Not a heckuva lot to write about today, folks. Actually I'm bashing this off Friday evening because I've gotta go into my office today to get caught up on some backlog at my "day job".
Not much really on the go elsewhere in cyberspace either. Those who still care about hockey, at least in Canada and Europe, will be tuning into the World Hockey Championships in Innsbruck, Austria. TSN's got the coverage here in Canada.
As for my American friends, sorry gang, but unless you've got a dish, forget about watching the game on telly. Neither ESPN or NBC, nor any other American network for that matter, will be carrying the tournament. Yet more proof of the game slipping off the national sporting radar in the good ol' US of A.
At least you can watch the games via webcast for a fee on Foxsports and Mediazone.com.
A pity, because the Yanks have a good young team this year, most of whom have played in Europe during the lockout and are in perhaps much better game shape than their Canadian rivals, who have a more star-studded roster.
Indeed, I believe game shape could be a factor for Team Canada, who on paper are icing the best team ever to appear at the Worlds, but most of them saw little or no game action this season.
I'm not the only one believing this, as Jes Golbez also feels that lack of game shape, plus an over-reliance on big, physical players and potential over-confidence could derail Canada's medal hopes on the big European ice.
We'll find out over the next two weeks if he's right.
As for me, concerns over Canada's conditioning aside, I'll be cheering the boys on like a good Canadian boy. GO CANADA GO!
Have a nice Saturday, all.
(April 28, 2005) Bill Daly, NHL Executive Vice President
believe these petitions are inconsistent with both the history
I find it interesting that the NHLPA never bothered to do this much earlier, either before the lockout or when all the hype about replacement players started up several months ago.
Was Bob Goodenow and company gambling that the NHL owners would ultimately not bother going with replacements, correctly assuming it was an empty threat?
Was this done to avoid giving the NHL an excuse earlier in this lockout to go the impasse route, to make themselves look good before the NLRB if they opted to grieve any impasse declared by the league?
Despite the yammerings of Goodenow's naysayers, I don't believe he's too dumb to have overlooked this over the course of the lockout.
Tom Benjamin suggests this is the NHLPA's way of sending a message to both the NHL and the fans:
I figure it is another message being delivered by the NHLPA to both NHL teams and NHL fans. That message is "We are miles apart. No deal is anywhere near imminent. Don't think we are going to let teams sell tickets on the assumption a CBA will be signed before next season. We are out to dash the false optimism being spread by Gary Bettman and the league. We'll believe there is real progress when we see real movement from the NHL."
If so, as Tom suggested, the PA is playing hardball with the league, attempting to put more pressure on the owners to start making "real movement" in negotiations.
Which means Tom's assumption about where the two sides are in these negotiations is, sadly, correct.
Then again, it might also be in response to the league filing two complaints against the NHLPA earlier this month.
As for Daly's comments, I don't see why that's "inappropriate and in violation of it's obligations" of the labour laws of Canadan and the United States.
Why then would the PA do this? It's obviously a pressure tactic, but if the league isn't going with replacements, then why the harsh words from Daly? Surely the last sentence of his statement was all he needed to put out to the masses.
Hopefully we'll have more information on this in the coming days. It certainly does add yet another wrinkle to these talks.
TSN's Bob McKenzie has his take and how that could have an impact with other unions in the future.
- Former CBC Sports commentator Chris Cuthbert was hired by their rival network, CTV, where he'll do the bulk of his work with TSN. He'll be calling hockey and football games and work the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics.
I knew good guy Chris wouldn't stay unemployed for long. I'm looking forward to hearing his distinctive voice calling NHL games (hopefully) this fall.
Good luck finding a replacement for Cuthbert, CBC. Ya gotta wonder about a network who nearly axed popular HNIC punmeister and Coach's Corner straight man Ron MacLean, then fires the heir apparent to HNIC's aging Bob Cole.
It's about time somebody hired this guy. Nobody can convince me that he wasn't blackballed after he was fired by the Sabres in 1997, coincidentally the same year he won the Adams trophy as NHL coach of the year.
Was it racism? The NHL's old boy system? Nolan's outspokeness? Who knows the real reason why it's taken so long for him to return from seeming banishment.
And no, I don't believe the urban myth that he was fired because he had an affair with Dominik Hasek's wife.
Nolan has a proven record of success as a head coach, and I'm looking forward to next season when the Wildcats come to Charlottetown to play the Rocket.
Here's hoping for success and this eventually leading to a return gig in the NHL for Nolan.
- The Ottawa Sun's Bruce Garrioch yesterday wrote:
Several agents told the Sun yesterday if there's no collective bargaining agreement in place by July 1 -- the date players whose contracts expire must receive the required qualifying offers -- then they are prepared to take legal action to get their clients declared unrestricted free agents.
I plan on expounding on this in (hopefully) my Friday Foxsports.com article. This isn't really new, since this has been floated several times during the course of the lockout.
As Tom Benjamin noted on his blog yesterday, this is the PA's way of putting pressure on the league in their upcoming talks.
It certainly sounds like a potential problem...until you hear TSN hockey analyst Bob McKenzie's take on the matter:
The NHL is in the midst of a lockout. Individual NHL clubs are not permitted to conduct business as usual. NHL teams cannot sign players right now. If they did, they can't register the contract with the league.
So bang! goes that theory.
But what if a team should break ranks from the others, sign another team's top prospect or player, and mount a legal challenge against the league?
A renegade act of that magnitude during the lockout might well spell the end of the lockout. I'm not holding my breath on that one.
I concur. The owners of the 30 NHL clubs didn't come this far to start blading each other over UFA prospects or players in their prime. There'll be plenty of time for that once the new CBA is in place. Speaking of which:
Maybe these issues, what will happen with the Crosbys, Carters and Richards' of the world, will give the NHLPA more leverage than they otherwise would have in the negotiations, but at the end of the day, it would be shocking if any of those players get to pick and choose what NHL club they'd like to play for. The new CBA will spell it all out.
CBC's sketch comedy show "Royal Canadian Air Farce" once gave McKenzie the derisive nickname of "Big Head". Yes, he's got an unusually large head...because it contains a helluva lotta knowledge.
As always, McKenzie gives us perhaps the most level-headed coverage of this lockout.
- Oh, and if that wasn't enough of a hint of a pressure tactic, how about the agents for junior phenom and supposed NHL saviour Sidney Crosby suggesting their client could play in Europe next season if the lockout drags into next season?
This isn't really news, since they've been dropping those hints for some time now. But it's interesting that this crops up with meetings between the league and the PA set to start up again in Innsbruck during the World Championships, and with pressure building on the league to get a deal in place to give the teams time to properly market themselves for next fall.
- So Todd Bertuzzi has his reinstatement hearing, with Steve Moore in attendence, before NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman earlier this week, and upon conclusion, we find out we'll have to wait for a decision.
Nothing like dragging this thing out, eh?
I understand that Bettman wants to consider both sides and so on, but come on, this has been dragging on for months. He should've either been prepared to make a decision the day of the hearing, or given a set date for the decision.
Instead, we get this:
"At the conclusion of the hearing, commissioner (Gary) Bettman took the matter under advisement. There is no immediate timetable for a decision."
And they call Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin "Mr. Dithers".
Everytime I want to express sympathy or admiration toward former NHL'er Theo Fleury, he says or does something that makes me feel nothing but disappointment in the man.
Not that Fleury cares what I or most of his fans or critics feel about him. He's achieved a dream that most of us never got to experience, did quite well at it for a number of years, played on championship teams at every level and earned plenty of accolades along the way.
He also earned a very good living in his NHL career, making around $50 million bucks by his own estimate.
I don't feel jealousy toward him for that. He worked his way up to the NHL, earned his money and had a good career during his days with the Calgary Flames.
Indeed, given his background, Fleury could be the central character in a Horatio Alger novel.
He was raised in near-poverty on the Canadian plains, his father battling alcoholism throughout Fleury's young life. He played for Graham James in Junior A, the same Graham James who sexually abused former NHL player Sheldon Kennedy, scarring Kennedy for life.
He was deemed too small to play in the NHL, but through dogged persistence and skill, not only made it but became a star.
He was, literally, the idol of millions, his impish gap-toothed grin adorning posters and pictures throughout Calgary in the 1990s. Next to the greatest Flame of them all, Lanny McDonald, Fleury was a hockey god in Calgary. I know from personal experience, having lived there for four years in the 90s. You couldn't go anywhere in that town and escape his visage.
