As we wait for this hockey lunacy to get sorted out, here is my best attempt at a bias-free blog on where things stand.
We have killed a lot of trees and wasted a ton of bandwidth arguing about the ongoing vote into the possibility of decertifying the NHL Players’ Association. I get mixed messages about how serious the players are about going down this road. There are some who really want to do it.Â But there are others who want no part of it unless the NHL cancels the season.
Should that apocalyptically stupid scenario actually occur, the last three months will seem like a kiddie party compared to what happens next. The players and owners will really go for the jugular. But as one source said Wednesday: “We need an external push.”
A legal threat could be just that, as it was in the NBA one year ago. Another, of course, is the true deadline for cancelling the season. As of yet, the NHL refuses to reveal that information, although it’s probably around Jan. 15 at the latest.
I don’t believe either constituency supports a lost season. The players want to play and the owners do, too. But the biggest problem is that they don’t trust each other and the path is littered with poison.
As infuriating as all of this is, it’s better they’re not meeting. The breakdowns of the past two weeks are proof that the NHL and NHLPA should not be anywhere near each other unless they’re both serious about making a deal. You can blame who you want, be my guest. But the truth is this: the desire to agree to a new collective bargaining agreement was not 100 per cent there on either side. Collapses only make things worse, so it sounds like the NHL is making a change in strategy.
I don’t know if the league underestimated NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr or just received horrible intel on him. But it did not recognize two very important things.
First, Fehr’s idealogical beliefs are very strong. You may consider his CBA history lessons boring or irrelevant. But he doesn’t. More importantly, he convinced the players how much it mattered and they rallied behind him.
There’ve been times during this process when NHL commissioner Gary Bettman’s supporters have taken issue with my position that he has disrespected the players. That’s fair comment and those people are correct to point out that the players, especially on Twitter, have disrespected him, too. But the fact is that some of the NHL’s negotiating moves helped Fehr gain a greater buy-in. There is no doubt in my mind the vast majority of the players want to play. But some of Bettman’s decisions accomplished the reverse, pushing the NHLPA in the opposite direction. It was counter-productive.
The second thing the NHL missed was Fehr’s history of waiting until the last second to make deals. Whatever mistakes the league made in this process, it wanted to be playing by now. We’ve talked about the Proskauer Rose playbook and how this is all scripted by “the law firm that’s ruining sports.” But I really believe this has gone further than Bettman wanted it to, which is why he looks so frustrated. Now Fehr is controlling the tempo and has convinced his constituency that the owners will make final concessions at the end. A lot of players don’t like how long this is taking yet they seem to believe that.
Hence, the NHL’s change in strategy. It’s going to wait.
When Ron Burkle (Pittsburgh), Mark Chipman (Winnipeg), Larry Tanenbaum (Toronto) and Jeff Vinik (Tampa Bay) joined the fray two weeks ago, the NHL was upset its decision to raise the make-whole amount to $300 million wasn’t received well by the players. Again, everyone can argue who is right and who is wrong. But those owners really thought that was going to be a significant move towards getting an agreement done. It didn’t happen and, angrily, that offer was pulled from the table.Â
I have had no correspondence with Bettman or deputy commissioner Bill Daly for this blog. However, after several conversations with other NHL executives, my opinion is if those two had reason to believe that putting the make-whole provision back on the table and moving in the players’ direction on contracting issues would lead to an NHLPA vote on their latest proposal, they’d be at the bargaining table immediately to find a way to do it. But they don’t believe that’s a possibility. What they see is a repeat of New York City, where these things are offered and the players say, “Thank you … and we’ll see what else there is.”
Bettman and Daly won’t take that risk. You can argue whether or not they are right or wrong to hold that position. But I think that’s where we are. The NHL doesn’t believe the NHLPA is truly ready to make a deal. So barring a change, it’s going to sit tight.
1. After hearing Kyle Turris’ reported thoughts about Finland, I thought he was joking, not trying to be harmful, and that he forgot two things. First, people don’t like it when you make fun of their countries, even if not meant maliciously. Second, right now, when it comes to hockey, people don’t have much of a sense of humour about anything.
