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February 15: HEADING TO BED...

9:15 pm EST. No, not the latest offer by the league or at least not yet anyway. Those of you who've been following this column regularly know I've been battling the flu over the past several days, and while I'm getting better, that and the late nights and early mornings following the latest lockout developments are taking its toll, so much so that my wife is threatening to bury me and inherit if I don't get my stupid ass off to bed right now!

I'm a grumpy patient. Hey, which guy isn't when he's sick? I like to think I'm a rational person who listens to reason when he's sick, but when I get sick the serviceman in me kicks in and I try to "soldier on", usually to my own physical detriment. As we say in the CF, there's a thin line between hard and stupid, and "niner-domestic" (you soldiers and sailors know who I'm talking about!) has just informed me that I've crossed it.

So no more updates until tomorrow morning, gang. Regardless of where we stand, regardless of whether or not we think a 28-game schedule is a good idea, I think we can all agree that the time has come for a resolution to this long, stupid nightmare. Here's hoping for a positive one tomorrow.

OK, flu, it's just you and me now and I'm taking you down....


TSN has the news with more details to follow. Bettman is telling the players this is the league's final offer, take it or leave it, non-negotiable and that any offer from the league if the season is cancelled will only get worse.

Click here for Bettman's letter to Bob Goodenow.

It's for $42.5 million hard cap ($44.7 million with benefits) and the PA has to respond by 11 am tomorrow. That's to give the PA time to put the offer to a vote.

No more word on if the league has addressed revenue sharing, arbitration or other issues. Hopefully we'll get more word on this.

Glenn Healy is on TSN now suggesting it's still possible for both sides to find a creative way to bump this to $45 million, but my own opinion is the league is done with this.

The league took linkage off the table and got the PA executive to agree to a hard cap, much to the apparent chagrin of several players, including reps like Buffalo's Jay McKee who knew nothing of this.

The league has made it official that this is its final offer, which goes with the rules for filing an impasse with the US National Labor Relations Board.

By those rules, the players association should put this to a vote of its membership. If the players reject it, Goodenow can still fight off an attempt by the league to declare an impasse.

If it isn't put to a vote and Goodenow rejects it outright, not only does he risk dissent within the ranks, but losing any attempt to prevent the league achieving that impasse and coming in with replacement players.

So Bettman has now tossed this back onto Goodenow, and for good reason. He senses there's confusion now in the league ranks and is gambling Goodenow won't risk further trouble and will put it to a vote.

Still, revenue sharing could be the issue that trips this up and could upset any potential plans for an impasse. If the players reject it and Bettman files for an impasse, Goodenow could use it to successfully argue that the league's revenue sharing plan wouldn't be feasible to protect the interests of small market clubs (see below).

But all that is conjecture at this point.

Bettman has made his final offer. He will cancel the season if the PA rejects this. It's now up to the players to decide if there will be a season or not.


Updated: 5:30 pm EST: Checking through the news updates throughout the day, it seems to me that there are other forces at work here than merely Bettman and Goodenow haggling through their respective negotiators.

The players, notably marquee names like Jeremy Roenick,Chris Pronger and Jarome Iginla, are believed part of a six team group the Ottawa Sun reported spent yesterday calling player to gauge their reactions to playing under a cap with the right circumstances in play.

Roenick insists they're not undermining Bob Goodenow but it is interesting that "name" guys like Roenick, who've got more than enough money to ride out a lengthy lockout, are checking around with their fellow players about a possible cap.

There had to be significant pressure coming from influential players to force a dramatic shift in tactics from the NHLPA side. The surprised reaction of some of the players today to the news of the PA's cap offer indicates that some lobbying was going on somewhere within the ranks of the association.

It's also possible there are some influential player agents who are likely working the phones to offer up their two cents worth into getting a last minute deal in place.

The players side is more vocal, but don't mistake the silence coming from the owners side to mean everyone there is in lockstep with Gary Bettman.

My proof? The fact that the league moved off their insistence for linking salaries to revenues. That was Bettman's mantra for as long as Goodenow's was "no cap under no circumstances".

Yes, Bettman lifted the gag order on the owners and general managers, but only when it came to speaking directly to the players and their agents. They're still not free to voice their true feelings about the direction of this lockout if they happen to disagree with the Commissioner.

Should a deal be finalized before 1 pm Eastern tomorrow, expect news to leak out in the following days as to the owners and general managers who put pressure on Bettman and his circle of cost certainty hawks.

For now, we continue to watch and hope that this isn't merely a grandstand play on both sides to buttress their respective cases if this dispute goes before the labour courts.



Updated: 3 pm EST: I'm looking over the latest news from TSN's website and I think Bob Goodenow may have gotten the better of Gary Bettman once again.

Here's the telling part of the report:

As for the possibility of negotiations, sources on the NHLPA side are suggesting the union will only negotiate off the $52 million figure if the NHL presents a detailed, meaningful revenue sharing plan.

Yes, Goodenow is telling the league his side will accept a cap, er, salary limit, and to Bettman's credit, he's pulled his hardline demand for a cap linking salaries to revenues.

But in pushing revenue sharing to the fore, Goodenow may have trumped Bettman again.

Remember, the league stated for months they wanted a cost certainty system with revenue sharing to allow all their franchise to be competitive both financially and on the ice.

Yet in every offer made by the league to date, revenue-sharing took a back seat to the league's pursuit of cost certainty, that being a hard salary cap.

An internal memo from NHL VP Bill Daly to the owners leaked to TSN's Bob McKenzie one day prior to the league's rejection of the PA's 24 percent salary rollback offer not only had revenue sharing near the bottom of the league's priority list, but also indicated the league would consider using a pool of playoff revenue for that plan.

By pushing for a more lucrative revenue sharing plan, Goodenow has now forced Bettman into an awkward position.

If Bettman rejects this offer, it will appear as though the NHL doesn't want a revenue-sharing plan to aid small market teams. Moreover, it could hurt their case for an impasse if the league opted to go that route this summer.

How could Bettman and Daly claim they attempted to bargain in good faith when they not only rejected the NHLPA's offer for a salary cap close to what the league was offering, but also spurned the notion of reasonable revenue sharing to aid the very small market clubs the NHL front office claimed it wanted to help?

Goodenow came under justifiable criticism last week for his unwillingness to negotiate the four triggers the league wanted to implement in their February 2nd offer, but he may have made up for it with this gambit.

Unless Goodenow over-reaches in the coming hours, the ball is now in Bettman's court. If he fumbles it, he not only risks killing this season, but also any potential hopes of coming back with replacement players next season.


The hockey world was abuzz last night when news emerged that the NHL was planning to officially cancel the season today. The buzz increased when it subsequently revealed the cancellation announcement was bumped ahead 24 hours to tomorrow at 1PM EST because - wonder of wonders - both sides were still in discussions.

Yep, turned out that broken record talk of "no further negotiations are planned at this time" after the breakdown of Sunday's talks with US federal mediators in Washington DC was again the usual empty words.

The chief negotiators, NHL VP Bill Daly and NHLPA Senior Director Ted Saskin, met in Buffalo to once again attempt to cobble together a last-minute, season-saving resolution to a lockout that has already claimed most of the 2004-05 hockey season, cost the league untold revenues, its players considerable salaries, and jaded their fan base.

Yeah, I know, that was a run-on sentence (for an entire paragraph!) but you get what I mean and I didn't want that meaning to be broken up by punctuation.

Rumours were flying wildly last night as to what might be offered. Late last night before retiring to my sickbed (yes, that damn flu is still hanging on but I'm beating the miserable SOB), I received the following e-mail from NHL Public Relations (oh, the perks of a free-lance writer):


NEW YORK (February 14, 2005) -- Bill Daly, NHL Executive Vice
President and Chief Legal Officer, met for several hours today with Ted
Saskin, Senior Director of Business and Licensing Affairs for the NHL
Players’ Association. No progress was made in the collective bargaining
process. There will be no further comment.

Bah! Humbug! They must be using "cut and paste" for these statements over at NHL headquarters considering how often we've seen this issued by them (and yes, to be fair, we see the same thing from the NHLPA).

Then this morning, in amongst the early e-mail news alerts (thank you, Google), was this from the NHLPA Public Relations folks:

TORONTO (February 15, 2005): On Monday, the League presented the NHLPA with a proposal that included a significant move in the Players’ direction. The League abandoned its demand for “linkage” for the first time by agreeing that the League would no longer insist that League-wide compensation be limited to a percentage of declared League-wide revenues. However, the League continued to demand a team payroll cap of $40 million.

In response, the Players made a counter-proposal that featured an unprecedented move of their own. Specifically, for the first time ever, the Players included an upper limit on team payrolls. The Players’ payroll limit was set at $52 million. The Players’ counter-proposal also featured more aggressive tax thresholds and tax rates on team payrolls.

The League rejected the Players’ proposal.

NHLPA Senior Director Ted Saskin released the following statement:

“It is indeed unfortunate that with the major steps taken by both sides today we were unable to build enough momentum to reach an agreement.”

So there it is. After months of swearing they'd never accept a hard cap, the players just acknowledged they're willing to accept one.

And after swearing for months they'd never abandon tying salaries to revenues, the NHL did just so.


There, I feel better now.

So we've gone all these months, nay, years really, with both sides drawing their respective lines in the sand, claiming they'll never ever move off them, willing to cause irreparable harm to their product to get what they want, and at the last minute, now they're willing to move off their respective stances.

I agree with what TSN's Bob McKenzie said last night: this process is a joke.

But, but, BUT!

They're finally moving off their positions. Nobody's caving here. Both sides are finally, finally, FINALLY showing a willingness to compromise at the same time.

Yes, yes, I know, the players are still seeking a luxury tax system, but that "upper limit" is a cap, a hard cap, no matter how you spin it. For the first time, they're officially suggesting they'll play under a hard cap.

There will be lots of talk over the next 24 hours over how the players are rising up against NHLPA honcho Bob Goodenow, that they're pressuring him to accept the league's terms.

There's undoubtedly some truth in Goodenow and his executive feeling pressure from the membership, but it's not to be construed as an "uprising". The players want to play, but they still want the best deal they can get. They're not going to blindly swallow whatever the league throws at them and trust in the owners not to screw them.

So why are they insisting on that luxury tax system? Because the NHL's proposed revenue-sharing scheme is a joke, based on a pool of playoff revenues that will barely keep small-market clubs alive, but not competitive.

With a tough luxury tax system (and I'm curious to see what it was they proposed, but it has to be better than the weak taxes they proposed in their December offer), it would still allow big market clubs to spend for marquee talent, but the taxes they'd pay the league for doing so would go toward benefitting the small market clubs, allowing them to not only stay alive but giving them a real chance at competitive bidding in the UFA market and retention of their RFA talent.

The important thing here, however, is the players are willing to accept a limit on their salaries. $52 million is of course too high. I'm not about to defend that for a second.

But surely that can be negotiated. Surely to heavens that figure can be adjusted downward.

And let's hear it for the owners. At long last, they're finally getting it. The players won't accept any attempt to tie their salaries to revenues because, quite frankly, they don't trust the way the owners report that revenue and probably never will.

I don't blame the owners for still insisting on a salary cap, although I still feel a luxury tax system is a better way to go. Indeed, if there was a better means of revenue-sharing proposed by the league than the one they proposed in December, that cap system might stand a better chance of benefitting the small markets.

That being said, demanding a $40 million cap isn't going to fly with the players and they know it. That figure will have to come up to reflect the realities of the payrolls of nearly half the NHL franchises.

But still, give Gary Bettman and Bill Daly some credit. They don't want this season to die anymore than anyone on the players side wants to see it die. If they did, they wouldn't have moved off linkage nor would Bettman have given his blessing to Daly to call Saskin for one more round of talks.

