability, Mr. Daly said, ‘…We don’t have that….’

We did indeed passed the League’s deadline for beginning the scheduling process which would allow them to engage in the normal procedure required to produce a schedule all buildings and their tenant teams could live with. While not questioning the Deputy Commissioner’s statement, the operative word here is ‘normal.’ The NHLPA was not asking for a normally-processed, draft schedule and conceded to one that apparently would simply make their arguments about increased travel miles incurred. To say the League doesn’t have one is to suggest when the Board of Governor’s met in December, they were neither presented with any estimates nor had done the work on their own and were therefore only voting ‘Yes’ on Realignment with their gut.

I don’t buy that. That is not what professionals in business do, or they do not run successful businesses.

Lastly, if the NHLPA wanted air miles estimates as a measure of fatigue, are air miles between arenas a good measure? Yes and no is our answer – you know if you travel long distances by air that fatigue is created by poor travel execution more than the mileage covered. So use the mileage estimate, but take it with a pinch of salt because reality is usually something else.

For not providing the estimates to the NHLPA that they should have had on hand, and for the NHLPA not using their own estimates one of our bloggers can determine on his own, this one is a loss for both teams. Score: NHLPA 1-2-1, the League 0-3-1.

Fans? We are 0-1 right now and hopefully will not be 0-2 as CBA negotiations begin because this does not bode well for us.

Summation

I am not an alarmist who believes all is going to hell-in-a-handcart because the Realignment issue was not satisfactorily solved. But on the points raised above, neither side is batting better than .375 in our book. And that puts we fans and our love of the game in jeopardy.

Hockey fans are the Realignment and impending CBA negotiations’ Center Of Gravity. We will be the media Ping-Pong ball between the NHLPA and the League to solve the Realignment and CBA questions over the next several months as decisions are made and blame between parties is cast. In some respects, it is the character of the game on the ice, how it is run behind the scenes and how we see it from the stands. So we do not mind jumping back and forth over the net.

But only a little. We love the game and do not want it to suffer like the NFL and NBA or the momentum gained since 2005 will be lost.

Come on NHLPA and NHL – show some compete, not hustle, out there.

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