But it turns out Fleury was hiding a dark secret, struggles with addictions that spiralled out of control when he left the Flames for bigger bucks, even though he had by 1999 earned millions.
That's when his addictions took hold of him, and Fleury began to lash out at everyone, at fellow players, at fans who once cheered him, at a wife who loved him, at reporters who once quietly hid his addiction from the masses.
Fleury struggles ultimately cost him a spot on the NY Rangers and Chicago Blackhawks and then his NHL career.
But I still held out hope that he could overcome his problems, and when I heard that he was joining a hockey team in the Alberta Senior Men's hockey league, I was happy for him, cheering him on.
I hoped that Fleury would finally find the peace that was so elusive under the bright lights of the NHL glare, that he could just go out, play hockey, have fun and get his life back.
And then he had to go and blow it with a petulant, self-centered public tirade that will do nothing to endear him to those who follow the game.
I'm not going to get into a breakdown over Fleury's outburst. I'm just once again very disappointed in the man.
I want Theo Fleury to stay out of the news. I hope he can get his life on track, I hope he can overcome his addictions, and I hope he can someday be happy.
Because it certainly seems that he's still a very angry man.
Go away, Theo, go away and live a life of quiet anonymity, or as close to it as somebody like you can get. I wish you well, but I don't ever want to hear another word from you again.
It's one thing for people to think you're an ass, Theo. It's quite another when you open your mouth and remove all doubt.
The trouble with Theo Fleury isn't the fans, the media, other players or the game of hockey.
The trouble with Theo is himself.
So there I was, Monday morning, bright and early, munching an egg sandwich and scanning through the news sites in search of something interesting in the latest hockey news.
There was the bit about Bobby Orr lashing out at Gary Bettman and Bob Goodenow, but while that's interesting fodder for a commentary, I'll save that for my next Foxsports column.
Instead, my roving eye caught a daily poll, courtesy of the Calgary Sun, which asked readers the following question:
"Do you think Canada is losing it as an international hockey powerhouse?"
Curious, I checked out the poll responses and was startled to find nearly an even split between those who feel Canada is "losing it" and those who don't.
And what's the cause of this startling result?
The fact that Canada lost badly to the United States in championship game of the men's under-18 international tournament.
Combine that with the Canadian Womens team's losing the championship game of the Women's World Hockey Championship - in a shoot-out, the scourge of Canadian fans! - to the Americans, and suddenly it seems that nearly half of Canadians, or at least those who read the online edition of the Calgary Sun, feel the sun has set on Canada as a dominant hockey power.
But wasn't it almost five months ago that Canada's junior players won the World Junior Hockey Championship for the first time since 1997?
And wasn't that Canada's best professional players winning the World Cup of Hockey last fall?
I could've sworn that was Team Canada winning the World Hockey Championships last year, and the year before that.
I thought that was Canada's Women's team that, prior to their shootout upset loss this year, won every Women's World Hockey Championships since that tournament was inaugurated.
And y'know, I think they're the defending Olympic gold medalists.
Come to think of it, so is Canada's Olympic Men's team.
Yet because the Under-18s and the Women's teams failed to capture gold in their respective tournaments, some Canadian hockey fans seem ready to jump off a bridge.
If that's making you a nervous nellie about Canada's place on the international hockey stage, then I say, in the immortal words of David Lee Roth, "Go ahead and jump!"
Hey, listen, there's no doubt that the rest of the hockey world has caught up to, and on occasion surpassed, Canada in tournament play.
That doesn't mean, however, that Canada is faltering as a world hockey power, or as the world hockey power.
If anything, the improvement of other countries provides incentive for Canadian hockey to maintain its edge and to find ways to improve its system.
If Canada was continually stomping everyone in sight in every hockey tournament imaginable, it would become rather boring for fans and players alike.
Ask any hockey fan from any country whenever a major international tournament rolls around, and most will tell you that Canada is the team to beat, usually followed a close second by the Russians, whom for decades Canadian hockey fans saw as their only rival.
But other nations, such as Sweden, the Czech Republic, the United States, Finland and Slovakia, have made significant improvements over the past twenty years.
Every time a Canadian men's team faces one of the above in any competition, they know they're going to have to give their best to have any chance of defeating them.
The Canadian women have had an easier time of it, with the Americans being their only serious competition, but as time goes by, both countries will face tougher opposition from other nations as they improve.
So Canada's Women and Under-18s came up short this time around. Whoop-de-doo. It's not the end of the world. If anything, this can be the beginning of preparations to go for the gold next season.
So, fellow Canadians, rather than bemoan the supposed slow death of Canada as an international hockey powerhouse, let's applaud the improvement of those other countries whilst using it as incentive to improve our chances of winning next season.
It's been a long while since I've done a point by point rebuttal of a hockey pundit's work, but with the lockout news hitting a lull following this past week's recent NHL-NHLPA meeting and the Board of Governors voting against icing replacements this fall, it seems as good a time as any.
This time around, the pundit is the Boston Globe's Kevin Paul Dupont, who while not an NHL mouthpiece as MSG Network's Stan Fischler has seemingly become, nevertheless feels the NHLPA has been poorly led and in the wrong throughout this labour dispute.
Trust me, I know, you're sick beyond words over the taffy pull between Messrs. Gary Bettman (he of the NHL) and Bob Goodenow (he of the Just Say No Players Association).
I'm also getting sick of supposedly unbiased journalists allowing their personal feelings to get in the way of their professionalism. Hey, I believe the NHL has at times bungled their handling of this labour dispute with the players, and that the NHLPA has made the best offers. But I also admit the league has some very smart men running things. I don't disrespect Gary Bettman or Bill Daly, nor will I call the NHL the "No Hockey League".
There are quite a few pundits and reporters who consider Bob Goodenow an arrogant sonovabitch, but most of them put that aside in covering this lockout because they understand he wasn't hired by the players to play nice with the media. Some pundits, however, seem to be taking Goodenow's bluntness to heart. Maybe they've had some run-ins with him and now hold a grudge.
Frankly, the prudent and bold thing for their employers right now would be to issue their leaders a two-month warning: If there is no working agreement in place by July 1, then they'll be relieved of their duties and new bosses/negotiators will be named.
Such a purge would never happen. But after seeing neither Bettman nor Goodenow in the negotiating room Feb. 19, when the season could have been pulled out of the trash heap, it would have been enough for me to call for a change, whether I was an owner or a player. But that's just me, old-fashioned and dumb. Clearly, I don't understand the dynamics or the strategy.
We'd all like to see a change, I think, but this is simply the way business is done. Neither the owners nor the players are going to turf either guy while this dispute is dragging on. We won't know for years who'll lose their job, and that'll be dependant on how the next CBA impacts the business of the NHL. I have a feeling both men will still be sitting in their respective roles when it comes time to negotiate a new CBA in the future.
The union said it would never take a cap. Until mid-February. Then it agreed to accept a cap, but not without first agreeing to a price. Anyone ever agree to buy a car without establishing the price? The players totally buckled on their "free market" philosophy but did not establish the cost.
Next, the JSNPA said it would never accept a cap with linkage -- a direct relationship between the league's gross revenues and what it pays the players. Lo and behold, on April 4, linkage crept on to the bargaining table, and it was nudged up there by the union. How unique and revolutionary.
Now the PA is screaming that no deal can be cut until/unless owners fix themselves with revenue sharing. After seeing the players cave on the cap, and then warm up to linkage, now the owners are going to stand there like timid tenpins and get knocked down by the revenue-sharing ball? Just imagine the laughs at the owners' caviar bar over that one.
The PA has given in on a salary cap system, but you'll notice that the numbers they're willing to accept (reportedly between a "floor" of $30 million and a "ceiling" of $50 million) aren't acceptable (at this point) to the NHL.
As for linkage, perhaps Dupont wasn't aware of the exchange between Goodenow and Boston Bruins owner Jeremy Jacobs during last Tuesday's NHL-NHLPA meeting. Tim Panaccio of the Philadelphia Inquirer has it here, which clearly indicates Goodenow and the PA still aren't interested in linkage.
As for revenue sharing, this isn't something new coming from the NHLPA. In fact, it's been part of their agenda since they tabled their first offer to the league nearly two years ago, in June 2003. It's been part of every subsequent offer, and is an option they're not going to back away from.