Yes, Bettman is feeling the heat too. Goodenow isn't the only one hearing from his constituents. Bettman too is getting an earful from moderate owners and those big market ones who've kept unusually quiet throughout this lockout.

Those owners don't want to throw what's left of this season over the cliff. They realize only too well what the long-term consequences will be. They know Bettman's hard line stance has squeezed numerous concessions out of the players, but realize those concessions in any other sports league would've seen a return to action weeks ago.

Bettman could've ignored them, kept his own council and pulled the plug today, but he gave it the negotiations one more shot, and now both sides are probably closer, in my humble opinion, to getting a deal done than at any time throughout these talks.

If these talks hadn't occured yesterday, or if both sides emerged still firmly entrenched in their respective positions as they've done for months now, I wouldn't be saying this. I'd given up hope weeks ago.

But now, there is finally a real, true glimmer of hope left.

A luxury tax system with a $52 million cap isn't going to fly with the owners. A $40 million hard cap with no linkage to revenues won't fly with the players.

But neither side said negotiations were over.

Talks will continue today. They have to. There's real progress being made here for the first time in this long, stupid, nasty labour dispute. Neither side is going to just let the clock tick down to doomsday at 1 pm tomorrow without giving it one more shot.

There is a halfway point here, and there's still time now for both sides to get a last-minute resolution in place.

Both sides are obviously trying to save face here. Bettman needs something that looks like a salary cap and Goodenow needs something that doesn't look like one.

That suggests a hybrid system. A hard cap set at a level comfortable enough for the players but still strict enough for the owners, with a taxation system that'll allow for improved revenue sharing to bolster the small markets.

And the magic figure, I believe, is $46 million.

It can be done, if the will is still there.

We'll know for certain by tomorrow at 1 PM


- For months now there were suggestions the NHL lockout could be resolved by bringing in third party mediators.

That theory was effectively dismissed yesterday.

Five hours of talks between the NHL and NHLPA representatives with federal mediators in Washington DC on Sunday failed to achieve a resolution, and with both sides still firmly entrenched, it's now up to NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman to decide if he'll follow through with his ultimatum to cancel the season.

This wasn't the first time the two sides met with the U.S. Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service (FMCS), admitted NHLPA Senior Director Ted Saskin. Both sides had met twice with the FMCS prior to Sunday's meeting.

Bless the little dickens, they were able to keep some things secret, weren't they?

This naturally only goes to show that those of us in the media have been getting played by both sides on a regular basis. They parcel out whatever info they want us to publish, not to sway public opinion since that has no bearing on settling this dispute, but to publicly buttress their respective positions for the upcoming legal battle and to use us as a method to exert pressure on each other.

Oh well, I'll chalk this up to what we in the military call, "lessons learned".

If there were any lingering doubt about the resolve of both sides to get what they want at the expense of a season and alienating their fans, this should dispel it once and for all.

If third party federal mediators cannot bring about a resolution, what will?

This proves neither side is willing to compromise. Neither is willing to move off their respective position, and both are willing to plunge into the abyss to get what they want.

Happy Valentine's Day, hockey fans.

- I DARE YA! I DOUBLE DARE YA! That essentially was the challenge thrown down to the NHLPA by Ottawa Senators owner Eugene Melnyk.

He not only believes a majority of the 700-plus NHLPA membership would play under a salary cap, he feels we'd be "absolutely shocked" if the PA allowed the players to vote on it.

There are reports that some players have told their owners and general managers they'd be willing to play under a salary cap that wasn't tied to linkage to revenues.

I don't doubt that for a minute, but I don't share Melnyk's confidence.

I don't believe that the PA membership are the brainwashed dum-dums they've been portrayed by some in the press. Most of them are fully aware of what's at stake, and they're also aware of what the NHL has been offering them.

Goodenow is a very strong and persuasive leader, but this isn't the same as when his predecessor, the equally strong and persuasive Alan Eagleson, was running the show.

Back in the days of the "Eagle", the players had limited access to the NHLPA Executive Director, nor were they fully aware of what he was up to and what the league was offering them. They trusted Eagleson to handle everything and if any one of them question him, Eagleson would belittle them with verbal abuse and threats.

That's not the case this time. The players are fully aware of the issues and what proposals are coming from the league. There's talk of dissidents within their ranks being cowed by the PA, but there's little to substantiate this, only media speculation.

If there were a growing number of players willing to play under a cap, we'd have heard from them by now. The players are loyal, but if they feel their loyalty has been betrayed, or if they're not happy with their leadership, they rise up as one to oust them.

Just ask Alan Eagleson.

Still, it might not be a bad idea for the NHLPA to hold a confidential vote and release the results to the public.

As long as the NHL allows their owners to hold a confidental vote whose results would also be publicized.

Of course, that doesn't matter because Bettman only needs 8 owners on his side to maintain this lockout.

- MORE TALK, NO ACTION. Check out this report to get a general idea as to how Bettman lifting his gag order on his owners and GMs is having little affect on swaying the players.

It was a nice try by Bettman, but as I noted yesterday, he should've played that card weeks ago. This comes far too late to have an impact on the players and is probably seen as yet another attempt at manipulation of the NHLPA membership by the league.

- WHO REALLY WINS? More than one pundit shares the belief of the Calgary Sun's Eric Francis that the owners will ultimately win out and the players will play under a salary cap one way or another.

So why won't the players just admit this and settle for the best salary cap they can get?

As I've said before, these guys are competitive by nature. As long as they believe they have a chance to win, no matter how long the odds, they'll fight.

And obviously they believe they can still win out, that eventually the owners losses will be so great that they'll give up on a hard salary cap in favour of the players luxury tax system.

The fact the owners losses could mean lower salaries isn't lost on the players, but they're obviously gambling on the fact that once the league returns to action, revenue will increase over the long run and salaries will improve.

That logic, however, is flawed. Just as the owners believe revenues will improve over the long run by swallowing the short-term losses of this lockout is flawed.

Both sides will lose regardless of which side emerges "victorious" from this lockout.

The players have made the better case in my opinion, and I agree that the league's "triggers" as proposed in last week's offer would've been implemented almost immediately to the players' detriment.

That being said, those triggers could've been negotiable, and I see nothing wrong with accepting a hard salary cap at $45 million that isn't tied to league revenues.

And remember, the end of this lockout won't spell the end of the acrimonious relationship between the two sides.

Whichever side loses this time will gear up for war for the next time, and this whole mess will begin again in six or seven years time, unless there can be real progress toward cooperation and compromise between the two sides.

- ANY MORE PROPOSALS? The Ottawa Sun today reported of the possibility "a group of owners -- who aren't salary-cap hard-liners -- agents and players were trying to cobble together a proposal last night that might be acceptable to both sides."

Hey, it's honourable if they do, but remember who has to sign off on such a proposal for it to be accepted?

That's right, Gary Bettman and NHLPA honcho Bob Goodenow.

Still think a last-minute deal is possible?

February 13: TOO LITTLE, TOO LATE.

- The cold has turned into a full-fledged flu, folks (say that five times really fast!), but I'll struggle through with a look at the latest news.

- Seems NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman has released the team owners and general managers from the gag order that prevented them from talking to their players.

That doesn't mean they can speak out to the press regarding their true feelings about the direction this lockout has turned, but they can speak with their players to get an idea if a deal may be possible before Bettman officially cancels the season, expected at some point this week.

TSN's Bob McKenzie reports this has started a flurry of activity behind the scenes, and while there are some players letting their GMs and owners know they're willing to play under a cap system that isn't linked to revenues, McKenzie warns they're in a minority.

Meanwhile, McKenzie also reports of rumours the NHLPA might indeed make one final offer to the league, possibly built around a hybrid system of a luxury tax and salary cap, with the triggers from the league's last offer in place but negotiated at levels more favourable for the players.

Believe whatever you want, folks, but I don't believe anything that's going on now will bring about a season-saving resolution.

For this to have been effective, Bettman should've allowed the owners and GMs to speak to their players weeks ago.

Give Bettman credit, he's playing this card in hopes of creating a groundswell of support from the players toward accepting his latest offer.

Unfortunately, this will be seen as little more than a manipulative ploy by the Commish amongst the NHLPA membership. Remember what I said a week ago? They're sensitive to any attempt, real or perceived, by the NHL to divide the players.

Hey, if I'm proven wrong, I'll dance for joy, but this is a case of too little, too late.

- As for that season-saving deal, several sports economists believe the NHL would be "playing with fire" by coming back with a 28-game schedule, believing it would alienate the game's dwindling fan base.

These economists (Andrew Zimbalist, an economics professor at Smith College; Jackie Dal Santo, a Chicago-based executive who evaluates franchises for Willamette Management Associates; and Roger Noll, an economics professor at Stanford University) make some very good points regarding the problems the NHL has gotten itself into with this lockout and the economic fallout this lockout will create.

Still, I have to respectfully disagree that playing a truncated season isn't a good idea.

While a 28-30 game schedule would be a farce, it would at least get the NHL back into the consciousness of North American sports fans. It would also still ensure a full four rounds of Stanley Cup playoffs, which is a time traditionally when hockey's presence is at its peak.

As the TSN analysts like Brian Burke, Bob McKenzie and Glenn Healy have stated, a shortened season would begin to create interest in the league again, building momentum going into next season.

- Noll also made an excellent point regarding the NHL's plans to implement a hard cap system without a decent system of revenue sharing.

"The notion that the NHL can solve its problems with a salary cap is ludicrous. It will increase profits for the best teams, but it doesn't make the small-market teams viable. The disparity of revenues across the league is greater than in any other sport, and there's no salary solution to that problem. Some teams have 25 times (the local TV revenue) of other teams. The only solution is to get rid of the small-market teams or subsidize them.

"Even if salaries were zero dollars per year, I question if some small-market teams would have enough revenue to cover costs. Blowing up the league is the likely outcome because the big-market teams don't see revenue sharing as being in their best interest."

If I were a fan of a small market team, I'd be very concerned about the long term survival of my club under the NHL's proposed revenue sharing system, which would be drawn from a pool of playoff revenues.

Those who cite the NFL's cap system as proof a hard cap works misses the fact that the real reason for the NFL's success is their lucrative revenue-sharing system, which not only allows small market clubs to be competitive, but even Super Bowl contenders.

Granted, the NHL doesn't have the kind of revenues streams of the NFL, but there is no good reason why the big markets shouldn't share more of their regular season revenues for the overall good of their league.

Without a good revenue sharing system, the small market clubs are doomed.

- Meanwhile, the Toronto Sun's Al Strachan repeats his contention from last August of the possibility of a European Superleague rising to challenge the NHL's domination of professional hockey.

Strachan writes of rumours that Central European businessmen, including an unnamed Swiss billionaire, are watching the NHL's labour dispute closely and if it shuts down for a year, could possibly start up a Superleague.

"Euro-focus" columnist Danny Pugsley shot down the possibility of such a league starting up in the near future, although he didn't rule out entirely the premise that such a league could be a reality over time.

I know many hockey fans loath Strachan, and he is one of the biggest rumourmongers in the NHL, but I have to admit that he's on to something here.

Not that I anticipate a European Superleague taking shape by next season, but if the NHL succeeds in implementing its cost certainty proposals, the hard cap on salaries could create an opportunity for European teams to bid competitively for NHL free agents, especially European players.

That's in the short term. Over the next ten years, should the NHL continue to impose that hard cap and when (no if) there's another labour dispute, that could give some European businessmen the incentive to create that superleague.

The NHL has been so myopic regarding their battle with their players that they can't even see the threat from Europe that will be coming to their monopoly within the next decade.


