WINNIPEG – Given that the Winnipeg Jets were a big reason why the NHL had planned a major realignment, team chairman Mark Chipman took the news remarkably well that changes wouldn’t be made next season.
“I’m a little disappointed, I would say not overly,” he said Saturday. “Honestly, I think this is something that will occur in due course.”
The league’s plan to move from six divisions to four conferences was approved by the board of governors in December, pending input from the NHL Players’ Association. But the plan was stalled Friday after the union opposed the changes.
Instead, the NHL will maintain its current alignment and playoff format for the 2012-’13 campaign. Chipman said the only real option now is to work out a schedule for next season under the current structure.
“There just isn’t time to explore whatever (legal) remedies the league might have.”
It leaves the Jets in the Southeast Division with Florida, Washington, Tampa Bay and Carolina.
“If it allows the league the opportunity to create something better for all of us, I don’t know that it’s that big a sacrifice for a year,” Chipman said.
The move of the former Atlanta Thrashers to Winnipeg in the off-season was a catalyst for change and Chipman said there’s no question the Jets’ travel situation would have been better.
Under the plan, Winnipeg would have been in one of two eight-team conferences along with Detroit, Columbus, Nashville, St. Louis, Chicago, Minnesota and Dallas. There were also two seven-team conferences.
“It would have been improved travel for us for sure because the bulk of it would have been in the Central time zone,” Chipman said regarding suggestions that travel would have been harder on some teams under realignment.
“I think there may be some concerns … in terms of travel that result from everybody playing everybody.”
But he added both the league and the players have said they see value in that and he doesn’t know whether such fears were valid in the first place.
Jets coach Claude Noel told reporters in Buffalo on Saturday that he would not answer any questions about realignment, but did deflect a question about travel concerns.
“I coach the team,” said Noel. “I’ve come from the American League where you’re on the bus forever. So travel to me is a non-issue.”
Defenceman Ron Hainsey, the player union representative for the Jets, offered his thoughts on the travel concerns Saturday.
“The playoff format, with eight teams in two conferences and seven teams in the other two, there was no willingness on the other side to have a conversation about how to possibly tinker with that,” Hainsey said. “The travel, from the limited stuff we got, could potentially be worse for some western teams, including Winnipeg. Without knowing what it looked like, it’s hard to consent or not consent.”
The Jets have spent a lot of time on the road this season without a lot of success. Going into Saturday’s game in Buffalo, their road record of 5-10-4 was 26th in the league.
But Chipman isn’t blaming travel for their lack of wins away from the cheering crowds in the MTS Centre. The Jets started this road trip in seventh spot in the Eastern Conference but were 10th going into Saturday’s game.
“The travel has been challenging at times but it hasn’t been overly burdensome, given the fact that we walked into a schedule,” he said.
That won’t be the case next season, when the Jets have a chance to set their own priority dates rather than inherit them from Atlanta.
“Because we’re not walking into an already determined schedule, I already talked to the commissioner about this on a couple of occasions, I believe they’ll be very fair and very accommodating to us in terms of scheduling next year,” Chipman said.
In the end, he said be believes the new plan will likely be adopted.
“I think that either what we approved or something similar will result.”
—With files from The Associated Press.