Essentially, the PA is telling the league that if it wants the players to accept a hard cap system, it must ensure greater revenue sharing is in place so that all clubs can afford to spend as close to the cap limit as possible.
Dupont may sneer at the notion of the owners accepting increased revenue sharing, but Bettman's recent trip to Toronto to request the Maple Leafs back off their opposition to that option, and Philadelphia Flyers owner Ed Snider's willingness to accept whatever decision the league makes regarding revenue sharing, suggests it's being taken quite seriously by the league.
Indeed, you can bet a lot of the small market owners will be for it, since they'll be the beneficiaries. If the Leafs and Flyers are willing to support it, that could have a domino effect on most of the other big market owners.
Slowly, painfully, and with enough blood drained from both sides to refill the Exxon Valdez (official tanker of the NHL), it is all going ownership's way -- in part why the league publicly disarmed the "replacement player" talk last week. Despite the brave words of union bosses and players and their horribly misled minions in the media about the league's alleged intent from the start -- that it was out to break the union -- the NHL continues to try to cut a deal.
I'll acknowledge the owners got their way in getting the players to accept a hard cap, but the reason for that was in response to the owners removing linkage from the table last February. Quid pro quo.
If the PA does accept a form of linkage, you can bet that'll only be due to the owners agreeing to significantly increase revenue sharing. Again, you give me something I want, I'll give you something you want.
As for the "horribly misled minions in the media", I'll confess that for several months, I did believe the NHL was trying to break the union.
After all, the league was doing nothing for months but playing hardball with the PA, rejecting almost every proposal made, while those the league accepted, it wanted with strings attached (the infamous "triggers" in its February proposals, for example) to benefit the league at the players expense.
Had the league opted to go the replacement player route, I would've considered that union busting, but since the stories first surfaced weeks ago of a growing opposition toward replacements from the owners, my opinion changed.
Make no mistake, however, the league was seriously considering the replacement option, as its filing two complaints with the National Labor Relations Board regarding NHLPA internal policies made clear.
The only reason why the league "continues to try to cut a deal" is because of opposition to replacements, which would've been the result of the NHL declaring an impasse and unilaterally implementing a CBA.
That would've resulted in a challenge by the NHLPA, and considering the PA's willingness to accept a salary cap, which was the major issue of this lockout, the NLRB likely would've ruled no impasse existed and filed an injunction against the league preventing the use of replacements.
If anything, the PA's willingness to accept a hard cap system thwarted a possibile declaration of impasse by the NHL. That's hardly bumbling on the NHLPA's part.
As I noted in my Foxsports column last Friday, if this would've been a slam dunk win for the league, if it knew it could ice replacements without fear of the NLRB ruling in favour of the NHLPA and could count on strong fan and sponsor support, the results of last Wednesday's Board of Governors meeting would've been different.
Would I suggest that these barons of the Original 30 are noble men? Please. They're nothing more, or less, than businessmen, envious of other CBAs in sports.
Yet they don't want the luxury tax of the NBA and MLB, nor the revenue sharing of the NFL. What they want is a hard salary cap tied to revenues with no significant revenue sharing apart from a vague plan of pooling of revenues from playoff teams to share with small market non-playoff clubs.
As for the Plan B on each side, let's examine:
* Again, the alleged break-the-union ploy by owners has never materialized. As of today, owners still live with the assumption/intention that all contracts will be guaranteed, as they have been for decades. That's busting the brothers? Owners said from the start that they had to deflate payroll and needed cost certainty, and they haven't wavered much from that mantra. No guns. No knives. No trapdoors to the NLRB. But, alas, still no deal.
Yes, the owners are to be commended this time around, they've stuck to their guns, which Goodenow and the players didn't anticipate. That being said, however, the PA has adjusted since the cancellation of the 2004-05 season.
What was "busting the brothers" wasn't guaranteed contracts, although it was revealed last fall that this was something the NHL wanted to review. It subsequently backed off from that.
What would've constituted union busting would've been the aforementioned replacement player option, which for months the league was considering seriously. That they've reconsidered is commendable, acknowledging that it would've only worsened labour relations, and possibly would've gone against them when challenged before the NLRB by the NHLPA.
* The Players Association never got away from its Just Say No strategy. Obviously, there was no Plan B. If so, wouldn't we have seen it by now? Instead, no to the cap, then cave. Then no to linkage (cave in progress). Rather than enter the process with empty machismo proclamations -- such as, "A hockey player never backs down from a fight!" -- how about having a hard-working, forward-thinking, modern-times-reckoning subcommittee charged with designing a cap-based CBA linked to revenues?
Again, the Players Association backed off its resistance to a hard cap because of the owners taking linkage off the table. There is no "cave in progress" that I can see toward their continued rejection of linkage, but if they do back off from that, it'll be due to the NHL agreeing to immediately implement a more lucrative revenue sharing plan.
In the end, a cap with linkage is what the JSNPA will get, but it won't be nearly as favorable, or as festooned with lucrative perks, as it would have been when the game's gross revenues were chugging along at around $2.2 billion.
Granted, salaries won't be as high as they once were. I think the days of $10 million per season salaries are a thing of the past, but not salaries of $8 million per. The fringe players were guaranteed their money, based on the NHL's stated claim of implementing a minimum individual salary floor of $350,000.
It's the second and third line forwards, the third and fourth defencemen, and the backup goalies who'll be the most impacted by a hard cap, and thus would stand to lose the most.
If that cap with linkage comes with lucrative revenue sharing, say, 35% of revenues from big markets to small, it will be favourable to the NHLPA. That'll ensure that all teams, including the struggling small markets, will have to spend up to, or close to, the salary cap limit, which in turn will lessen the impact of that cap on the salaries of rank-and-file players.
While the union keeps searching for its fantasized leverage point, the game's profile, and its revenues, drop by the hour. The union leverage began to erode last Sept. 15. It is dealing now from weakness. And it still has rank-and-file members spewing, "A hockey player never backs down from a fight." If it weren't so sad, it might be funny.
That the players wavered but didn't break even when an entire season was lost isn't funny or sad, it's as commendable as the owners determination. Even Bettman, when announcing the cancellation of the season, expressed grudging admiration for the players willingness to risk all on principle.
And the NHLPA has leverage now, in fact, they had it soon after the league cancelled the 2004-05 season, although the window for that leverage could close if a deal isn't done by the end of May or June by the latest.
Since they'd lost most of their salaries anyway by the time Bettman cancelled the season, there was nothing left worth saving for the players at that point. And since they traditionally don't get paid from April until October anyway, they're under no great pressure right now to get a deal in place.
Meanwhile, the owners are facing the prospect of marketing teams in a phantom league. Teams traditionally start their season ticket campaigns in June. They also spend the off-season marketing themselves to potentially new sponsors and broadcasters, as well as ensuring the current ones remain onside.
Now, currently faced with nothing to market for next season, they cannot rely on strong season ticket sales compared to last year when it was still possible the 2004-05 season might be saved. Current sponsors and broadcasters weren't happy over the loss of that season and are less thrilled over the prospect of losing part or all of another.
How else to explain the NHL's sudden change from confrontational to conciliatory in the last several weeks? It certainly isn't because they believe the PA has made a better proposal, since there is very little change to what it has currently offering compared to what it proposed in those frantic final hours of talks to save the '04-'05 season.
The greatest clout the JSNPA had was in the year or two leading up to the lockout, when income was good, players were fat, owners unhappy (read: vulnerable), and it could have shocked the world by offering up a cap-link system that would have pegged pay at 2004 levels, with upside to keep raking in growth. Instead, they're like every loser in every casino around the world, desperately hunting for a way to get even and save face. They've gone from playing with house money to nearly burning down the house. And it only gets worse.
Mr Dupont either forgot or overlooked the fact that the NHLPA made its first offer to the NHL - which contained a luxury tax system, increased revenue sharing, proposed changes to the entry level and arbitration systems more favourable to the owners, and a five percent across the board salary give back - in June 2003.
Granted, it wasn't perfect, but it was an offer that could've formed the basis for negotiations and ultimately, form the framework of a new CBA. The players were acknowledging that things couldn't remain as they had until the old agreement.
The NHL not only rejected that offer within a half hour, but according to the New York Post it didn't bother to tell the owners about it until the Board of Governors meeting that autumn.