2. Next apology? Evander Kane, who tweeted this photo early Wednesday morning. Oof. It’s a good thing people aren’t prone to overreacting on Twitter.
3. Winnipeg Jets teammate Ron Hainsey had a lot of interesting things to say about Kane. He’s a big fan. Hainsey believes Kane is a phenomenal talent, joking that “I can’t lift 230 [pounds] once and he does it over-and-over again as a warmup.” The thing, though, is Kane is 21 and impulsive and needs people around him to make sure he thinks things through. Clearly, that didn’t happen here.Â
4. I really hate filling this with lockout-related items, so sorry in advance. But there’s some stuff to go over. Let’s look at some of the sticking points. In the aforementioned NYC negotiations, the NHLPA dropped a demand that, starting in Year 2 of the new CBA, its amount of the financial pie was protected from dropping below the previous season’s. But it did ask for a cap on escrow. I just can’t see the owners going for that at all, even with the 2012-13 schedule on the line.
5. I think the $300-million make-whole is back on the table if the NHL gets a 10-year agreement with an out after eight (as requested by the players).
6. We’ve heard Fehr’s arguments that 10 years is too long because too many players entering the league will be subject to a CBA they didn’t vote on. To me, the bigger question is what’s better for the players — that philosophy or business partners confident that they can sign a decent-sized contract with the NHL and not have to worry about another work stoppage?
7. NHL owners are going to have to move on the five-year max contracts (seven for your own free agents). I know I mentioned it last week, but the effects of Vincent Lecavalier on the Tampa sale and Ilya Kovalchuk on the continuing New Jersey situation have these guys totally spooked. Yes, it’s their own fault and they know it. That’s why they’ve got to go six and eight.
8. The one I’m really having trouble pinning down is the amnesty buyout. It’s very difficult to get a read on what’s going to happen here because word is the commissioner is absolutely against anything that doesn’t count against the salary cap. But you look at the possibility of a $60-million ceiling next season, see where some teams are and say, “This isn’t possible without one.”
9. One possibility: when Ken Hitchcock was hired by St. Louis, he was still owed about $1.3 million by Columbus. The Blues can’t pay him $1 and have the Blue Jackets cough up $1,299,999. There is a formula the league uses where the new team must pay market value, where you look at the salaries of other coaches with his level of experience.
10. So what if you tried that? Well, Wade Redden has played 994 NHL games. If you add up the combined 2011-12 salaries of active players within 50 games of that, you get $3,657,533. (Range: Lecavalier to Petr Sykora.) Redden’s current contract pays him $5 million for this year and next with a cap hit of $6.5 million. The New York Rangers should get stuck with the higher number so, if another team wants him, it must take a cap hit of $2,842,467 (ie. 6.5 million minus 3,657,533).
11. I have to tell you, nothing I’ve suggested in my career was dismissed as quickly as that and I’ve had some really bad ideas. The first two execs I asked shot it down so badly that I didn’t even ask a third. It was interesting because the first GM said, “No one would sign Redden at that number.” What’s key here are the words “at that number” — we’ll get to that later.
12. In the middle of the night, I thought of something else. As it stands now, the buyout for Redden is 67 per cent of his salary over double the term remaining, so the Rangers pay out $6.7 million during the next four years (assuming no change in the next CBA). What if you affected his cap hit the same way? Give New York a choice: $6.5 million on your cap for two years or $4.355 million for four. Do the math and $4,355,000 minus $3,657,533 is $697,467. Now Redden gets another shot.
13. One final note on Redden. It looks like the Rangers have all but guaranteed he is getting the buyout (if there is one) and the sense is there is going to be a lot of interest in him. Don’t know what the final salary will be. But if he’s willing to be reasonable — and you have to believe he will be — he’s going to have options. Lots of execs think he will be good value at a lower number.
14. I ran the same numbers on Scott Gomez. He has played 902 NHL games. The average salary in 2011-12 for players who’ve dressed for between 852 and 952 games was $3,124,656 (Range: Brad Richards to Jamal Mayers).
15. The second thing I suggested was what if teams who buy out a player can only carry 22 on their roster instead of 23? The execs liked it even less … can’t imagine that would thrill the NHLPA, either.
