The NHLPA has cited extra travel as their chief reason for failing to ratify the NHL's realignment proposal, but that doesn't really make any sense at all, does it?
Let's talk about the annoyances of commercial air travel.
1. Getting to the airport. It's a pain in the ass. You need to get somebody to drive you there. You need to make sure you get there earlier than early. You need to bring your own luggage and wait in that long line to check it at the counter.
2. Security. It's the worst part of the airport. The absurdly long lines, the invasion of privacy. You have to take your shoes off and you can't bring a bottle of shampoo or a stick of deodorant. That 300-dollar bottle of cologne that's just a little too big for your carry-on bag? Yeah, that TSA agent just threw it in the trash. Then, once you get through security, you have to wait at the gate for an hour before your plane actually begins to board.
3. The people. Commercial air travel would be a million times better if the other people weren't around. You're in a tiny seat, crammed up against somebody you don't know. You might be next to the huge dude who clearly forgot to wear deodorant. You can't tell him to put on deodorant because the TSA agent threw it away. If you need to go to the bathroom, you will need to inconvenience at least three people to get there. If somebody else has to go to the bathroom, you're getting inconvenienced.
4. Baggage claim. There's always that fear that when you hit the carousel, your bag isn't going to come down. If your bag is somehow stuck in Cleveland, you're without it and all of the stuff inside of it for the near future -- possibly forever. Most of the time, it's right there with the other bags, but while you're waiting for it, your ride is waiting outside, getting yelled at by police.
So then she has to drive around because your bag is taking forever and she's not allowed to sit at the front door. Finally, your bag comes, and then you can finally go find your car or your ride or however you're getting home. Even if it was a relatively easy experience, the entire trip was less than convenient. Air travel is an amazing thing, but it's not the easiest way to get around. That's for sure.
Now think about how NHL players travel. They have the same plane every single time, and they're the only ones on that plane, so the chance of losing luggage is virtually zero. They generally have the exact same seat on that plane every single time.
Security, at least the security we all know, doesn't exist. They drive straight to the airport in their own car, right onto the tarmac. They park and board their plane on those fantastic little steps that go directly from the ground to the plane. (God, how I would love to use those steps just once.)
If the guy next to them smells, it's just Brian Boyle, so they can tell him to shove it. They can spray him with a can of Axe while he sleeps, if you want. Their luggage? Well, they have carry-on bags, but the important stuff is all taken care of by the equipment crew. These saints take all their equipment, rush to the practice facility and set it up in a stall for them.
When they land, they immediately hop on a bus and head to a hotel with 30 or so of their best buddies, where they're basically able to do whatever they want, depending on the itinerary. They can nap, go out for a drink, or -- at worst -- go to the rink for a practice or stick around in the hotel for a team meeting. Again, they get there on a bus, where they can just sit there and take in the sights of the city in which they've just arrived.
The NHL Players' Association didn't ratify the NHL's realignment proposal before Friday's league-imposed deadline, meaning the four-conference plan that was announced in November will not be going into effect for the 2012-13 season. This is causing strife between the league and the union at a time when any strife will certainly impact CBA talks, which are set to begin in late January or early February.
And the players are citing travel as the chief reason for why they've yet to ratify this new realignment.
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 (e.g., the scheduling of more back-to-back games, more difficult and lengthier road trips, number of border crossings, etc.), 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, that have demanding travel schedules under the current format, could see their travel become even more difficult.
We understand that an 82-game grind is not all that easy, and that travel is a real concern for NHL players. But there's really nothing to suggest that travel will be all that much more difficult for the league's teams, regardless of what the Players' Association says.
In fact, according to Dirk Hoag at SB Nation's On the Forecheck, the numbers seem to work in favor of many of the Western teams, and they only work against a handful of Eastern teams that already have unbelievably easy travel.
Besides, the extra travel is almost certainly not to the point where it would cause a noticeable difference to the average NHL player. Maybe an extra time zone change or two over the course of a season. Maybe an extra border crossing, which causes the most severe delays for a pro team -- and is still not comparable to the everyday inconveniences of commercial air travel.
When it comes down to it, NHL realignment might force pampered NHL players to spend a few more hours on a charter aircraft. We're holding up a massive league overhaul and CBA negotiations will be all that much more contentious as a result.