The league, rather than commence negotiations in the summer of 2003, waited over a year, until late July 2004, before making a counter-offer to the NHLPA, all of them cost certainty systems, all of them designed to cap salaries well below $37 million.
The players association attempted to negotiate a year and a half prior to the imposition of the lockout. All they got for thirteen months was silence, followed by proposals that were more like demands than real negotiation.
The NHLPA underestimated the owners resolve this time around, and their unwillingness to put real teeth into their luxury tax proposals clearly weren't going to fly with even the most moderate of the owners.
But to claim its leadership is stumbling around desperately trying to save face is laughable. If it were as Dupont describes, the players would've revolted against Goodenow when the league cancelled the 2004-05 season, or the NHL would've declared impasse last week, clearing the road for the hiring of replacements.
The PA leadership isn't perfect, but neither are they stupid or being outmaneouvered. The players aren't being led by the nose nor are they being intimidated as Goodenow's critics suggested (or hope).
Everything we've seen thus far in this lockout has been akin to a chess match by two savvy negotiators who know each other well, perhaps too well.
Over two weeks ago, the respective rosters for Team Canada and Team USA for the upcoming World Hockey Championships were unveiled, Canada's to much fanfare and analysis, the USA's even less so.
It's been a while since I've last had the chance to check back to find out what the rosters of the other major hockey countries would be, thanks to the recent developments in the NHL lockout.
Now, with thankfully a lull in those seemingly endless proceedings, I can provide an update and analysis of those rosters.
Defence: Marek Zidlicky, Nashville Predators; Tomas Kaberle, Toronto Maple Leafs; Karel Pilar, Toronto Maple Leafs; Jiri Slegr, Vancouver Canucks; Frantisek Kaberle, Carolian Hurricanes, Jiri Fischer; Jan Hejda, CSKA Moskau; Pavel Kubina, Tampa Bay Lightning.
Forwards: Martin Havlat, Ottawa Senators; Petr Sykora, New Jersey Devils; Martin Straka, Los Angeles Kings; David Vyborny, Columbus Blue Jackets; Martin Rucinsky, Vancouver Canucks; Vaclav Varada, Ottawa Senators; Radek Dvorak, Edmonton Oilers; and Vaclav Prospal, Mighty Ducks of Anaheim; Jaromir Jagr, Mighty Ducks of Anaheim.
Defence: Andrei Markov, Montreal Canadiens; Sergei Vyshedkevich, Dynamo Moscow; Dmitri Kalinin, Buffalo Sabres; Vitali Vishnevski, Anaheim Mighty Ducks; Aleksander Titov, Lada Togliatti; Denis Kulyash, CSKA Moscow; Alexander Ryazantsev, Lokomotiv Yaroslavl; Sergei Gusev, Avangard Omsk; Alexander Guskov, Avangard Omsk; Darius Kasparaitis, New York Rangers.
Forwards: Pavel Datsyuk, Detroit Red Wings; Alexander Ovechkin, Dynamo Moscow; Alexander Kharitonov, Dynamo Moscow; Maxim Afinogenev, Buffalo; Alexander Frolov, Los Angeles Kings; Sergei Zinoviev, Boston Bruins; Alexei Kovalev, Montreal; Ilya Kovalchuk, Atlanta Thrashers; Alexei Simakov, AK Bars Kazan; Vladimir Antipov, Lokomotiv Yaroslavl; Alexei Yashin, New York Islanders; Ivan Nepriaiev, Lokomotiv Yaroslavl; Alexander Semin, Washington Capitals; Viktor Kozlov, New Jersey Devils; Alexander Skugarev, Lada Togliatti; Dmitri Afanasenkov, Tampa Bay Lightning; Evgeni Malkin, Metallurg Magnitogorsk; Fedor Fedorov, Matallurg Magnitogorsk; Alexei Kaigorodov, Metallurg Magnitogorsk; Anton Kurianov, Avangard Omsk; Alexander Perezhogin, Avangard Omsk; Alexander Boikov, Lada Togliatti; Vitali Atiushov, Matallurg Magnitogorsk.
Defence: Martin Strbak, Pittsburgh Penguins; Richard Stehlík, Nashville Predators; Radoslav Suchy, Phoenix Coyotes; Richard Lintner, Fribourg; Dominik Granak, Slavia Praha; Jaroslav Obsut, Lulea; Peter Podhradsky, Zilina); Tomas Starosta, Ninekamsk; Ivan Majesky, Florida Panthers; Andrej Meszaros, Vancouver/WHL.
Forwards: Zigmund Palffy, Los Angeles Kings; Jozef Stumpel, Los Angeles Kings; Marian Hossa, Ottawa Seantors; Marian Gaborik, Minnesota Wild; Ladislav Nagy, Phoenix Coyotes; Marcel Hossa, Montreal Canadiens; Miroslav Zalesak, San Jose Sharks; Jiri Bicek, New Jersey Devils; Andrej Nedorost, Karlove Vary; Roman Kukumberg, Niznekamsk; Peter Pucher, Znojmo; Juraj Stefanka, Vitkovice.
Defence: Christian Bäckman, Frölunda; Jonas Frögren, Färjestad; Magnus Johansson, Linköping; Kenny Jönsson, Rögle; Sanny Lindström, Timra; Mattias Norström, AIK; Thomas Rhodin, Fribourg; Ronnie Sundin, Frölunda.
Forwards: Daniel Alfredsson, Frölunda; Per-Johan Axelsson, Frölunda; Johan Franzen, Linköping; Yared Hagos, Timra; Jonathan Hedström, Timra; Jonas Höglund, Färjestad; Jörgen Jönsson, Färjestad; Magnus Kahnberg, Frölunda; Peter Nordström, Färjestad; Samuel Pahlsson, Frölunda; Mikael Samuelsson, Södertälje; Daniel Sedin, Modo; Henrik Sedin, Modo; Mattias Weinhandl, Modo; Henrik Zetterberg, Timra.
One big advantage thse clubs will have over the Canadians and Americans is that almost all the players on these respective rosters have an entire season of European hockey under their belts.
Some of the Canadians and Americans haven't played a meaningful game since last September's World Cup of Hockey, which could work in favour of these European teams.
Looking at the goaltenders, the only "name" guy is Vokoun of the Czech Republic, but don't overlook Sweden's Lundqvist, a highly touted draft pick of the New York Rangers whose strong play in the SEL could earn him a possible spot with the Blueshirts whenever the NHL returns to action.
The blueline corps appear lacking in marquee names, no Zdeno Chara or Nicklas Lidstrom to be found. There's also, with a few exceptions like Russia's Kasparaitis and Sweden's Norstrom, a seeming absence of defencemen noted for their physical play.
But on the big ice surfaces of Europe, puck movement is more important than physicality, and these defence squads are more than capable in that regard. Many of these blueliners are known for their ability to play the puck, to initiate quick breakouts from their zones.
As for the forward lines, they're stocked with plenty of marquee talent, players renowned for their speed, stickhandling and their ability to find the back of the net.
Of the clubs, the Czechs and Slovaks appear to be placing emphasis on their offence, given what appears to be a lack (so far) of quality defensive forwards. The Russians and Swedes look to be bringing a more balanced attack.
All in all, these clubs are icing teams suited more for the big European surfaces than the small NHL rinks, which should ensure a more free-flowing, and thus entertaining, tournament.
We've yet to see what the Finnish roster will look like and hopefully that will be published shortly. From what I've heard, they're having a tough time getting some of their "name" players to commit to thise tournament.
I would appreciate any feedback from either European fans or those North Americans who've been more closely following the action in Europe. I know that this site's European correspondent Danny Pugsley will also be following this tournament closely.
The tournament begins Saturday, April 30th.
Regardless of which side you're on in the NHL lockout, a lot of people are getting tired of it.
E-mail anyone covering this work stoppage, be they a big-name pundit for a major media outlet or a fan with his or her own humble hockey weblog, and you'll find very few folks covering this thing with any real enthusiasm.
In fact, most will tell you, once you've gotten past who they feel bears the brunt of the responsibility for this situation, that they're fed up with the lockout and long for a deal to be in place soon.
No one who covers the NHL, either professionally or as a hobby, wants to think about another lost season.
I certainly feel this way.
We all want something else to cover. We wanna write about the games, about the playoff races, about the players and their performances, about who might get traded or become a free agent.
Anything else but this labour dispute between the owners and players.