- I'm battling a nasty cold today folks, so I won't be making any lengthy analyses today (to which my critics respond, "you should catch a cold more often!). Anyhooo, here's the latest on the NHL's Neverending Story:

- In a radio interview yesterday NHL VP Bill Daly claimed his NHLPA counterpart Ted Saskin lied about the league's latest offer,which contained four trigger points, as being "final and non-negotiable. Daly said he told Saskin in two face-to-face meetings that if the PA had a problem with those trigger points they should negotiate them.

Pretty strong stuff from Daly, although conspiracy theorists might assume that was solely for public consumption and talks are still secretly ongoing.

Perhaps they are, but to come out and call your opponent a liar this late in the game, with the 2004-05 season hanging by a thread, doesn't bode well for any last minute resolution.

- The Toronto Star's Damien Cox had a nice bit today about how NHL hockey was always a dependable touchstone for Canadians and the damage this lockout has caused to that dependability.

- Pittsburgh Penguins captain and owner Mario Lemieux is still holding out hope a season-saving deal can be reached soon. He's one of the few who still believe that.

What's more interesting in the piece is the comments of Penguins team president Ken Sawyer, who claims the club will lose more money if this season is shut down than it lost last season (over $3 million US by their estimation).

Hmmm, and here I thought struggling small market clubs would lose less money if the season was lost than if they played. At least, that's what certain owners (hello, there, Peter Karmanos of the Carolina Hurricanes and Craig Leopold of the Nashville Predators) were claiming when this lockout began.

Bang goes that theory, but of course, anyone with a basic understanding of math could tell you that a business which shuts down for a year will lose more money than if it were still operating at a loss.

Rule number one in business: stay in business. The NHL has violated that rule and it's going to pay big time for doing so.

One of those casualties could be Lemieux's Penguins. No wonder he's still hoping for a resolution.

- Speaking of small market clubs losing money, ESPN's Darren Rovell takes an in-depth look at the long-term ramifications for those franchises should the season be cancelled. Definitely worth checking out if you're a fan of a small market franchise.

- If you're one of those few still hopeful a deal can be reached this weekend, this should pour water on those hopes. The Globe and Mail reports NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman sent a memo to the 30 Board of Governors advising them to prepare for a conference call regarding cancellation of the 2004-05 season.

Yeah, I know, that's only for public consumption or it's yet another pressure tactic to get the players back to the table.

Don't believe it. Bettman is serious. Unless the NHLPA comes back with a counter-proposal to his latest offer that he feels is worth negotiating, the season is toast.

After Bill Daly called Ted Saskin a liar, don't expect any proposal from the players.

- The NHLPA has said from the beginning they're not interested in a cap of any kind, so we can forget about those rumours of their accepting one not tied to league revenues.

As for myself, Daly is suggesting his side would be open to that, and I believe the PA should consider it.

I can understand why the players don't want their salaries tied to revenues, since if the revenues go down, so would their salaries.

A fixed cap, on the other hand, would stay in place no matter how much revenues dropped. If the players sought one set at, say, $45 million, I think that would be more than fair.

Still, a salary cap alone isn't going to help solve the problems of the small market clubs. All that'll do is ensure big market teams make more money. It'll help the small markets remain alive, but they still won't be able to compete on an equal footing with their big market peers without a better system of revenue sharing than that proposed by the league.

- TSN's Bob McKenzie reminds us all as to whom the real casualties are in this lockout. It's the regular folks who relied on the NHL for their livelihood, like arena workers, ticket sellers, concessionaires and the like who are the true victims of the stupid hard-hardeness of both sides.

- Tom Benjamin examines how injuries could create a loophole "big enough to drive a truck through" under the league's cost certainty cap system.

If I've said it once, I've said it a thousand times, unless the NHL puts forth stern measures to ensure no team can circumvent a hard cap, that's just what will happen.

It happens with the entry-level cap under the last CBA, and as Benjamin notes, it could happen when injuries start riddling rosters during a season.

- Finally, here's a link to a hockey blog I missed in last Sunday's rankings of the best hockey blogs. It's called "Puck Update" and run by a chap named Steven Ovadia. His blog contains lots of interesting news snippets from the world of hockey, and not just on the NHL lockout. Definitely worth a look.

February 11: HATE TO SAY "I TOLD YOU SO..."

...but I told you so.

At this time last week I claimed any hope of salvaging what remained of the 2004-05 season was lost last week when the NHLPA ended talks with the NHL in New York.

Yesterday, it was the NHL's turn to storm out of negotiations in a huff, with NHL VP Bill Daly telling the media recent talks were "pointless".

The reason why Daly made that claim is because the NHLPA refused to accept the league's latest offer, which contained four triggers (one pundit suggested they were " four incendiary devices tied to hair-trigger wires") that would see the league revert immediately to their hard-cap system at any point when it was determined that playing under the PA's luxury tax system wasn't working.

I explained yesterday in this column why the PA rejected the league's latest offer.

Media consensus was overwhelming in their negative critique of this latest NHL proposal. Even Rogers Sportsnet hockey commentator - and former Toronto Maple Leafs executive - Bill Watters, who's been pro-owner throughout this work stoppage, chided the league for not throwing the players a bone upon which they could negotiate a new deal.

Dubi Silverstein of Blueshirt Bulletin sat in on yesterday's press conferences and observed that neither side emphatically claimed the season was over.

He's right, but given the inflexibility of either side as we near the potential deadline for NHL commissioner Gary Bettman to cancel the season (believed to come at some point early next week if the two sides aren't writing up a new CBA by this weekend), the fact they're not saying it doesn't mean it won't happen.

Indeed, both sides appear to be getting their ducks in a row for when this battle enters the next phase, when the league files for an impasse with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB)in the United States.

Neither Bettman or Goodenow are going to come out before the "drop-dead date" and say that the season is already done when there's apparently still two days and change remaining to work on a deal.

But make no mistake, unless either side suddenly shows a willingness to move off their hard-line opposition to what the other side is offering, no deal will be made.

It was apparent from the comments yesterday from Bill Daly and NHLPA assistant director Ted Saskin that both sides are already looking past the expected upcoming cancellation toward the legal battle to come.

Saskin claimed Bettman and Daly told he and NHLPA honcho Bob Goodenow the latest offer was also the league's last, best offer. That was disputed by Daly who claims his side never said such a thing.

The disputing over whether or not this was the league's final offer had nothing to do with pressuring the PA to come back with one more offer before the deadline.

Instead, it's tied to the process of determining an impasse before the NLRB.

As this link explains, before an employer (the NHL in this instance) can implement their pre-impasse proposals (which will probably be their last offer to the NHLPA), they must ensure an impasse does exist.

One of the key factors is ensuring it has made a final offer to the union (the NHLPA).

The NHLPA's contention this was the league's final offer suggests they believe the league is angling toward declaring an impasse, that they have no further intention of continuing negotiations.

I'm not a lawyer, but to me that might suggest the PA is hoping to use that as ammunition against the league if Bettman and the owners decide to file for an impasse, that their last offer was simply not worth putting before the rank-and-file for ratification because of those "triggers" in the last offer.

By claiming it was not their final offer, Bettman and Daly may be padding their case for an anticipated filing for an impasse by claiming they've done everything possible to get a deal in place and thus attempt to cast the PA as unwilling to bargain.

Just because the season is cancelled doesn't mean talks can't continue at some point, although the possibility grows remote when one considers that the PA won't be under any pressure to get back to the bargaining table if the 2004-05 season is wiped out.

It's quite possible there may be one more proposal made by either side prior to next week's anticipated deadline, but don't expect it to be one that saves the season.

Instead, it'll be geared toward building the respective cases of one side or the other in anticipation of the court battle to come.

As the clock ticks down toward season cancellation, some fans and pundits are calling for both Bettman and Goodenow to be fired.

FIRE BETTMAN AND GOODENOW REDUX: I explained in detail last September in this column why it was pointless to make that suggestion.

Here's the Cliff Notes version: It's pointless to fire either man because it won't change the way these negotiations have gone.

Neither man are blindly leading their clients like sheep toward impending doom. They're doing exactly what they were hired to do, represent the interests of their respective clients.

Bettman is seeking cost certainty because that's what the owners want. Goodenow is rejecting any hard cap proposal because that's what the players want.

We may not like Bettman's oily smarm or Goodenow abasive bullying, but they're doing what any good lawyer does: represent to their best of their ability the desires of those who hired them.

Calling for their heads is a pointless exercise. They're in those jobs for as long as their respective clients want them in those jobs.


Oh, those crafty negotiators in the NHL and NHLPA.

After lulling us to sleep with their "move along, nothing to see here" mantra of the past several days, turns out the little darlings actually sat down to a meeting yesterday in Toronto.

This of course hit the newswires just moments after I filed my latest Foxsports column about a whole lotta nothin' goin' on, filled with pithy references to sounds of silence being a silent killer to the season. Ah, it was yet another treasured classic from the flowery pen of yours truly.

Then I check out TSN's website and BLAM! (Not BAM! because I can't stand Emeril), now I had to scribble a hasty note to my editor at Foxsports to note that a meeting took place after all.

Luckily for me, he's not the stereotypical editor who'd scream, "Get me re-write", or demand I re-submit my article. I'm just thankful I caught it in time to save face.

I gotta give both sides credit, for once, they held a secret meeting that stayed truly secret, at least for most of Wednesday anyway.

So anyway, hooray, they had another meeting...only the end result was the same as every other one between the two sides since Trevor Linden tried to re-start negotiations almost a month ago. The league made another proposal and the PA turned it down.

No details thus far as to why, although I'm hopeful to hear something later on this evening - I'm writing this on Wednesday night - of which I can post the details here.

Regardless, it's a safe bet that once again, Gary Bettman and company once again made another offer tying salaries to revenues, which I think we should all know by now is something the players will not accept.

If the Commish really wants to save the season (we're hearing whispers of a March 1st start date for a 30-game season if a deal is reached by this weekend), he's got to move off that stance.

I'm not saying he's gotta give in to the players, but what's painfully obvious is playing the hard-line card has not worked nor is it going to work as far as saving this season is concerned.

Despite rumours from league sycophants like Stan Fischler claiming the players will crack any minute, that they're growing dissatisfied with Bob Goodenow and his executive committee and how Goodenow and his posse are afraid to put the league proposals before a PA vote, the end result makes it plain that there is nothing to these reports.

Look, if the players were ready to crack, they'd have done so by now. In fact, they would've done so by January to ensure they'd get at least half a season's salary.

But now we're approaching mid-February, and if the NHL starts up on March 1st, these guys will only draw four paycheques, plus perhaps 3/8s of the playoff revenues. They're not feeling any pressure now to get a deal signed.

Sure, most would like to return to action this season but money isn't their motivation.

If a majority of players were dissatisfied with Goodenow and company, the revolt would've also taken place by now. Something like that could not be kept quiet or out of the media.

Some of the players undoubtedly aren't happy with the direction the PA has taken, but they're in a small minority. The majority are not cowed by Goodenow. They hired him to get the best deal possible and still believe he'll deliver.

If most wanted a vote on the league's proposals, they would've clamoured for that too. The PA's supposed "militancy" obviously reflects the opinions of most of the players regardless of their standing.

So the pressure is squarely upon Bettman and the owners. If they want a season, they'll have to move off that hard-line stance.

There's media speculation the players might accept a hard cap provided it's fixed, rather than a floating one tied to league revenues.

The rationale for that is a fixed cap won't be affected if league revenues were to drop, which will surely happen next season if this season is lost.

Under the league's proposal ($30 million to $40 million salary range), if revenues next season would drop by 30 percent, so would that salary range, down to $21 million to $31 million for next season according to a recent NY Post article.

Whereas, if the league set a fixed cap at $45 million, it would remain in place regardless of the rise or fall of league revenues.