16. Anyway, if I was the commissioner, I’d be quietly polling my owners, asking how many of them would consider an amnesty buyout on their roster. I didn’t ask a ton of guys. But those I did talk to said the number might be lower than we think. Bettman can decide what’s an acceptable amount. However, for argument’s sake, if it’s 15, is it really worth cancelling the season for that?
17. Last thing on this topic. If I was a “have” financially, I’d be demanding it. What else are you getting in this CBA? The share is going down to 50/50 and anything you save there is going into revenue sharing.Â
18. I get asked about the Olympics quite a bit. Nothing is nailed down and it might be done separately from this CBA, but it sounds like both sides want to make it work.
19. Fehr’s mentor, the late Marvin Miller, absolutely hated the idea of every player being made a free agent — a move threatened by the NHL’s anti-disclaimer legal brief. There’s a pretty famous story of former Oakland A’s owner Charlie Finley saying baseball should do just that and Miller being relieved because he knew the other owners would never listen. Miller understood the perfect setup was similar to last summer in the NHL, when you had a few A-level guys — Shea Weber, Zach Parise, Ryan Suter — drive up the price for everyone.Â
20. Seth Jones: crossover appeal — a Page Six mention! (courtesy Nirva Milord from the NHL office) His father is one of the 10 nicest people on the planet.
21. Last week, it was discovered a Boston Bruins fan made a tattoo out of a Tyler Seguin autograph. This happened to Ryan Miller in Buffalo, only it was a female and, I believe, her thigh. Miller wins.
22. I’m not a big fan of players being kept from the world juniors by their NHL teams. If the player makes it clear he doesn’t want to go, like Jason Spezza after three appearances, that’s one thing. But I’m really torn on Mika Zibanejad. If he was from Swift Current, not Stockholm, we’d be demanding a federal investigation.
23. Zibanejad is struggling with AHL Binghamton. He has just seven points in 16 games and, while plus/minus is a flawed stat, he has one of the worst numbers on a team with few negative players. You have to assume the Senators want him to make an NHL impact as soon as possible, especially since they will try to continue momentum from their surprising 2011-12. I can see their rationale.Â
24. A lot of people were very surprised that Frankie Corrado and Derrick Pouliot did not make Team Canada. There are always debates and those two were this year’s hotly discussed omissions.
25. Make it four straight wins for the Portland Pirates, Phoenix’s AHL edition. The Coyotes have some blue-liners coming, too. We know about Oliver Ekman-Larsson, who scored major points by deciding to stay in the AHL rather than going for a more lucrative contract overseas. But there are more.
26. David Rundblad’s overall game has improved this season — and at an important time in his career. He is a 17th overall pick (2009) who has already been traded twice and needs to establish himself. He’ll never be a monster along the boards. But there is a noted difference in his willingness to compete in that area. A guy who always competed defensively, Mike Stone, is on pace for the best offensive numbers of his career.
27. Then there’s Brandon Gormley, who fell to 13th in the 2010 draft amid expectations he would go higher. There were questions about his strength after a poor pre-draft combine. But a few teams saw his skill level and believed that, once he filled out, he’d be just fine. Gormley’s still not where he’s going to be size-wise but it’s coming. And he’s got a great head for the game.
28. A number of coaches, executives and scouts going back to junior really praise Gormley’s ability to get his shot through. In an era of blocking, that’s a big deal. Plus, he has a real confidence at the opposing blue-line. He is willing to stand outside the zone to make a play while keeping the puck inside the line. I understand why the Coyotes are so excited about him.
29. At the NHL board of governors meeting two weeks ago, a young man named Jim Charshafian waited outside Proskauer Rose, trying to make contacts and handing out his resume. Charshafian worked for the AHL San Antonio Rampage last season and was looking for something new. It’s hard to get your foot in the door and not easy to cold call like that. Good luck.
30. As we approach Christmas and the Holiday season, I wanted to send the best to anyone financially affected by the lockout. There are thousands of part-time, full-time or laid-off employees whose situations are tougher than they’d want because of this outrageous battle. This is a hard time of year to feel that way. Hopefully, you get your wish — an end, and soon.Â
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Anne Archer Hetty Baynes