I've tried to take some positives out of this prolonged lockout. Having to punch out one, sometimes two columns per day for this site and Foxsports has, in my humble opinion, made me a better writer.
I've also learned quite a lot about the business of hockey, information which I now wish I knew years ago when I wrote earlier columns regarding the business problems facing the National Hockey League.
A couple of years ago, I wrote a book about these problems, and thankfully I decided to hold off shopping it for publication until the lockout was settled.
Because if it had actually found a publisher, I would've come off as someone who had little knowledge of the business of sports, much less the NHL.
I've also learned just how both sides manipulate the media to get their points across and to paint the other side as the bad guy. I too have been susceptible to this manipulation at times, but as this thing has dragged on, I've been learning to take what both sides publicly say with a grain of salt.
Folks will sometimes ask me how I've been able to find things to justify writing daily columns about this labour dispute.
At times it's been easy, given the war of words between the two. Sometimes it hasn't been, especially during the slow periods when trying to determine what each side is up to can be akin to reading tea leaves.
I won't lie to you, folks, there've been days when I won't have a clue what I'm going to write about when I sit in front of my desktop.
Days like today.
Sure, I'll scour the news for the latest developments, such as a recent report from CP and TSN quoting league commissioner Gary Bettman's latest attempt to pressure the NHLPA by hinting league participation in the 2006 Winter Olympics could be in jeopardy if there's no CBA in place.
And I'll scan the blogosphere to get the reaction from hockey fans like you and I toward the latest developments.
I will do that, but I'm just not in the mood today to write about it.
The story of the lockout got old a long time ago, and everyone wants to see it come to an end, and soon.
Everyone who has covered this thing has grown weary of it, and some days, that weariness catches up to you, to the point where it's a struggle to find new ways to freshen up the same old stories.
I've found since the Board of Governors' meeting this past Wednesday that my enthusiasm for writing about the lockout has waned. It was a real struggle to write this past Friday's article for Foxsports. I honestly felt at one point just chucking it away, e-mailing my editor at Foxsports, and telling him something came up and there would be no article today.
I didn't, of course, because I need the money the good folks at Foxsports are paying me for my free-lance column, and I have to be professional.
Most importantly, I feel I owe it to those of you who faithfully check out my work, regardless of whether or not you agree with my opinions.
I'll still keep writing about the lockout for Foxsports and on this site, because there is precious little else to write about regarding the National Hockey League.
But there are times when my weariness toward this entire stupid situation bears down, and I know I'm going to need a break from this.
I'm planning on taking a short vacation next month, during the Victoria Day long weekend. I'll get out of town then for a couple of days and happily put the NHL lockout behind me for a few days.
Who knows, maybe both sides will make genuine progress in their talks in the coming weeks toward a CBA, which would certainly boost my spirits and make it easier to write.
I sure hope so, because the lack of progress toward a settlement by both sides has grown tiring.
And like a lot of you good folks, I'm getting tired of this crap.
I'll give the NHL front office some credit, they recognize their league has a major image problem.
According to an April 18th Toronto Sun report, the NHL has hired "a top public-relations company to herald the return of the game. The firm is Rogers & Cowan, which refers to itself as "the worldwide leader in entertainment public relations," and has offices in New York, Los Angeles and London (not Ontario)."
If you ask me, this was something that should've been done long before the lockout. The National Hockey League has spent the past decade slowly but surely slipping out of the consciousness of American sports fans, and upsetting their die-hard fan base throughout North America and Europe.
The league can't do anything about changing its past, but if there is one good thing to come out of this lockout (apart from hopefully increased revenue sharing, which is the only way a hard salary cap system will work), it's that the amount of unexpected spare time has given everyone involved in the league an opportunity to examine itself.
Obviously, they didn't like what they saw.
It's a pity it's taken the loss of an entire season and the possibility of losing all or part of another to force the NHL to confront its image problem, but as long as it brings about real, positive change, it'll have been worth it.
Because heaven knows there's plenty of things the league can do to improve its image.
The on-ice product definitely needs improvement, not slick uniforms, bigger nets and coloured ice. Fans want to see action, they want a game that flows, with the game's best offensive players allowed to weave their magic without being hindered by uncalled obstruction.
Even if a game is low scoring, as long as there's plenty of good scoring chances, fans will be happy.
The league has to woo back disgruntled fans fed up with being overcharged to attend the games, as well as those sickened by the squabbling between owners and players throughout this lockout.
The owners have to do their part by giving fans additional incentive to come back to the arenas. Cutting ticket and concession prices ($4 bucks for a hot dog?? $6 bucks for a beer???) are a good start, but they're not enough.
The teams will have to be give back to the fans, be it via more involvement in local communities and charities, staging fan appreciation nights or whatever.
The players have always been involved in community and charity work, it's just that it rarely gets much press. A lot of players prefer it that way, since believe it or not many of them are humble guys who don't want their good deeds publicized.
Still, it might not be a bad idea for the league to publicize more of what their players do for their communities, rather than paint them as greedy and spoiled.
The players, however, must do more to sell the game than just show up and play. They must make more time for their fans. That doesn't mean fans can just come up and pester these guys whenever they want, but it would be a good idea for them to be more accessible, either during practices or between games.
I just hope this isn't a short term idea by the league to get the fans' butts back in the seats or parked in front of the TV watching their games.
It won't be enough to just have a slick, one-year "Game On" campaign. The NHL's image has been decaying over the past ten years. It'll take more than an ad campaign to improve it.
Rogers & Cowan, you've got your work cut out for you.
- For my take on whether or not Bob Goodenow "lost a trump card" with the league's decision not to ice replacements, check out my latest Foxsports column later today.
- The Philadelphia Inquirer's Tim Panaccio (one of the better reporters covering this lockout) has the breakdown of what happened between Boston Bruins owner Jeremy Jacobs and NHLPA Director Bob Goodenow during Tuesday's meeting.
- Blogger Tom Benjamin takes Toronto Star's Damien Cox and Ottawa Sun's Bruce Garrioch to the woodshed over their Thursday column's suggesting the NHL "scored a victory" over the NHLPA with their announcement there would be no use of replacement players this fall.
-The Hockey Rodent weighs in on the NHL's prior threats to use replacement players.
I don't want to raise false hope with this piece, but I think what came out of yesterday's NHL Board of Governors meeting in New York might signal the beginning of the end of the lockout.
''If we don't have a new CBA so that our players can start the season with us in October, we will not open on time,'' (NHL Commissioner) Bettman said following a four-hour meeting with owners and GMs.
So bang goes the theory of replacement players for next fall, as it seems the speculation of heavy opposition from a majority of owners toward that concept was borne out.
Bettman claimed that replacements players was only an option:
''The fact of the matter is, and we made this clear over the last month or so, we were going to explore all of our options,'' Bettman said. ''That doesn't mean you're doing it or not doing it, it doesn't mean it's a good idea or a bad idea.
''Obviously if we can't open on time, the options become an issue again. But it was never that it was in, and rejected, or out and accepted.''
But it was planted by the league-friendly pundits for months, with much of the media(including yours truly) spending weeks speculating on the possibility.
It's become clear this was only an idle threat from the league, and rather that come right out and make that statement when the replacement talk began dominating the hockey media following the season cancellation, Bettman and his crew decided to let it go and hope it might work in their favour to put pressure on the NHLPA.
Oh, well, as I've been discovering in this lockout, both sides have been very good at manipulating the press for their own purposes. Just the way the game is played.
But as I and others both here in cyberspace and in the press have stated, it was a risky proposition for the NHL to go down that road. There was no guarantee the fans would take to it, sponsors and broadcasters were cold to the notion, and it was probably a legal minefield to navigate.
Bettman also hinted it was a possibility the league could go revisit that option if September rolls around and there's still no CBA in place, but this along with other developments of late suggests otherwise.
We're seeing a more concilliatory approach toward negotiations from the league in recent weeks compared to their hard-line, and at times hard-assed, approach earlier in this dispute.
Why the change in tactics?
One reason could be the league's attempt to give the appearance of bargaining in good faith should they eventually declare an impasse and end up battling with the NHLPA before the National Labor Relations Board.
But I believe the true reason is financial, something that was suggested by the oft-maligned but in the case of this lockout rather spot-on coverage of the NY Post's Larry Brooks.