Again, however, that's merely speculation, as is the suggestion the players might guarantee their luxury tax proposal by covering any overages under their plan, or as Damien Cox of the Toronto Star called it, writing "a big honkin' cheque for the entire amount of any league-wide payroll expenditures in excess of a certain level."

As the PA and several of the players have told us all along, they won't accept a hard cap, no way, no how.

So unless the league bends and works out some other compromise solution, there isn't going to be a season-saving deal.

In which case, Bettman should just save everyone the trouble, cancel the season, and set the next phase of this dance into motion, the one before the labour courts of the United States and Canada.

UPDATE: TSN reports the league offered to "begin play immediately using the NHLPA's Dec. 9 proposal until such time it became clear the proposal was not working, at which time the system would switch over to the NHL's proposal of Feb. 2.

That apparently was not well received by the NHLPA, which believed this compromise proposal from the league was just a way to get to the hard-cap economic system in place if not now, at some point in the near future."

So much for the speculations of a month ago that the players were making a similar pitch to the league.

And why wouldn't the players accept the league's last offer, which was more concilliatory than their previous two?

Because of that floating salary range system tied to league revenues, as well as sneaky little bits like the league having the right to unilaterally eliminate salary arbitration at any time, which there would be nothing the PA could do about it until the new CBA reached the four year mark.

I love Bill Daly's description of today's meeting:

"We stopped by the union's offices today and made a compromise proposal to the Players' Association, which was rejected," Bill Daly told Sportsnet."

"Yeah, you know, me and Gary just happened to be in the neighbourhood, thought we'd drop by, bring over some Timbits and coffee, shoot the breeze and, oh look, by chance we've got another proposal we'd like you to look at".

Sorry, forgot to engage my snark eliminator.

The good news (and haven't we heard that phrase before) is Bettman and Daly are remaining in Toronto and will continue meeting with Goodenow and his lieutenant, Ted Saskin.

Draw your own conclusions but I'm not that optimistic.


The following is from the NHL's press release regarding Wednesday's talks:

Any one of four economic and competitive conditions would "trigger"
conversion to the terms outlined in the NHL's February 2, 2005 proposal:

a. League-wide Player Compensation exceeds 55 percent of League-wide hockey revenues; or

b. The average of Club Payroll for highest three Payroll Clubs in the
League is more than 33 percent higher than the average of Club
Payroll for the lowest three Payroll Clubs in the League; or

c. Any three Clubs each have Club Player Compensation in excess of
$42 million; or

d. League-wide average Player Compensation per Club exceeds $36.5

And those points are why the NHLPA isn't willing to accept the league's latest offer.

In order to get the hard cap of cost certainty, it wouldn't take much for several owners to ensure any of those circumstances take place . If the league insists on conversion at any point during their six-year CBA period, they could turn around after the first full season under this arrangement, say, "this isn't working" and convert to their February 2nd proposals.

Sorry, folks, but the NHLPA isn't going to accept any of those conditions. They realize all it would take is, oh, say, 8 free-spending clubs (and we know who the usual suspects are!) to create any one of those conditions under a luxury tax system, and it's goodbye, luxury tax, hello hard cap and floating salary range tied to league revenues.

I truly hope I'm proven wrong, gang, but I'm not expecting anything to come out of these last-ditch efforts to save the season.

February 9: I'M SO TIRED...

I'm so tired,

I haven't slept a wink,

I'm so tired,

My mind is on the blink.

I wonder, should I get up

and fix myself a drink?

- John Lennon, "I'm So Tired." The Beatles "White Album", 1968.

So here I sit, dear readers, after having bashed out the rough draft for my next Foxsports.com column, and find I have absolutely nothing worthwhile to write about the latest NHL lockout news.

Perhaps that's because of the lack of real news of late, of which I will be commenting on in the aforementioned Foxsports article. I could elaborate further on it, but then I'd be repeating myself, and quite frankly, that's something else I'm getting tired of.

I've been accused at times of sounding like a broken record by critics for my "harpings", but never felt that I was at risk of repeating myself and thus boring myself than I do today.

Maybe it's lockout fatigue. Maybe I'm just tired because I've been fighting off a bad cold since last Friday, which has made every article a struggle to write rather the the usual joy.

Maybe it's just a combination of both feeling under the weather physically and my frustration over the desire of both the NHL and NHLPA to destroy themselves.

Regardless of which side you're on in his dispute between owners and players, I think everyone can agree that risking the loss of this season and possibly next is a very stupid move for a league that has dropped to second-tier status in the US sports market, and risks alienating some of their core fan support in Canada.

But that seems to elude everyone involved with this mess, and as we've seen it's become quite apparent that there won't be a season-saving resolution.

Oh, sure, it could still happen, and I'm sure once it did I'd get at least one snarky e-mail from a critic suggesting what a tool I was for giving up hope and what a loser I am, bladadeeblabla, bladadeebla...

And if it were to happen, I'd be very happy regardless of any carping from critics real or imagined.

After all, my reputation and that of my site was in tracking and reporting on the validity of trade and free agent rumours, and same-day commentary on trades and free agent signings.

And it was a lot of fun to do.

It's been many months since I've had any noteworthy rumours to post. Usually at this time of year, I'm in the midst of one of my busiest and most enjoyable - or to use one of my favourite butcherings of the use of fun as an attributive adjective - the "funnest" time of the season.

At this time of year, the trade rumour mill is churning wildly. We'd be approximately four to six weeks away from the March trade deadline. I'd usually average over 7,000 unique hits per day at this point, which of course would translate into higher advertising revenues for yours truly.

I took pride in scouring the media, accumulating the latest media speculations into a "one-stop shopping" site for hockey fans, along with providing my own unique commentary as to the validity of those speculations.

And once, perhaps twice a week, I'd use this Soapbox to spout off on whatever happened to catch my interest over the course of a week.

As the weeks would go by, the rumours and trades would increase, as would my traffic, up to over 10,000 unique hits per day. By the final days leading up to the deadline, it would be a frenzy. I would take a week off from my day job to provide almost round-the-clock coverage, and the unique visitors would reached over 25,000 per day.

By trade deadline day, I'd have averaged three hours sleep per day, esssentially shut myself away from the rest of the world (thank heavens for a very understanding wife and son), existing on little more than "rocket fuel" - coffee, toast and peanut butter, bananas, mini-pizzas and scotch.

I'd lose five pounds in that week, and would have dark bags under my eyes from the lack of sleep brought on by constantly updating my site, firing off "as they happen" trade reviews to Foxsports, and tracking player movement via TSN, Rogers Sportsnet, The Score and various internet sites and e-mails from helpful fans.

That's what happens when you're a staff of one. Face it, you either love what you do to put yourself through that kind of insanity, or you are truly insane. I prefer to think it's the former, but some of you by now will be thinking it's the latter.

I wouldn't be able to survive 52 solids weeks of that, but one week of it was always a thrill-ride I looked forward to. I would end the trade deadline utterly exhausted, usually needing two solid days afterwards to recuperate.

And I'd be very happy.

The June draft weekend was always entertaining, but that was only two days of potential trade activity. It made for a hectic couple of afternoons, but my mornings and evenings were my own.

Summer free agency was far less frenzied than the March deadline and more enjoyable. I'd be no less busy, but one just cannot stay cooped up all day inside one's home during a Prince Edward Island summer.

During the opening day of the UFA market, I'd just do my updates every hour, then pop outside to enjoy the day. I'll toss a baseball around with my son, then go in, check my updates, post up any reports and then head back out again,this time maybe to wear my dog out playing fetch.

More often than not I'd relax on my deck, enjoying the sound of the breeze in the trees, the warmth of the sun on my face, the smells of fresh-cut grass and distant barbeques and an occasional cold beer as the afternoon heads into evening, especially since the first day of free agency is a holiday, as that's Canada Day up Canada way. That's my official start of summer.

Sadly,thanks to this lockout, it doesn't look as though I'm going to enjoy my own version of "March Madness". the June draft weekend and my own official kickoff of summer this July 1st.

This lockout has in my own humble opinion made me a better writer. Providing daily updates to this site plus three articles per week for Foxsports will do that. I've learned a lot about the business of hockey in particular and of sports in general.

I have found researching the many intricacies of this lockout interesting and rewarding, and for the most part I've enjoyed debating the lockout with some of you readers.

But when this is pretty much all there is to write about, well, it gets a little old and at times I get a bit fed up.

I have attempted to find other things to write about, and occasionally something else will come up to pique my interest, but the lockout talk has been the dominant theme and thus makes it difficult to find other things to write about.

In a sense it's become an obsession, but in my opinion an unhealthy one.

I realize there's lots of other hockey going on out there, especially in the minor ranks and in Europe, but the NHL remains my passion, sometimes to my own detriment. What's going on with the big league tends to dwarf everything else that's going on.

Not that I've totally kept the blinders on. I loved following the World Juniors, I've been keeping tabs on NHLers' overseas and the happenings in Junior A, particularly with the top prospects.

But again, they just seem to pale in significance with the NHL's apparent death throes.

It's almost a sick fascination, like watching a train wreck about to occur. You know it's going to be ugly, that there will be casualties, serious ones, but yet you can't turn away.

Anyway, I've rambled enough for now. Hopefully tomorrow I'll be recharged, maybe something else will spark my outrage, optimism, or gloom and I'll have something more substantive to post here.

If not, I'm sure I'll find something more entertaining than this rather rambling monologue.

If you've made it this far, bless you, and thanks again to all of you who keep coming back regularly during this unpleasantness we call the NHL lockout.

I'm tired,

Tired of playing the game.

Ain't it a fwiggin' shame?

I'm so tired.

-Madeline Kahn as Lili von Shtupp in "Blazing Saddles", 1974


- First we were told that unless a deal could be put in place to allow for at least 40 regular season games, there was no way the NHL could have a worthwhile shortened season.

When it became obvious that wasn't going to happen, we started hearing stories about how a 36-38 game schedule could be feasible. Then a 30-game schedule.

And now in the first full week of February we now hearing reports of anywhere from 18-to-28 game schedules could still be put in place.

There's some suggestion this could be feasible provided the season started up on 1 March, and if shortened playoff schedules (best of five for the first two rounds) were implemented. Or even just a 30 team Stanley Cup free-for-all tournament.

Is it me, or does this sound more like desperation on the part of some folks in the media? What's next? Will we hear come April that it's still possible to play the season throughout the summer?

Hey, I realize the NHL could do whatever it wants to do if they manage to get a new CBA signed with the players at some point in this month or next. I also understand that any kind of season would be better than nothing at all at this point.

But seriously, gang, what have we seen that proves a breakthrough of any kind is close?

Gary Bettman and Bob Goodenow met for 13 hours of face-to-face talks last week, and emerged still divided, with no new deal in place.

If they couldn't agree on a season-saving deal this late in the game, they never will, or at least, not a deal that will save this season anyway.

I hope in this instance I'm proven wrong, but as more time ticks by with no hint that this mess will end soon, it seems more likely I'll be proven right.

- It'll be interesting to find out what the Anaheim Mighty Ducks eventually sell for.

As LA Times columnist Chris Foster noted, Disney, the team's current owner, won't be selling the Ducks for a song, and they'll await until a new CBA is in place before selling the club.

The NHL will probably purchase the team first and then find a buyer, as they won't want to risk Disney finally throwing up their hands (they've had the club on the block for three years now) and selling it for far less than their estimated worth ($108 million, according to Forbes Magazine) and certainly not for $50 million US, which was what it cost Disney in expansion fees back in 1993.

Former Pittsburgh Penguins owner Howard Baldwin is one who remains seriously interested, although his bid of $50 million last September was a joke. Still, can't say I blame him for trying to buy low in hopes of increasing the franchise value in the future.

