Bill Meltzer: Meltzer’s Musings: Flight Gate, WJC Updates

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Flight Gate: Flyers Fined For Minor CBA Rule Violation

As violations of the National Hockey League’s collective bargaining agreement (CBA) with the National Hockey League Player’s Association go, the Flyers’ decision to fly a few hours early during the recent Christmas break ranks among the most minor and innocuous.

No matter: The Flyers have been fined an undisclosed sum of money by the NHL for the violation.

Under CBA article 16.5(b), all players must get full days off on Dec. 24, 25 and 26. Any team-directed activities involving the coaches or management interacting with the players — including travel — is prohibited.

The Flyer had a game in Nashville on Dec. 27. Rather than departing after midnight on Dec. 26 to comply with the letter of the law under the CBA, the Flyers left Philadelphia International Airport at 8:25 p.m. on the 26th in order to arrive earlier in Nashville and let the players on the team get a more optimal amount of rest before the game day.

In a media conference call yesterday afternoon, Flyers general manager Ron Hextall said that players on the team had approached him about the possibility of leaving for Nashville on the evening of the 26th rather than the wee hours of the 27th. The team knew the CBA rule but decided to ignore it and to risk the related punishment.

“We were aware of the rule and certainly accept the league’s decision,” Hextall said. “I was approached by the players and after giving it some thought, it was pretty hard not to allow them the best possible chance to win the game, given the fact they have shown the commitment that they want to do something that is best for the hockey club. In the end, we were willing to accept the consequences.”

This whole situation is ridiculous. The players themselves wanted to travel on the 26th and it was to their benefit to do so. It was not like the Flyers’ players were upset they didn’t get a few extra hours with their families the day after Christmas and were instead instructed to travel early and keep their mouths shut.

Ask the Flyers players of the 1980s who experienced team life under Mike Keenan if they feel sympathy for players having their CBA-mandated rights violated by something arranged for their convenience. Back in the mid-1980s, Keenan used to have his Flyers players doing things over the holidays against their will, particularly the infamous “1984 Christmas Eve Death Skate.”

In a nutshell, what happened in that case was that the Flyers’ players arrived at the practice facility on Dec. 24th — the night after a win at the Spectrum, with the team having won two of its last three games — expected to gather for a scheduled team Christmas party.

Instead, Keenan had a special “Christmas present” for his players: a surprise bag skate that lasted nearly two hours. Players were on the brink of collapse.

At the end, Keenan gathered everyone at center ice and said, “Always expect the unexpected. Merry Christmas.”

Thirty years ago, there were no ramifications for a Christmas Eve bag skate. Likewise, there were no League-implemented consequences after Dec. 26, 1986. On that very long day for the Flyers players, the team had a full-contact morning practice and post-practice lecture from the head coach about his ongoing displeasure with the team being too reactive in a Dec. 23rd loss in Buffalo. Shortly thereafter, the team took a flight to British Columbia for a game against the Vancouver Canucks the following night.

It was because of NHL coaches and teams conducting activities such as these over the holidays that the NHL Player’s Association fought for — and obtained — the current restrictions in the CBA. However, the pendulum has swung too far in the other direction, to the point where not even player-requested travel on the 26th for a game on the 27th is permitted.

Specific to the Dec. 26 travel ban, the supposed reason for its existence is to maintain competitive balance for the games on the 27th. That is patently absurd.

First of all, by banning travel for visiting teams on the 26th — especially ones who have to cross over into a different time zone — there is a built-in advantage for the home team. The rule accomplishes the exact opposite of its alleged intent.

Secondly, if the NHL was truly that concerned about competitive advantages and disadvantages why are there games during the season where there are teams playing for the third time in three different cities over a four-night span against a rested opponent on its home ice?

In yesterday’s media conference call, Hextall was asked if there’s a permissible way to handle similar issues in the future.

“Is there a different way to handle it in the future? That’s not up to me. That’s up to the league and the PA,” said Hextall.

The Flyers general manager said that club chairman Ed Snider was not happy about the fine from the NHL but understood the reason why the team decided to fly.

The Anaheim Ducks, New Jersey Devils and New York Rangers all held informal skates on Dec. 26. However, the NHL declined to fine any of the organizations because these were players-only skates, organized by the players themselves and conducted with no coaches on the ice.

********* FLYERS WORLD JUNIOR CHAMPIONSHIP UPDATES

Team Canada and Team Russia will face off in the gold medal game of the 2014-15 World Junior Championships. Sweden and Slovakia will play for bronze.

In semifinal action on Sunday, Canada breezed past Slovakia, 5-1. The Canadians took a 1-0 lead to the first intermission, led 3-1 after two periods and tacked on two more goals in the final stanza.

Flyers 2013 first-round pick Samuel Morin was even on the day (not out for any goals for or against) and took a high-sticking minor midway through the game.

Earlier in the day, Sweden came out flat against Russia and never got going even after managing to get the game to the first intermission deadlocked at 0-0. The Russians scored twice apiece in the second and third periods and went on to win, 4-1.

There weren’t many Junior Crowns players who had a good performance against the Russians. It was a thoroughly disappointing performance from a team that had played well up to that point.

Flyers prospect Oskar Lindblom, who entered yesterday’s action tied for the tournament scoring lead, was held off the scoresheet and generated one shot on goal against the Russians. He was minus-one. Defenseman Robert Hägg, a rookie for the AHL’s Lehigh Valley Phantoms, was minus-one at even strength and also on the ice for the power play goal that made it 2-0 in the second period.

The Sweden-Slovakia bronze medal game from the Air Canada Centre in Toronto will start at 4 p.m.EST on Monday. The Canada-Russia gold medal clash is at 8 p.m. EST.

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