It was our Mr Brooks who first suggested weeks ago (sorry, no link) that with the NHL season cancelled, the leverage in these negotiations would shift to the NHLPA, since the players wouldn't normally see a paycheque from April until early October.
While the loss of an entire season's income caused various degrees of discomfort to the players, the NHL is about to face a more daunting challenge: marketing themselves when it's uncertain if there would be a 2005-06 season.
Teams usually start stumping for season tickets around early June, which would explain why, as Brooks noted, there might be a push afoot by the owners to get a deal in place by late May 2005.
Season tickets are the foundation of a team's revenues, and while Cal Nichol of the Edmonton Oilers suggested what Tom Benjamin considers a potential bait-and-switch with season ticket holders, that's a very risky proposition.
"What we'll likely do is invoice out at full NHL prices in the event we could settle and play as normal. Then, do a crediting back, maybe somewhere around AHL prices, so the cost of the product is correlating with the price we're charging."
If you're normally a season ticket holder, would you buy into something like this when you don't know if the NHL will return next season, or if it does, with replacement players?
Face it, if the lockout drags on throughout the summer, season ticket sales will be sluggish for all 30 clubs. Even if a deal is hammered out by September, it'll be a tough sell to generate much interest for season tickets when you've only got weeks, rather than months, to do it.
And of course there's those sponsors and broadcasters, both locally and nationally (and internationally in some cases) who weren't pleased with losing the 2004-05 season, and are undoubtedly even less enthusiastic about the prospect of losing another, or of their sponsoring and covering a faux NHL with second-rate talent masquarading as NHL players.
As I've noted countless times both here and in my Foxsports columns, for the NHL to start recouping their losses in a big way, they'll need what would traditionally be the off-season period from June to September to market themselves.
Given the fact they've got to mend fences with disgruntled sponsors, season ticket holders and broadcasters, they'll need all the time they can get prior to the start of the 2005-06 season.
In addition to the rejection of using replacement players, there's been the talk of Bettman asking the big markets teams to consider increased revenue sharing.
This could perhaps be the key factor in getting a deal done with the players. For months, the PA has been demanding increased revenue sharing, while the league offered up vague notions of plans, the only one of which we knew for certain was a pooling of playoff revenues to be split amongst the small market non-playoff franchises.
Now, suddenly, Bettman is visiting the Maple Leafs hierarchy to discuss revenue sharing, while Philadelphia Flyers owner Ed Snider tells the local press that whatever decision the league makes regarding that issue is fine by him.
The players have hinted for months they wanted some kind of incentive from the league to consider some form of a cap on their salaries. Increased revenue sharing could be that incentive.
And despite the reports yesterday about the Tuesday labour talks ending badly, you've still got key people on the league's side, like Maple Leafs president Richard Peddie, Dallas Stars president Jim Lites, Carolina Hurricanes GM Jim Rutherford and even cranky Boston Bruins hardline owner Jeremy Jacobs all expressing various degrees of optimism at getting a deal done with the PA.
Finally, there's the general meeting late next month of the entire 700+ membership of the NHLPA, where Director Bob Goodenow is to supposedly debrief them on the status of negotiations and of future plans.
Well, if there was really no progress to be made, why bother getting all the players together? Surely informing their reps or posting video messages via the NHLPA secure website is good enough for that if the situation remains unchanged, since that was the PA hierarchy's principal way of updating their membership during the lockout.
It's possible that, given the apparent willingness of the PA to accept a salary cap range system, the league's unwillingness to use replacements and attempts to sway the big markets to back off opposing increased revenue sharing, a deal might be coming together, one that could be in place by the end of next month.
Bettman and the owners swore there would be a 2005-06 NHL season. Having made that oath to the fans, they'll have to make good on it, or risk further alienating their die-hard fanbase and possibly losing sponsors and broadcasting deals.
The signs are there. We'll find out in the coming weeks if they turn into something real.
Toronto Star columnist Damien Cox yesterday suggested the Toronto Maple Leafs would emerge losers from this lockout if the NHL went with replacement players next season.
Actually, all thirty teams would be losers, but in the NHL's biggest market (yes, New York Rangers fans, that is Toronto, where in hockeyworld, that city truly is the centre of the universe), Leafs fans would likely rebel at the notion of their beloved club icing a team less talented than the local AHL franchise next season.
But another part of Cox's column piqued my interest, that regarding the prospect of increased revenue sharing:
But the combination of being limited in their spending through a salary cap and then also being forced to share their wealth with the Nashvilles, Pittsburghs and Anaheims will serve only to make the Leafs more like the Predators, Penguins and Ducks and less of a marquee-style franchise.
Now I have a lot of respect for Cox, whom I consider one of the better hockey writers on the scene, certainly where this lockout is concerned. He's played no favourites, something not easy to do when other "name" pundits like Larry Brooks, Al Strachan, Stan Fischler and Kevin Paul Dupont have clearly chosen sides.
In this instance, however, I must respectfully disagree with Mr. Cox.
Folks, it is laughable -LAUGHABLE- to suggest that increasing revenue sharing is going to seriously harm big market clubs.
How much harm has revenue sharing done to big market teams in the NFL, NBA and MLB?
None at all. Those clubs rise or fall depending on the smarts of their front office.
What revenue sharing does is attempt to level the playing field in order for small market clubs to become more competitive. But even with more money to pump into those rosters, their success or failure still depends on their management, scouting and coaching.
The NHL's reality is they must consider increased revenue sharing because of the number of markets they have. As embarassing as this lockout is, as damaging to the product and the league's reputation, folding five, seven, ten or twelve franchises that could no longer survive would be just as bad.
Sure, common sense suggests folding franchises that can't make a go of it, but let's face it, nobody wants it to be their franchise that gets chopped.
"Fold the struggling small market money-losers!", scream the fans and press. "OK", says the league hypothetically, "we're looking at Florida, Atlanta, Carolina and Nashville, teams with little history."
"Hurray!", cry the die-hards, their sheer weight of numbers drowning out the small but loyal supporters of those clubs.
"Now add Pittsburgh, Calgary, Edmonton, Buffalo, and the NY Islanders", suggests the league.
"Whoa, whoa, WHOA!" cry the fans. "Those clubs have long traditions, four of them are former Cup winners, two of them former dynasties. They've given us great memories and Hall of Famers. And hey, the Isles play in a big market, their problem is with their arena and the steady parade of lousy owners over the past dozen years."
The reality is that for the NHL to maintain all thirty franchises, to allow the small markets the opportunity - key word here - to become and remain competitive, there must be some form of increased revenue sharing.
Obviously there is no way the league is going to okay revenue sharing along the lines of the NFL, where over 60% of revenues are split amongst all clubs.
But even an increase to, say, 25% from the paltry 11% the NHL shared under the previous CBA could go a long way, in conjunction with the hard salary cap, to giving those struggling clubs a leg-up without adversely affecting the big market teams.
A luxury tax system would probably be better, but given the owners single-minded pursuit of a hard cap, one with increased revenue sharing is a good alternative.
And as for big market clubs like the Leafs being unable to spend what they want because their salaries will be capped, come now, let's not be naive.
It was a big market team, the normally tight-fisted Boston Bruins, that was the first to exploit a loophole in the entry-level salary cap under the previous CBA in order to sign both Joe Thornton and Sergei Samsonov.
While some teams cried foul, almost all of them subsequently followed suit with their top prospects.
If teams were willing to find and exploit loopholes, either on their own or with the help of crafty player agents, to get their top prospects under contract, what's going to stop them from doing the same to land whoever they want under a hard salary cap in the next CBA?
And you can bet the big market clubs will take a page from the NFL playbook to skirt a hard cap, most likely by signing players to contracts with prorated signing bonuses and performance clauses.
They'll continue to spend what they like, not as much as in previous years of course, but more than enough to dance over - perhaps well over - the hard cap line while on paper staying within the boundaries of the cap.
The Maple Leafs won't be "less a marquee-style franchise" under a hard salary cap with increased revenue sharing. Not unless Harold Ballard is resurrected and takes over ownership of the club again.
Nor will any other big market team face the same fate. What will affect their marquee status will be how well their team is run.
Trust me, no big market club will suffer under the CBA, unless they're staffed by morons.
As for my comments on the latest non-results from yesterday's NHL-NHLPA meeting, check out my Foxsports column later today.