Regardless of whoever gets the Ducks, there's a strong possibility the team could be moved to another city, especially since the Ducks arena, the Arrowhead Pond, is owned by the city of Anaheim and not by Disney.

New owners of NHL franchises would prefer to have the arena as part of the deal. They don't want to have another entity controlling it, which is the problem NY Islanders owner Charles Wang has.

Control the arena, you control the luxury boxes, the endboard ads, concessions, parking and so on. Better that than to split that revenue with someone else.

- Tom Benjamin takes a good look at the motivations driving the owners side of the lockout. Worth a read regardless of which side you support.

I agree with Tom regarding his skepticism that half the owners are being driven by their bankers to get cost certainty into place.

As he pointed out, what would be the sense for bankers to push the owners into achieving cost certainty if it were to kill a season or possibly two?

All that accomplishes is putting their revenues into a tailspin and worsening an already bad situation.

- I dunno how much stock the NHL and NHLPA puts into polls and such, but if I were them and concerned about their place in the American sports market, I'd be very, very worried over this.

All red states, but not the kind even Republican hockey fans would be happy to see.

- A recent poll by Foxsports should also concern both sides. It shows that 64% of fans polled would watch an NHL product with replacement players.

Yep, that's something that should trouble the players, but that number isn't a victory for the NHL. 64% of fans turning out to watch a league full of replacements means than 36% are staying home, which translates into a substantial reduction in revenues.

If one-third of the fan base is staying home, the league loses as much as the players. Yet another instance where Pyrrhus could relate.

And I'm willing to bet that latter number would increase once fans realize they're still going to be paying high ticket prices to watch lesser talent masquarading as NHLers.

- So you think if the NHL gets its cost certainty that player salaries will become more affordable, particularly for the highest paid players?

Well, let's see, employing the statistics provided by the good folks at Hockeyzoneplus.com, we flash back to 1998-99, the first season in which NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman began making noises about salaries spiralling out of control.

In that season, we see payrolls ranged from a low of $11.4 million (Edmonton) to a high of $48.3 million (Detroit) at an overall average of $19.8 million US.

Now, take a look at what the salaries were for the top 25 players in the league and we see they range from $14 million that season for Sergei Federov (a front-loaded contract, I should point out) to $4.1 million for defenceman Uwe Krupp.

The overwhelming majority of those salaries ranged between $4.1 million to $6.3 million.

Consider now the NHL's proposed floating cap range of $30 million- $40 million tied to league revenues (or if revenues drop 30% next season, $21 million - $31 million).

If salaries in the last full season of the 1990s were as high as indicated, with an average payroll of $19.8 million, it's hard to believe the salaries of the best players are going to drop substantially under the NHL's proposed system.

They certainly won't be low enough to where small market clubs could afford them, either via re-signings, arbitration or unrestricted free agency.

That's why so few of the NHL's currently highest paid players (Jeremy Roenick and Mike Modano excepted) aren't saying very much during this lockout. They realize that, no matter what system is implemented, they're still going to get top dollar, which if they were to be lowered to 1998-99 rates, isn't going to be a substantial drop.

It'll be the rank-and-file players who'd take the whack, the guys who'll never make big money and would be lucky to make the league average.

What's also interesting about that list is how many of the top 25 players back then were playing for big market clubs. Only Dominik Hasek (Buffalo), Keith Tkachuk (Phoenix), Ron Francis (Carolina) and Jaromir Jagr (Pittsburgh) were playing for clubs that back then were considered either small market or struggling.

Hmmm, maybe that's why we're not hearing very much from the big market owners in this lockout?

Let's face facts, gang, without a strong revenue sharing plan (which the NHL's isn't, based on vague allusions to drawing on a fluctuating pool of playoff revenue), there's no way small market clubs will afford to retain or bid for top talent.

It also won't guarantee that teams will spend wisely. Again, look at 1998-99 and the top 25 paid players. $4.1 million? For Uwe Krupp?? And even back then, Keith Tkachuk was overpaid.

And if we look at the average payrolls of the three seasons following the 1999-2000 season, we see figures of $31.6 million, $33.3 million and $38.0 million.

Yet the highest paid players in 1999-2000 earned between $5 million to $10.3 million, in 2000-01, $5.2 million to $10 million, and in 2001-02, $6 million to $10.03 million.

Now granted, the days of the $10 million per season salary may be numbered under cost certainty, but not the days of $4 million to $7 million salaries.

Meaning it won't cost the big market teams quite as much to land the best talent money can buy, and small market clubs will still be stocked with plenty of affordable youngsters, average joes and rising talent who'll leventually be dealt away to big market teams or walk via the UFA market.

In other words, nothing really changes.

For fans of small market clubs, it's just not going to be any more affordable for your teams to retain your best talent, let alone bid for the best UFA players available.

Best hope you've got smart management and a good coaching staff, because that's what it'll take for your team to compete with the big boys.

Without a better revenue sharing plan, cost certainty won't help you.


- The Toronto Sun's Mike Ulmer, in an open letter yesterday to NHLPA honcho Bob Goodenow, wants Goodenow to tell the fans the season is over.

"Tell them what they already know, that the lockout was orchestrated years in advance.

Mostly, tell the folks you understand why they are angered at being denied one of the rare pleasures of winter. Tell them you're sorry."

First, Goodenow has told his players to prepare for a work stoppage that could last one to two years, which was duly noted by the media, so there's no need to tell us anything most hockey fans didn't already know.

Second, neither the PA nor the NHL really give a crap what the fans think. If they did, there wouldn't be a lockout. Fan opinion means nothing to either side.

If Ulmer wants apologies to the fans from Goodenow, he should also demand one from NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman. You can't have one without the other.

"You never seemed to understand that most people's lives exist within a fixed salary structure. For many, it's called minimum wage and they're bloody grateful that it exists.

Many more of us work under a salary grid; it's the staple of union shops everywhere.

Your problem always has been the fact that the NHLPA is not really a union. It's an association of consortiums that uses collective bargaining on one hand and capitalist theory on the other to collude and extort as much money as possible from the National Hockey League. Your unionism repels right-wingers and I'm going to tell you, you're not winning too many friends among garment workers, either."

Very good points. However, sports is part of the entertainment business and as such is not comparable to the fixed salary structures of those of us in the workaday world. Goodenow's proposals, centered around a payroll tax and 24% rollback, demonstrated a willingness to work under a fixed salary structure unique to professional sports, provided of course it allowed for flexibility and based on a free market system.

Now there's even speculation the players might accept a hard cap, provided it's not a floating one fixed to league revenues, based on comments from several players recently, including the Flyers Jeremy Roenick.

Furthermore, those under a fixed salary structure are also entitled to extra pay if they work overtime, plus many union contracts also have negotiated bonuses for the workers based on set criteria. Until last week, the NHL wanted to eliminate those two options for their players.

And while the NHLPA's system may be considered collusion and extortion by some, remember that the rights of the players are essentially owned by NHL teams under a monopolistic system that restricts where those players can be employed.

If an NHL player decides he doesn't want to play for his NHL club, as long as his rights are owned by that club, he cannot play anywhere else unless he's traded to another NHL team, suspended by the team (as was the case with Alexei Yashin in 1999), bought out of his contract or given his outright release and thus becoming an unrestricted free agent.

Given that system, it's little wonder the NHLPA-certified agents employ the practices they do. Essentially, it's one form of "legal evil" working against another. It may not be correct in our eyes, but the business of sports is not for the squemish and is every bit as rough as it is on the sporting fields and arenas

"The public, repulsed by both sides but particularly rankled by the players, can be won over by the one thing so missing from the last 144 days: A show of honesty and integrity."

The NHLPA recognized years ago there was no way they could possibly win a PR war with the NHL. The public isn't going to commend Goodenow and the players for telling the world the season is over, but rather would only heap more verbal abuse upon them.

Besides, it's pointless to suggest Goodenow should tell the hockey world this season won't occur, since that decision is up to the National Hockey League, not the NHLPA. If Goodenow were to make such a statement, Gary Bettman and Bill Daly would savage him mercilessly in the press.

- The Toronto Sun's Steve Simmons continues the Goodenow bashing:

"Does Bob Goodenow realize how asinine he appears to the general public with this bully-like body language and ignorant attempts to intimidate camera people and those holding microphones? "

Does Steve Simmons realize Goodenow could care less how he appears to the general public? He wasn't hired by the players to be a cuddly bear for the media, but to get the best possible deal for his clients as possible.

Gary Bettman seems more media-savvy, but he's not above engaging in pissing contests with certain reporters (hello there, Al Strachan) in his press conferences, and his evasiveness when pressed for details on his cost certainty plan only raises more questions on its viability.

- The Ottawa Sun's Chris Stevenson (yes, it's "pick on the Sun Media day" here at Spector's Hockey...just kidding...) offers kudos to Don Cherry for slamming NHLer's like Chris Chelios, Derian Hatcher and Kris Draper for signing with the UHL:

"I've always been 100% for the players. But to take another guys' job is just horses--t," he told a Toronto newspaper.

"Those guys are hypocrites. It's just not fair what they're doing. If, God forbid, the NHL goes to impasse and guys cross the line, they'd be crucified by the NHL guys. But for them, it's okay."

Right on. "

I've touched on this whole "hypocrisy" issue before regarding NHLers going overseas, and I know I made a rule that I wasn't going to continually revisit the same issues in these little counterpoints, but this one regarding NHLers signing with minor league teams in North America is an exception that must be addressed.

First, let's take a look at the definition of hypocrite, shall we?

Hypocrite: n. a person who professes beliefs and opinions that he does not hold.

Now, let's take a look at the reasons why Chelios, Hatcher and Draper want to play in the UHL:

“It’s just a chance for the team to do something,” Chelios said, referring to the Motor City Mechanics which, according to AP, "who are averaging just 1,500 in attendance per game in a building that holds 3,200."

“I just couldn’t sit out for two years and try to come back at the National Hockey League level,” said Hatcher, referring to the knee injury which sidelined him for all but 15 NHL games last season.

“The bottom line is I want to go to Austria and represent Team Canada,” said Draper, referring to this spring's World Hockey Championships.

All three also expressed their desire to remain close to home, rather than be separated from their families or uprooting them by going to play in Europe.

Not one of them said, "I'm signing here because I need the money. This lockout is hurting my family financially so I have to do this to put food on the table".

Even if they were, so what? They're within their rights to seek employment elsewhere because the NHL locked them out. If they were on strike and doing this, it would be a different story and I'd agree they were being hypocritical.

And while there were some UHLers upset with NHLers coming to play in their league, as this article proves, not everyone was upset over the prospect, nor will those NHLers be taking away jobs from UHL players.

Then there's this critique: NHL players won't take a salary cap but they'll sign with a lesser league that has salary caps and where they'll make a pittance compared to what they could make in the NHL.

Those players are not signing with minor league teams because they need the money. They're doing it in order to keep doing what they know best: play hockey.

All want to keep playing competitively to keep their skill levels sharp and remain in game shape, either for the slim possibility of returning to a truncated 2004-05 season, or for when the league returns to action at some point next season.

It's also to keep their minds off the incessant lockout chatter and the repetitive questions from the press.

The routine of a professional hockey season remains essentially the same, whether you're jet-setting in the NHL or riding the trains in Europe or the busses in the UHL and ECHL. It has a familiarity these players find comforting.

Sure, NHL players might slam UHLers who might one day cross a picket line as replacements, but as we can see, there is no basis in this instance for accusing those NHLers of hypocrisy.

As for taking away jobs, it's funny how this became a hot button issue during this lockout, yet nobody in the media was crying about NHL has-beens and never-weres going over to Europe on a regular basis to supposedly take away jobs from European players.

It's odd that none of them are questioning the owners of those minor league and European clubs for signing NHL players and thus putting money and popularity over loyalty to their players.