With the NHL and NHLPA set to sit down today for another round of talks, there's speculation brewing amongst the media and in cyberspace that the PA could go into this meeting ready to play hardball.
Despite the news of supposed "cautious optimism" that came out of the last meeting two weeks ago, there were rumblings that NHLPA Director Bob Goodenow may seek to exploit what may be the cracks in the owners unity he's been waiting for.
To refresh your memories, folks, last week came news of two important developments concerning the owners.
First came reports that not all the owners are warm and fuzzy over the prospect of icing replacement players this fall. In fact, it could be a considerable number willing to reject the notion, some apparently threatening not to ice their teams if the league and those owners willing to use replacements opt to go that route.
Then came NHL commissioner Gary Bettman's meeting last Friday with the front office of the Toronto Maple Leafs to ask them to consider easing off their opposition toward greater revenue sharing.
If speculation is to be believed, these two factors could suggest a serious split in the owners unity.
If even a handful of owners reject the use of replacements, that threat against the NHLPA is nullified. As bad as it could be with all 30 clubs icing imposters in their jerseys, it would be worse if even one club refused to participate.
In fact, I doubt the NHL could even seriously consider going into next season with replacement players without all 30 teams being onside.
As for revenue sharing, that's bound to be a divisive issue between the big markets, who don't wish to share any more revenues than they have to, and their small market peers.
What could be more divisive is if one or two big market clubs, like say, the Maple Leafs and NY Rangers, were to come out in favour of greater revenue sharing but the other big market owners declined. That could turn into a serious split between the big markets.
Speaking of the Leafs, could it be possible they might be ready to turn on the hard line clubs?
Don't forget, the Leafs hierarchy - Larry Tannebaum and Richard Peddie - spoke out in the last owners meeting about seeking a compromise with the NHLPA and were derisively shouted down.
And let's not forget Tannebaum's part in trying to broker a back-channel deal to save the 2004-05 season with moderates from the NHLPA camp.
Being rebuked by their fellow owners had to sting, and that could make the Leafs a rogue element of sort amongst the big market clubs.
Against this backdrop came news that supposed NHLPA "moderates" Trevor Linden, president of the NHLPA and Mike Gartner may not be attending today's meeting with the league.
That's fueling rumours that Goodenow and the hardliners on his executive committee, like Vincent Damphousse and Bill Guerin, might come down with a hard line response, leaving Bettman to face the Board of Governors meeting tomorrow with no further progress to report on the CBA.
That would put the pressure on Bettman and the owners to make a decision for next season: go with replacements or extend the lockout and hope the players resolve cracks.
Neither appears a palatable option for the league. They're facing pressure now from sponsors and broadcasters who aren't thrilled with the notion of backing a faux NHL in the fall, and less enchanted with the notion of another silent NHL season.
There's also been lots of talk in cyberspace that both the league and the PA are engaged in "planting" stories to put pressure upon each other. Tom Benjamin gives a neat synopsis on his weblog.
Given the heated rhetoric from Bill Daly and Ted Saskin on the eve of these talks, it certainly appears that both sides are trying to one-up the other with the pressure tactics.
Some folks questioned whether the NHLPA truly had leverage once the NHL cancelled the season. As long as the owners remain unified, one way or the other, that didn't appear to be the case.
But having declared the NHL would return to action this fall, Bettman and the owners may have backed themselves into a corner.
By declaring a willingness to accept a salary cap range, even though it's considerably wider than the league is seeking, Goodenow may have thwarted any attempt by the NHL to declare an impasse.
That and the aforementioned potential for divisions amongst the owners on replacement players and revenue sharing could be just the weaknesses Goodenow was waiting for.
We'll find out later today if he's going to play hardball.
If the 2004-05 NHL season had been no different than any other, we'd be looking at Game Three of the respective first round playoff series having been played by now.
Yeah, it's sucks that there's no playoffs this season, but fortunately I can relive some of the excitement of playoff hockey thanks to the magic of the VCR.
As some of you know, I've recorded some classic games over the years, thanks to their rebroadcast on ESPN Classic, TSN and the NHL Network channels.
Since the next few days will be totally taken up with the potential outcomes of the NHL-NHLPA meeting on Tuesday and the NHL Board of Governors meeting on Wednesday, I felt now was as good a time as any to take a bit of a break and let you folks in on which classic games of the past I'm watching to fill the void created by the absence of the NHL playoffs.
A few years ago (2000, I think), ESPN televised a series they called "Ultimate Stanley Cup", in which they replayed the best games of the Stanley Cup finals over the past twenty years.
I didn't get to tape all of these but I caught the following, which I agree belong in the pantheon of the ultimate Stanley Cup Finals games:
Game One, 1990 Finals: Edmonton Oilers vs Boston Bruins. The Oilers take a quick lead but two goals by Raymond Bourque ties the game and sends it into four OT periods before little-used Oilers forward Petr Klima wins the game for Edmonton.
Game Two, 1993 Finals: Montreal Canadiens vs Los Angeles Kings. Down 1-0 in the series and down 2-1 late in Game Two, Canadiens coach Jacques Demers successfully calls Kings blueliner Marty McSorley for a stick measurement, then rolls the dice for a six-on-four powerplay by pulling goaltender Patrick Roy. Habs defenceman Eric Desjardins scores his second goal of the game to tie it, and then wins it early in OT.
Game Four, 1992 Finals: Pittsburgh Penguins vs Chicago Blackhawks. The Pens have a 3-0 series lead and would win their second Cup in this game, but not before the 'Hawks put up one helluva fight in a match that saw thrilling end-to-end action, and also featured future goaltending superstar Dominik Hasek, then a Blackhawk, make his NHL post-season debut in a big way by robbing Pens captain Mario Lemieux on a breakaway with a big glove save.
Game Five, 1986 Finals, Montreal Canadiens vs Calgary Flames. The Habs lead the series 3-1 and took an early 4-1 lead in this game, then had to hang on to win 4-3 as the desperate Flames stormed back late in the third. Then-Canadiens rookie goalie Patrick Roy saved the game with only thirteen second left with a brilliant stop that clinched the Stanley Cup for Montreal.
Game Six, 1980 Finals, New York Islanders vs Philadelphia Flyers. Up three games to two, the Isles clinch their first Stanley Cup in franchise history, becoming only the second post-1967 expansion club to win the Cup, and embarking on a dynasty of four consecutive championships. Isles forward Bob Nystrom's Cup clinching goal still ranks as one of the greatest overtime winners of all time.
Game Seven, 1994 Finals, New York Rangers vs Vancouver Canucks. The Rangers finally end the 54 year Cup curse, winning on home ice in a closely contested contest that brought a fitting end to perhaps the last great Stanley Cup final series in recent history.
Other notable playoff games I'll be watching include:
- Game Six of the 1964 Stanley Cup Finals between the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Detroit Red Wings. The Leafs were down 3-2 in this serie, but would tie the game and ultimately go on to win the series, thanks to Leafs blueliner Bob Baum's OT winning goal, all the more notable since he was playing on a broken leg.
- Game Six of the 1974 Stanley Cup Finals between the Philadelphia Flyers and the Boston Bruins, in which the Bobby Clarke-led Flyers defeat the Bobby Orr-led Bruins 1-0 thanks to the brilliant goaltending of Bernie Parent, making the Flyers the first post-1967 expansion team to win the Cup.
- Game Six of the 1975 Stanley Cup Finals between the Philadelphia Flyers and the Buffalo Sabres in the first ever all-post-'67 expansion final, in which Parent shines once again and was perhaps the main reason the charged-up Sabres didn't win this game and tie the series.
- Game Seven of the 1978 Stanley Cup Quarterfinals between the Toronto Maple Leafs and the NY Islanders, in which forward Lanny McDonald scores in overtime, giving the Leafs their first quarterfinal series victory since winning the Stanley Cup back in 1967.
- Game Seven, 1979 Stanley Cup Semi-Finals between the Montreal Canadiens and the Boston Bruins. Don Cherry's eternal moment of infamy, a bench minor late in the game that set up the Canadiens rescuse, courtesy of a Guy Lafleur laser shot that tied the game 4-4 and set the stage for Yvon Lambert's series-clinching heroics in overtime.
- Game Five, 1979 Stanley Cup Finals between the Montreal Canadiens and New York Rangers. Notable because it was the end of the last great Habs dynasty, with Montreal winning their fourth straight Stanley Cup. It was also the last games for future Canadiens Hall of Famers Ken Dryden and Jacque Lemaire.