I guess outrage aimed at millionaires who may or may not be taking away jobs from average joes sells more papers when there's no other hockey news to write about.

- If you wanna see a good example of hypocrisy, why not consider Dallas Stars owner Tom Hicks?

After all, as the Dallas Morning News recently observed:

"The payroll increased after Hicks purchased the club in 1995. That allowed the Stars to add productive veterans. Now, Hicks has fallen in with the hawks who push for less spending."

Hicks tossed money around wildly in the UFA market in the years leading up to the lockout, paying star wages on above-average or aging players like Pierre Turgeon, Bill Guerin, Donald Audette, Scott Young, Stu Barnes, Claude Lemieux and Teppo Numminen. Those signings contributed to driving up salaries, but then suddenly he pushes for less spending, and the media is more concerned about looking for hypocrisy that doesn't exist amongst the players.

Hicks's newfound fiscal restraint has more to do with his overpaid rosters making early post-season exits for two straight years and missing the playoffs in a third than in any sudden revelation that spending must be controlled.

I wonder if Hicks would've felt the need to control spending if those teams had won the Stanley Cup, or made it as Finalists, or even went to the Western Conference Finals?

This was the same Tom Hicks who owns baseball's Texas Rangers, the same one who signed shortstop Alex Rodriguez to that ridiculous $252 million contract, which he then had to peddle off to the NY Yankees when "A-Rod" wasn't playing up to his worth amid speculation he was a dividing force in the Rangers dugout.

This was the same Hicks who, according to the book "Money Players", loaded his management and head coach into a private jet to pay personal visits to their free agent targets in the summer of 2002.

Nobody put a gun to Hicks's head to go out and spend that much on those players. He did it of his own volition.

The fact he's now suddenly demanding that salaries be controlled, when he spent years doing otherwise seems hypocritical to me.

CORRECTION: In yesterday's Soapbox where I rated the best hockey blogs, I wrote that Jame Mirtle was no longer employed at the National Post. His contract actually expires with them in a week. I regret the error.


Over the past five years, "blogs" (short for web logs) have been increasing in number and popularity on the internet.

Blogs tend to be straightforward first-person journals devoid of the slick and sometimes distracting bells and whistles of web sites.

They're easy to start up and maintain, allowing anyone with a computer, an internet connection and an opinion the opportunity to get their thoughts into the public domain.

It was while researching lockout articles for this column and Foxsports.com that I stumbled across several hockey-related blogs, which I wouldn't have known existed had I been spending my time perusing media websites in search of trade and free agent rumours as I used to do BL - "Before Lockout".

Happily, what I found in most cases was a refreshing change from the usual media chatter, as the authors of these blogs tend to be die-hard hockey fans rather than media talking heads, thus bringing their own unique perspective to the lockout story.

So as a break from the usual lockout tediousness, here's a list of the best hockey blogs on the 'net.

Tom Benjamin's NHL Web Log is one of the best written blogs out there. Tom combines his own thoughts on the lockout with commentary on articles and reports(links provided) of interest. A must read and my first stop in my daily visits to the "blogosphere", Tom's blog provides a refreshing, entertaining daily dose of insightful writing and razor-sharp wit.

Blueshirt Bulletin is written by Dubi Silverstein, editor and publisher of the magazine of the same name. He dissected the Levitt Report long before Forbes Magazine and the rest of the media. As well as providing well-written commentary on the state of the game, Dubi's blog is a helpful reference source for those seeking the latest media take on the lockout.

Andrew's Dallas Stars Page blog, Mark Stepneski's off-shoot from his main site, provides daily "just the facts, ma'am" coverage of the lockout, and is an invaluable resource for CBA history and information. Mark's is one of the few blogs whose coverage of this labour dispute can be considered truly unbiased.

The Hockey Rodent - lockout coverage with attitude! The Rodent is squarely on the players side, but makes his case well, with observations on lesser known aspects (post-lockout free agency) of the lockout that the mainstream media seems to overlook.

Off Wing Opinion provides "commentary for the free markets sports fan", courtesy of Eric McErlain, a free lance writer for several notable publications. A compendium of hockey and other sports news with McErlain's own viewpoints, it's a must-read for serious sports fans.

James Mirtle is a former National Post writer, whose blog suffered somewhat because of his "day job", but it's improved noticeably now that he has more time to devote to it. His views at times appear influenced from working with the Post's hockey reporters, but he provides interesting takes on hockey news you may have missed.

Red Line Sports is by Brett Mirtle, cousin of James. Brett posts up the latest lockout news along with his own take, which at times pulls no punches and can be caustically funny, as evidenced by this classic bit.

HockeyNation, written by the mysterious "KP", takes both sides in this lockout equally to task whilst providing links to various media stories and sources within the text of the rants. It's updated somewhat infrequently, but that's understandable considering KP has three(!) other blogs on the go as well.

Jes Golbez's Hockey Rants provides pro-owner lockout commentary, and his in-depth coverage of NHLers' playing in Europe makes his blog a necessary stop for North American hockey fans starving for news on their favourite NHL players.

Sharkspage - Jon Swenson deals chiefly with non-lockout related news
including what's happening in the minors, juniors, college hockey and Europe in the absence of real NHL news. Also has some interesting takes on the lockout worth reading.

Boltsmag - chiefly covers the Tampa Bay Lightning but still provides some
interesting viewpoints on the lockout, including links from the Tampa media.


- Yep, that's right, folks, I've now officially given up on any hopes of the NHL and NHLPA getting a season-saving deal in place.

Sure, like many of you I was encouraged by this past Thursday's nine-hour talks between Gary Bettman and Bob Goodenow. And while I've felt all along that this season was probably lost, deep down I still held out hope that both sides would come to their senses and get a deal in place by January.

But it's February now, and there's nothing that came out of this past week's talks to suggest both sides are any closer to a deal than they were when this lockout started.

There are still some folks willing to read the tea leaves for signs of movement on either side. TSN's Bob McKenzie suggested last night talks will resume this weekend, which the Toronto Star's Damien Cox confirmed today.

They and other pundits are looking at comments made by several NHL players in recent days, such as Philadelphia's Jeremy Roenick and Chicago's Jocelyn Thibault, of the NHLPA possibly willing to move off their "no cap" stance if the league were willing to make some concessions.

Perhaps, but then again, comments made by fringe players such as Pierre Dagenais, Brian Pothier and Mike Commodore last fall were supposed to be signs of "cracks" forming in the union solidarity, yet it's now nearly four months later and the lockout drags on.

Indeed, we've heard nothing but conjecture throughout the media as to what each side may or may not do. We've heard from supposed "insiders" and the media sycophants of both sides suggesting breakthroughs were possible and that dissension was growing within both camps.

Yet this lockout still drags on, proving the insiders and pundits have no real clue what's going on behind the scenes.

We get an occasional glimpse, like catching movement just out of the corner of your eye. You know something was just there but you don't know what it was.

Hey, maybe it's possible both sides could get a deal in place next week. Believe me, I'd be thrilled to write about something else. But I just don't see that happening now. If a deal does get done, I doubt it'll come in time to save whatever is left of this season.

So that's it, I've resigned myself to no NHL hockey this season.

That doesn't mean that I'm going to stop writing about the NHL, or about this stupid lockout. But I'll probably be more detached from the lockout process from here on out.

I'll still keep updating this site daily and still send my articles to Foxsports.com. I still gotta pay the bills, ya know.

After venting my spleen on occasion through these columns, I find I've got nothing left to vent. I've accepted the loss of this season, and am moving on. If Bettman and Goodenow wanna kill the league, fine, then I'll be there to record the consequences, but I'm not going to get upset about this anymore.

Because quite frankly, I don't have it to give anymore. My outrage is spent.

Like I said a week ago in this space, if I were but a casual NHL fan and wasn't making money from writing about the game, I'd never follow the NHL again.

I've been strung along for months now like the rest of you, and I've finally just reached the end of the line. I no longer care if the season is saved.

Now, covering the NHL lockout will be like covering a terrible disaster. Once you get over the shock and the magnitude of the destruction, you go numb and then are desensitized by the daily coverage.

Both sides seem intent on their Pyrrhic victory, so let's just follow along with detached and occasionally bemused fascination, shall we?

- There will be a few subtle changes to the Soapbox in terms of topics.

I'll no longer be doing "Point/Counterpoint" on a weekly basis. Quite frankly, I was getting bored rebutting the same tired nonsense, particularly from Stan Fischler. Yes, he was my favourite pinata, but eventually when you beat the crap out of a pinata, there's nothing left.

That's not to say I won't still comment on something written by a pundit I find outrageous or wrong, but it'll have to be something more unique than the virulently anti-player ravings of Fischler and his ilk.

Ditto the responses to the "Fans Speak Out". It was fun for a while to rebut some of the comments sent in by the readers, but after a while, I found I was repeating myself, that I'd either already written about the topic in question in my Soapbox or responded to an earlier comment.

I'll still post up whatever readers have to say, pro or con, about my comments in the "Fans Speak Out", since it's only fair that you folks should get a chance to voice your opinion, provided of course it's done in a respectful manner.

As for a rebuttal or response from me, if I find it's something I've addressed many times before, I'll respond to that individual by sending them a link to my Soapbox or Foxsports archives.

- They say you should go out on a song, but instead, today I'll go out with some catchy lyrics that suit the current lockout nightmare, courtesy of reader Mike Lasko.

"For Bob Goodnow....a Whitney Houston song..."Didn't we almost have it all..."

For Gary Bettman... for every game missed this year..Queen.."Another one bites the dust"..and another one gone, and another one gone....

For the fans.....An Alanis Morisette song " It's like rain on your wedding day"...yeah that song is quite applicable."


After nine hours of talks between NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman and NHLPA Executive Director Bob Goodenow, both sides ended talks for the night (it was around 11 PM EST when they finally called it a wrap) with plans to continue discussions later today.

Optimists will see this as a positive sign a deal can be hammered out to save the season. Pessimists will see this as mere formality prior to the cancellation of the season and the movement of this battle into the labour courts this summer.

To be honest, for the first time in this lockout, I'm torn by conflicting emotions.

On the one hand, common sense dictates that both sides are so entrenched in their respective positions that, even with a lengthy negotiating session between the two big shots, there's no way this thing is going to be worked out this season.

On the other, my desperate love for the game has me seizing on any positive to keep hope alive that the season will be saved.

It's kinda like falling in love with someone you know is only going to break your heart. OK, maybe not, but it's the best analogy I can think of this morning. Gimme a break, I'm fighting a cold!

The fact both sides met for so long yesterday, from early afternoon to late evening, suggests more went on here than mere formality. After all, why bother having further talks today after locking the doors and butting heads for nine hours? Surely that would be enough to buttress any legal case toward an impasse by either side.

The optimist in me feels that, in a dramatic movie moment, one man looked at the other and asked, "Do we really want to go down in sports history as the men who killed a major sports league?"

One of these sides had to have shown a willingness to move off their hard-line positions yesterday. Otherwise, the meeting would've been a short one, perhaps less than four hours.

I don't doubt Goodenow's resolve against a hard cap, but my gut feeling is he may have seen something in the league's last proposal upon which he may be willing to move off his "no-cap" position, or at least, accept some form of linkage that could be a face-saving measure.

That's not to suggest he and the players are capitulating. The pro-owner media hints that Goodenow is facing rising pressure from high-salaried players like Mike Peca who have powerful agents or the more laughable suggestion that a couple of talking heads are influencing him.

Rest assured, Goodenow is not the type of man who's going to be influenced by them.

He's what's known as an "eleventh hour man", the type of negotiator who prefers to wait until the last possible moment before getting down to the real bargaining in hopes of using limited time to his advantage.

With the league's obvious acknowledgement earlier this week, courtesy of NHL VP Bill Daly's comments, that talks had reached a crucial stage, that was the deadline Goodenow was waiting for.

As for Gary Bettman, say what you will but he's as dogged a negotiator as Goodenow and he knows his opponent well.

Sure, the last proposal from the league contained some tricky parts in it that aren't likely to fly with the PA. The league getting the right to abolish arbitration in favour of lowering the UFA age eligibility to 28 was one. A fourteen-day window during training camp for a player to re-sign with a team or face a season-long suspension was another. Fixing salaries to revenues whereby if revenues drop so do salaries is another.

But despite the screechings of the most adamant pro-player pundits, there were also some major concessions and options within the league's proposal. Some could be accepted immediately, others could be negotiated.

Face it, if there was nothing there, yesteday's meeting wouldn't have taken place.

But for Goodenow to consider moving even a millimeter off his "no-cap" stance, Bettman has to give a little, too.

For all the conjecture of players and agents wanting to get back to action, and there undoubtedly are some who do, only a naive person would believe similar desire to save the season doesn't exist in the owners' camp.

Goodenow is likely hearing cries from within the PA to get something done, but so too is Bettman from within the owners' ranks. His gag order may have kept the moderates on his side from publicly speaking their minds, but you can bet that hasn't kept them from burning up the phone lines to the Commissioner's office.

In any negotiations, if you want to get your opponent to move off their position even a tiny bit, you must be willing to compromise, to give up one thing to get something else.

If Bettman was still touting the hard line yesterday as he has since imposing this lockout, Goodenow and his entourage would've been on the first flight back to Toronto by supper time.

So obviously both men are exploring their options and looking for some form of compromise.

So yes, there is reason for a little bit of cautious optimism.

The pessimist in me, however, says that this could still come to naught by tonight, that talks could last less than four hours, with both sides emerging to say those "philosophical differences" still remain and no further discussions are planned.

Some progress may have been made last night, but remember, both sides likely got in contact with their constituents after the meeting to inform them as to what's going on.

It wouldn't take much for reps on either side to reject whatever may have been discussed, which could make for a different atmosphere between the two men when they meet again today.

By this weekend, or possibly next week, we could still have an announcement from the league that talks have irreparably broken down, forcing a cancellation of the 2004-05 season and thus sending the NHL down a destructive course from which it may never fully recover.

Today should be "D-Day". Whatever comes out of today's meeting will have important consequences upon the National Hockey League.

So as I stated when both sides met for the final time prior to the end date of the last CBA: hope for the best, hockey fans, but prepare for the worst.


This is the end, beautiful friend.

This is the end, my only friend, the end

Of our elaborate plans, the end

Of everything that stands, the end..( The Doors).

I don't usually quote song lyrics in length, but this seems appropriate. The time we've all awaited in anticipation - or dread - is finally upon us.

Later today, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman and NHLPA Executive Director Bob Goodenow will stage their first face-to-face meeting since the league's counteroffer last December, nearly two long months ago.

How long they meet, and the outcome, will determine the course of the NHL and its players for the next seven months.

Either both sides will get some kind of workable deal in place that saves what little remains of the lockout stalled 2004-05 season, or else Goodenow serenades Bettman with "See You in September" as he, Ted Saskin and the rest of his entourage file for the exits.

And if it's the latter, the NHL's new theme song (with apologies to REM) will be "It's the End of the World as We Know It (And I Feel Ill). "

As blogger Tom Benjamin noted yesterday, the only realistic way to get a season-saving deal is if the owners capitulate, and we know by now that's not going to happen.

All the stipulations for tyings salaries to revenues, for even determining revenues, is gonna take weeks to sort out. If they're lucky, they might get that hashed out in time to start a season around early March.

Don't be on it, though. Determining a new CBA isn't going to be a sure-shot "deal in principle" like the last one. Bettman will want everything nice and legal before starting up a new season.

As for the NHL making their latest offer public, if the intent was to pressure the players into demanding their executive stage a vote on the matter, then just like when the league's hope in suggesting a restructuring of the 24 percent rollback was to turn the rank-and-file players against the executive, they're going to be bitterly disappointed.

The players are very sensitive to any attempt - real or perceived - by the league to manipulate them. All this will accomplish is solidifying their position with Goodenow.

There are undoubtedly some players who will look at that proposal and say, "hey, that looks all right by me", but the fact remains, they're in a distinct minority.

Anybody who believes there's a rising groundswell of anti-Goodenow feeling with the PA are sadly mistaken. If the players were truly questioning Goodenow and thinking of overthrowing him as some pro-league pundits have suggested, they would've done it by now.

That then brings up the possibility of the league's next step: seeking an impasse via the various labour boards in both countries. And as I've noted here many times, getting an impasse declared is easier said than done.

Bettman and the owners may eventually get it, but they're going to have a lot of work ahead of them to achieve it, and there are numerous legal monkey-wrenches the PA could throw into the system to derail it.

And even if that's achieved, there's the matter of work visas for replacement workers, which apparently neither Canada or the United States will issue.

If the league doesn't go that route but instead decides to wait out the players, it's going to make for a very, very long seven months.

After all, since the players wouldn't get paid from mid-April to mid-October under normal circumstances, they're under no pressure to negotiate. For many of them, the worst -fear of the unknown - is past, and they've survived.

Europe provided employment for roughly half of the 700 plus NHLPA membership, so they know they can fall back on that again if next season doesn't start up, even though the money's not as good. Others can explore the possibility of the minor leagues in North America. The truly wealthy 150 or so can still afford to miss another season.

They've demonstrated to the owners that they, too, are just as willing to give up a season and possibly two to get what they want.

That's not to suggest they're escaping totally unscathed. The longer this goes, the less revenue there will be for them to get a slice of. Signing a deal that saves this season, or at least guarantees "game on" for next season, could minimize the damage.

But if it's going to happen, the league is going to have to give more ground on their cost certainty.

If not, as Benjamin noted, Bettman will be left to discuss issues with his Board of Governors "like the draft, pending free agency for every player who does not get a qualifying offer, the marketing of a league that exists in name only and the quality of leadership required to trash a $2 billion industry."

Or negotiating the tricky minefield that is declaring an impasse.

If the league truly wants to end this but not give in on cost certainty, they might want to consider raising that figure from 55% to 57%. They might also broaden that salary range to a high of $45 million, and guarantee that it will be made up of pure salary and not ancillary costs. Or they could consider re-drafting their linkage of salaries to revenues to ensure it is a set rate that won't be affected by any decline of revenues.

Again, this is not to suggest the owners must give in to every demand of the NHLPA, but it's obvious that the only sticking point now is the league's determination for linking salaries to revenues. And with that 24% rollback still on the table, they could still achieve that goal by only making a few adjustments as noted above.

Bettman's hard line stance accomplished a great deal for the owners. It forced the players to cut their salaries by one quarter and down to 56% of revenues, allow teams to take players to arbitration, and slashed and capped entry level salaries and bonuses.

The league has finally shown itself willing to be more concilliatory in terms of guaranteed contracts, the UFA eligibility age, offering a joint auditing system of league revenues, and a joint owner player council on business and game related issues.

Most importantly, though is getting those salaries under 60% of revenues. The players are willing to accept 56%. It's not much of a bump to meet them there.

If not, Goodenow and his entourage will walk, and any hope of saving the season goes with them.

And then Bettman and the owners will have to decide if it's worth it to take this battle to the labour and immigration courts, which is indeed uncharted territory that could just as easily go against them as for them.

The NHLPA, whether you agree with them or not, have demonstrated they're not going to cave, at least, not during this season.

So the ball remains in Bettman's court. It's up to him to determine which playoff races we watch: NHL or NBA.

Either way, it's end-game time.


TSN hockey "insider" Bob McKenzie strikes again!

You'll recall McKenzie received a confidential NHL memo last December which indicated the league's intention to reject the players December 9th offer, which contained a 24% salary rollback over three years, exactly one day before the league tabled their counter-offer.

Now, McKenzie has received information from another internal league memo "outlining its position on all critical issues" that arose from last week's "small group discussions" between the two sides.

McKenzie notes the actual memo hasn't been leaked to the press, but instead its contents have made their way to him, courtesy of the memo being circulated to general managers and other team personnel.

What follows is my take of each portion of McKenzie's report. McKenzie's report is italicized.

Term: A six-year deal, not including the balance of this season (if there is to be one), with a provision that would allow the NHLPA to unilaterally terminate the CBA after four full seasons.

I think both sides want to avoid a deal going beyond five or six years, for the simple fact that the last term (10 years) allowed problems to fester and ill-will between the two sides to grow.

The key component is giving the PA the right to unilaterally terminate the deal after four seasons if they feel it's not working to their benefit. That could be one of those long-awaited "carrots" the league must dangle before the players if they hope to convince the PA hierarchy that it's worth the risk or to get them to either force a vote on the matter.

Salaries: The league is proposing cost certainty or a team-by-team salary cap, linked to 55 per cent of league revenues. The salary range would have a floor of $32 million and a cap of $42 million, although those figures are slightly misleading as the cost for player benefits (health care, insurance etc.) are also to be included in the salary range. Since the average costs per team for player benefits is in excess of $2 million per year, the actual range for player salaries would be between $30 million and $40 million. But if overall league spending on payroll and benefits exceeds 55 per cent of league revenues, the NHLPA would be obliged to pay back the league the overage from an escrow account. Likewise, if the league spent less than 55 per cent on player compensation, the league would be obliged to make a top-up payment to the NHLPA from the NHL's escrow account.

In my opinion, the league will have to come up on that cap, to around $45 million, for the players to even consider it. As noted here, the anciliary player costs lops almost $3 million off that cap ceiling, making the true salary cap worth just below $40 million. The PA will likely demand that a $42 million or $45 million cap consist only of salary.

If the players actually agree to what's contained in the internal memo, I'll be shocked.

I'll be doubly shocked if the players agreed to returning payroll and benefits that exceeded 55% of revenues, even with the stipulation the league would have to make a "top-up" payment to the NHLPA if they spend less than 55%.

We all know there are some owners who'll spend more than their allotted amounts. A hard cap system doesn't guarantee smarter player salary decisions by everyone.

That also draws into question the league's ability to enforce this supposedly hard cap system. What's the point of an escrow account if the teams aren't going to spend over their alloted cap? And why should the players be punished for bad financial decisions made by certain owners which pushes salaries beyond that 55 percent mark?

Luxury tax: The NHL is not proposing a luxury tax but said it would negotiate one if the players really wanted it, but there is apparently no implication that that the league would abandon cost certainty in favour of a tax proposal. Obviously, the players have no interest in a tax system if cost certainty remains in effect. That would change, of course, if the tax system replaced cost certainty, but there's no indication from the league that is about to happen.

The only way I could see a luxury tax working is if the hard cap was set at $50 million and a luxury tax kicked in at $40 million. Still, nothing I've read or heard indicates the players are willing to consider that.

I'm not certain about what good a luxury tax system would be if it's approached half-heartedly by the league. The only way I see this working within the league's desired cap system is if the players use it as a means of getting back at the owners if the latter's overspending costs the players at season's end via escrow.

Profit sharing: This is a new concept. The league apparently proposed that the NHL and NHLPA appoint a joint auditor to determine mutually agreeable league revenues and profits and that the owners and players would share all profits equally (50-50) in excess of $115 million. The NHL also proposed a heavy fine (using dollars and draft picks) system for teams found guilty of under-reporting revenues and profits.

But given that each team has their own method and guidelines for reporting revenues and profits, what measure does the NHL propose to ensure that teams will be held accountable? Will the league propose a unified system that all clubs must follow? Will each club be audited each year by a truly independant auditor, one agreed upon by both sides?