Game Five, 1984 Patrick Division Semi-Finals between the New York Islanders and the New York Rangers. One of the all-time great games between two bitter rivals that saw tremendous end-to-end action and outstanding goaltending, the Rangers would tie the game late, only to lose the match and the series in overtime thanks to low-scoring Isles defenceman Ken Morrow.
- Game Five, 1984 Stanley Cup Finals between the Edmonton Oilers and the NY Islanders. The Oilers end the Isles dynasty and capture their first of five Stanley Cups, thanks in no small part to a certain Oilers captain who wore number 99, and the Smythe-winning play of future captain Mark Messier.
- Game Seven, 1986 Smythe Division Finals between the Calgary Flames and the Edmonton Oilers. A game Oilers defenceman Steve Smith would love to forget, as it was his inadvertent banking the puck off his own goalie into his net that gave the Flames a lead they would not lose, upsetting the two-time Cup champs and derailing a dynasty.
- Game Six, 1987 Stanley Cup Finals between the Philadelphia Flyers and the Edmonton Oilers. The Flyers, down three games to two, fell behind 2-0 but rebounded to win the game and tie the series thanks to the netminding of eventual Smythe winner Ron Hextall.
- Game Four, 1990 Smythe Division semi-finals between the Winnipeg Jets and the Edmonton Oilers. Jets fans had little to cheer about in the playoffs, but when they did they made it loud, and no roar was louder in their old arena during the postseason than the night the Jets won in overtime to go up 3-1 in the series against the Oilers. Too bad the Jets couldn't close the deal, as the Oilers would win the series and go on to win their last Stanley Cup.
- Game Seven, 1993 Western Conference semi-finals, Toronto Maple Leafs vs the Detroit Red Wings. A great series that had a thrilling overtime ending. The Leafs rally to tie the game late thanks to Doug Gilmour before Nikolai Borschevsky wins it in OT for Toronto.
- Game Six, 1994 Eastern Conference Finals, New York Rangers and New Jersey Devils. Blueshirts captain Mark Messier, his team down 3-2 in the series going across the river to New Jersey, boldly declares his club will win that game, then pots a hat trick leading them to victory.
- Game Four, 1997 Stanley Cup Finals between the Detroit Red Wings and Philadelphia Flyers. The Wings easily roll over the Flyers to win the game and the series and clinch their first Stanley Cup since 1955 in front of their home-town fans. The pure joy on Steve Yzerman's face when he finally hoists the Cup makes this one worth watching.
- Game Six, 2000 Stanley Cup Finals between the New Jersey Devils and the Dallas Stars. Despite the stifling defensive play of both clubs throughout that playoff year, this game was a dandy, capped by Jason Arnott's overtime goal that wins the Devils their second Cup in franchise history and ended the Stars dream of a repeat.
Paul Hunter of the Toronto Star has a very interesting article on the perils of hiring replacement players, based on interviews with those who were replacements during the 1987 NFL players strike and the 1994 MLB labour dispute.
The piece is a warning to the NHL not to go the replacement route, as well as to those minor league players, those who'd never normally get an opportunity to play in the National Hockey League, about the potential consequences of becoming replacements.
A handful of MLB replacements who were good enough to stay after the players' strike found themselves ostracized by their player union teammates, who considered them scabs. Those who still play today aren't allowed to join the union.
Furthermore, some players who became MLB replacements did so under duress because they wanted to keep their jobs within the organizations of their respective teams.
Those replacements in both leagues who did so for the lure of quick cash often found that commodity to be lacking, paid pittances for their efforts and even less for severance packages. On the case of the Montreal Expos replacements, they received team jersies as lovely parting gifts.
They also weren't entitled to any money from licensing, as that was controlled by the respective unions.
The NFL players strike, it should be noted, was brought down primarily by the poor planning of their union. At the time "the real players were surprisingly ill-prepared with no union strike fund and no line of credit available for loans."
Despite the absence of the NFL players, the teams made money nonetheless, for as Hunter noted, while the games were sparsely attended, they "continued to be broadcast and the owners' average per-game profit rose without the stars to pay. The strikers were losing an average of $15,000 each week and a sense of panic splintered solidarity.. "
If there should ever be another NFL players strike in the future, you can bet the union will be much better prepared to look after their players.
As for how the fallout of the '87 NFL players strike would relate to the NHL, there really is no comparison.
The players have shown the resolve to hold out a year, and while it could hurt them more financially if they miss another season, some who played in Europe this past season already are saying they'd return there again.
Indeed, it's a safe assumption that half the PA membership would find employment overseas again.
Furthermore, the NHLPA had a plan in place to look after their membership's potential financial needs via a monthly stipend. The union also forewarned their membership two years ago to prepare financially for a lengthy work stoppage that could last up to two seasons.
The owners have shown remarkable resolve as well, which may get them the hard salary cap they've sought for months, as well as some form of linkage tying salaries to revenues.
But the possibility of icing replacements next fall could take a serious hit if the support for it isn't there.
While some teams (rumoured to be Ottawa, Detroit, Dallas, San Jose and Los Angeles, according to Stan Fischler) are believed strongly in favour of replacements, others, including the Toronto Maple Leafs, are thought to be adamantly against the idea, so much so they may not even ice teams with replacements.
For all the talk from fans claiming they'd support a replacement National Hockey League, it remains to be seen if they'll back up that bold talk. Especially if the teams opt not to significantly lower ticket and concession prices to watch such games, particularly if the talent level isn't that good, as noted yesterday by Tom Benjamin.
The players appear willing to accept a hard cap, and it seems now the league is pushing for greater revenue sharing to use as enticement to get the PA to sign off on a deal.
That, not replacement players, is what the focus of league and the owners should be on.
Not on a plan that would only bring more embarrassment to a league that, thanks to this protracted, stupid labour dispute, has already done enough to embarrass itself.
TSN reported today of a Toronto Globe and Mail article claiming NHL commissioner Gary Bettman met yesterday with the chairman and president of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment, who run the Toronto Maple Leafs, in which Bettman will ask them to back off their opposition to greater revenue sharing.
Additionally, the Leafs will let Bettman know they apparently have no intention to ice replacement players next season.
First, Bettman's supposed request. While there's been no further word as I write this on Friday night from either the NHL or MLSE confirming or denying this, if it's true it will mark a departure from the league's previous stance regarding revenue sharing.
As those of you who like me have followed the twists and turns this lockout has taken since its imposition last September already know, the NHLPA has been seeking a greater revenue sharing plan, while the NHL has thus far resisted that option, instead favouring several alternatives.
The most significant, indeed, the only version, we know for certain is the league's exploration of having all playoff teams pool a portion of their postseason revenues, which would be shared with small market, non-playoff teams.
Could this mean the league plans to propose greater revenue sharing to the NHLPA in return for a salary cap system with a narrower spread between the salary "floor" and "ceiling"?
If Bettman is seriously asking the Leafs - the biggest moneymaker of all the NHL teams - to get onside with revenue sharing, then that would apparently be the league's plan.
Get the Leafs onside on greater revenue sharing, and other big market clubs might also - albeit grudgingly - come onside as well.
Still, that's easier said than done, but if there is real determination on the NHL's part to get a negotiated deal in place by end-May, this could conceivably be the deal maker.
The small market owners should certainly welcome it, given that they'd be the beneficiaries. Greater revenue sharing would make it easier for those teams, under a hard cap system, to not only retain their best players, but also bid competitively for the top unrestricted free agents.
But if some big market are for it and others against it, that could represent a serious crack in owner unity.
That crack could also widen if the Leafs, and any other teams, be they big or small market, reject the notion of returning next season with replacement players.
There's been growing media chatter that the replacement player option may not fly as was once thought.
That's why the upcoming NHL Board of Govenors meeting could become the most important event in determining the direction this labor dispute takes.
If the BoG votes for replacement players, it could mean no negotiated settlement, which could also mean this dispute drags on into next season.
But even if a handful of teams insist on not going that route and go against the wishes of the majority, it could become a potential problem for the NHL.
I guess we'll find out for certain come April 20th on that issue.
As for revenue sharing, depending on the response Bettman gets back from the Leafs and other big market clubs, it could determine how much progress is made in the next round of negotiations between the NHL and NHLPA, set for April 19th, the day before the BoG meeting.