Sure, the profit-sharing idea looks good, but if it's going to work, the NHL must address those question their proposal raises if they want the players to consider it.

Revenue sharing: The NHL did not outline a specific revenue sharing plan, but said it would commit whatever dollars are necessary to ensure that small-market teams are able to spend the required dollars to meet the $32 million floor of the payroll range. The expectation is that any NHL revenue sharing plan would be based on a redistribution of playoff monies, not regular season revenue to any great extent.

This is cost certainty's achilles heel. A hard salary cap by itself is not going to ensure that those teams drawing the lowest revenues will survive. There must be a better method of revenue sharing put in place.

Drawing on playoff revenues, which will fluctuate each year depending on the number of postseason games played, will not ensure small market clubs like the Oilers will be more competitive and viable. Only a system that draws from the more lucrative regular season revenues will accomplish this, but the big market teams are believed against this.

If small market clubs make the playoffs, they'll have to pay into that revenue pool, but might not be eligible for draw upon it if the league bases eligibilyt by where the small markets place in the standings, rather than their respective revenues.

Even if those teams were guaranteed to get a portion of that pool, what's the sense of them having to pay into it?

Salary arbitration: Not only would players be able to file for arbitration, teams would have the option of taking a player to arbitration. This two-way or mirror-image arbitration would have no limits on the size of the awards, but there would be a choice of having one or two or three year arbitration awards. Teams would have the right to walk away from one arbitration award in a specified period, which would make the player an unrestricted free agent. Players would have the right to walk away from one arbitration award in a specified time period, but the player would be obliged to take the team's qualifying offer of 75 per cent of last year's salary.

The NHLPA proposed the notion of teams taking the players to arbitration last December, and judging by this, the league is not only willing to accept that but are backing away from their apparent desire for a cap on arbitration awards. The last stipulation, however, whereby the player would have to take 75% of the team's qualifying offer, might be a problem area for the players, who'll likely argue they should get the full QO.

Qualifying offers: Teams would be obliged to offer 75 per cent of a player's salary from the previous season in order to keep that player's restricted free agent's rights. In the expired CBA, qualifying offers were either 100 or 110 per cent, depending on whether the player was making more or less than the league average annual salary.

Some pundits have suggested the players won't agree to this, and they're probably right, but this issue won't be a hang-up if the players can get the league to concede on other points. Since players would still have the right to withhold their services if they don't agree with the team's QO as per the previous CBA in hopes of negotiating a salary above the QO, this would most likely be considered a non-issue.

Entry-level restrictions: The NHL proposed a four-year entry level system (up one year from the old ELS of three years) with a salary and signing bonus cap totaling no more than $850,000 per year. There is a provision for a maximum of $100,000 in A level bonuses and $250,000 in B level bonuses. Which is to suggest the absolute maximum any entry-level player could make would be $1.2 million per year.

The NHL is giving ground on this issue, agreeing to the PA's proposed cap of $850K but abandoning their demand for zero bonuses. The NHLPA will likely try to get the league onside with their proposal of a $850K cap on bonuses, but I believe this isn't going to be a show-stopper for them. They can point to getting back bonuses that the league wanted to take away from entry-level players as a face-saving measure.

Guaranteed contracts: Buyout provisions (at two thirds of remaining salary) would remain the same as the last CBA.

A surprise here, as it was suggested the league would seek to cut that buyout to half of remaining salaries or even less. Again, this should be seen as a concession on the owners part.

Unrestricted free agency: The age for unrestricted free agency would drop from 31 to 30.

This is not a significant drop, but at this point I suspect the NHLPA won't make an issue out of this unless the league refuses to budge from their cost certainty of tying salaries to 55% of revenues. The PA could then seek to have that age limit lowered to 29 or even 27 as some pundits have suggested if they were to consider accepting that offer.

To summarize, the league appears willing to make concessions on buyouts of guaranteed contracts, entry-level bonuses, unilateral termination of the upcoming CBA and salary arbitration.

It doesn't appear to have any strong desire to significantly reduce the UFA eligibility age, a half-hearted luxury tax system that won't replace a hard cap, and is offering a vague system of profit-sharing.

It won't offer an improvement over a weak system of revenue-sharing and wants to reduce qualifying offers by a quarter.

Most importantly, it won't budge from a hard cap and certainly appears unwilling to raise it by a significant level, which could be effectively gash any hopes of a season saving deal.

I will give the NHL side credit where it's due, as for the first time in this dispute, they're actually making concessions on some issues and proposing options that can be negotiated upon.

So we'll just have to await word of the league's next offer and the players reaction.

I'm not awaiting either with breathless anticipation.


Note: this is not for me to "get in the last word", but merely to respond in a public forum as a means of defending my stance and encouraging further debate from the readers. Please note that space limits me to posting the entire e-mails, which can be found in their entirety here. Their original comments are italicized.

"Mike, San Jose".

Considering all of the 'sources' that said the owners
would propose a hybrid system, I'm rather surprised
that they just expanded their salary range. However,
it kind of makes sense from a PR standpoint....

Another thought is perhaps the league would be willing
to accept a hybrid system but they want the PA to
offer it. So they expand their range and throw out a
number of ideas while leaking the fact that they'd
accept a hybrid system in order to have the PA present
them, and thus have hand (to quote George Costanza) in
the relationship.

The devil is in the details, and the devil for the NHLPA is the fact the league is apparently demanding that, if revenues fail to increase during a given season, then the salary "ceiling" must be reduced. Also, if teams spend in excess of 54% of revenues, that would also result in a ceiling reduction. In the case of the latter, it would be punishing the players for the owners' collective excesses.

For logical folks like us, the time for posturing is
over, but for millionaires and billionaires, I suppose
it's not as important. For me, I'd rather say put a
bullet in the season or start it up with 30 games to
go. This limbo is pissing me off.

You're not the only one. Believe me, regardless of which side fans stand on in this, this entire process has only succeeded in alienating the fans. As one pundit put it recently, it has created fury in Canada and indifference in the United States. That's not something you want when you're a league in decline like the National Hockey League.


If the players collectively told BG to shove it, good for them. But if they are now willing to talk about a hybrid cap, and the owners are continuing to insist on their own model, I have to believe that the owners are seriously hurting their chances to declare an impasse. I would guess this indicates that most owners do want to start playing soon. I have to believe that a minority of the owners are wanting to continue this madness.

There are undoubtedly some players who'd like to tell Goodenow to "shove it", but rest assured, the majority still want him running the ship, given everything he's achieved for them since 1992.

As for talk of hybrid caps, you're right, the league would be hurting their chances to declare an impasse, but as I've noted many times before, achieving an impasse isn't going to be an easy road, and even if they succeed, they may be limited in who they can hire, which may be one reason why you're not hearing much talk about it from the league side.

Last time they said "no more meetings are planned" was earlier this week, correct? So I have to believe that the reason for that statement to be uttered there is reason for both sides to go back to their constituencies and brainstorm.

Given the relative quiet from both sides since last Thursday, that appears to be the case. If nothing was under consideration, both sides would be slamming each other as they've done so often in the past when they emerged from talks stalemated.

If the rumors have a grain of truth to them it is undeniable that the players have made the most movement in the process. To claim an impasse and be granted implementation rights, the management has to show that they gave and gave while the Union was recalcitrant. Clearly it is the other way around.

Yep. Regardless of who's running the NLRB, the league has yet to demonstrate that they've done everything they could to avoid an impasse. The NHLPA continually offers concessions and alternatives, seizing the initiative by making offers, whilst the league to date merely responds with rejections and counter-offers that barely move off their insistence for cost certainty.

Time is running out, but I suspect the number of owners who are willing to end it now is closing in on the 23 needed for the owners to revolt. Seems that the players already have.

There are definitely some owners who believe the concessions they've received from the NHLPA are worthwhile enough to build a new CBA around. How many, we're not sure. Bottom line remains, if Bettman doesn't endorse an NHLPA proposal but puts it toward a ownership vote, he only needs 8 owners to side with him and the proposal dies.


We'll find out soon enough, Edski, if you've had reason to believe.

William Dunlop.

I DO NOT care one bit about the world series of poker or ten pin bowling. That is a offensive and disrespectful remark to make.

I cannot begin to tell you how disappointed I am at your comments directed towards me and other American Hockey lovers and sports fans in general. I wonder how many of us choose a poker tournement over a football game? Please do not say it was not directed towards your readers in the U.S. as you know we are true fans because we frequent your site. It was directed towards the American sports fan.

William was referring to my January 29th Soapbox where I made the following comment:

"As for the American market, too many fans there not only aren't aware of this lockout, they could care less. They'd probably get pissed off if the league comes back interferes with their watching the World Series of Poker or ten pin bowling."

I received much feedback for that article, many from American readers, and almost all of it was positive. William was the only American who took offence to this line.

I've already responded to him personally, but in case anyone other US-based readers were offended by this, let me clarify my comments.

First, they were not aimed directly at American hockey fans, nor was it to insinuate an insult of the intelligence of American sports fans as a whole.

It was merely to point out that most American sports fans aren't aware of the lockout and don't care. Second, it was also to point out that TV ratings for replacment shows filling the NHL's timeslot on ESPN2, including poker, bowling and yes, jumprope competitions, have garnered higher ratings than the NHL did last season.

I fail to see where pointing out the facts is insulting.

Blaine Perry.

I just wanted to say that reading your column the past few months has really left a bad taste in my mouth. Your blatent support for the players had really turned me off your site (one that is at the top of my favorites for years).

Now in Blaine's defence, he was writing in to praise my article of January 29th. I realize that most hockey fans probably disagree with my take, and can respect their opinions, but I think I've done a good job of back up my position.

Thus, it puzzles me why some readers appear to get so upset with it. Just because I side with the players doesn't mean I'm against salary controls or helping small market clubs. It just means I'm not buying the snake oil the NHL is selling.

And it IS snake oil, folks. The Levitt Report, which the league is basing its claim of heavy losses necessitating cost certainty, has been discredited as a "super-audit" by most who take the time to actually read it, including a respected business magazine, a legal analyst for the highest selling sports magazine in North America, and a Hockey Hall of Fame journalist who was once nominated for a Pulitzer Prize.

That's not to say I believe the NHL isn't losing money, because I do. The question is, just how much? Until I see a truly independant team-by-team audit that backs up the league's claims of over $200 million in losses last season, sorry, I'm not buying what the league is selling.

I feel this game of bluffing currently being played by both sides is really not about the game or even about the CBA for that matter any more. I feel both sides understand what is at stake, but it now has become a game of who will blink first. Like staring face to face with a bear, where both sides are scared to make a real move where the wrong move will get you mauled. The ego's have taken precedent over the CBA.

And that's the pity of this entire thing. The insistances of Bettman and Goodenow to the contrary, both sides have allowed this labour dispute to become personal. It's all there in the rhetoric and most importantly, in the lack of progress to get a deal done.

You know what would really make me happy? To see the WHA come back or an alternative league. It seems to be the right time again as in the '70's. Steal the NHL's thunder, take their prized commodities (Paul Kariya et al) not under contract, play an entertaining style of game. Give the fans something to fill the void. Then watch the NHL scramble as the $2 billion dollar pie, which is shrinking daily, be absolutely devoured.

The reason the NHL is willing to play hardball with its players is because of its monopoly hold over where players can ply their craft. Without a serious rival to that monopoly, the NHL hierarchy have grown smug. However, I still believe that, if they get the cost certainty they seek, they're ignoring a future challenge, not within North America, but in Europe. It's apparent that most European teams at this time aren't a direct threat to the NHL's dominance, but the NHL's insistence on draconian salary cap measures could open a chink in their armour, one that savvy European team owners might be able to afford to exploit someday.