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Some news tidbits that caught my eye in recent days that I felt are worth commenting on. Hey, it's better than writing about how the talks are still progessing and that there may not be a deal in place now until the weekend or possibly next week...

- Stan Fischler is once again trying to stoke the rumours of the NHLPA shunting executive director Bob Goodenow to the sidelines in these negotiations.

Curiously, Goodenow’s “disappearance” from public view also has been a subject for discussion among the NHL’s political observers.

Has the onetime union czar gone into hiding because he has been aced out of the picture by the likes of NHL President Trevor Linden, Mike Gartner and other members of the players’ executive committee?

Or is he hiding in the weeds, ready to surface at the eleventh-and-a-half hour in an attempt to destroy the agreement?

So let's see, Goodenow being "absent" from negotiations since late May is indicative of either the PA executive committee pushing him from the talks, or some hare-brained scheme to derail the CBA at the last minute.

Yet, over the same period of time, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman has also been out of sight. Hmmmm, does that mean he's been ousted by NHL VP Bill Daly and the league's negotiating committee? Or is Bettman laying in wait to blindside the players with some last minute bit of sneakiness?

My guess is both men are doing what they've always done in these talks: let their negotiating teams handle the day-to-day meetings and then offer up their input during caucus meetings later in the day.

Both guys usually show up at the face-to-face meetings whenever there's something big to be discussed, and the fact Goodenow may have gotten involved in Tuesday's talks could well be due to the fact that there is an issue that he feels needs his personal input.

But that's not as sexy or sensational as claiming without substantiation that Goodenow's absences are due to a possible coup with the NHLPA hierarchy.

Fischler also tut-tuts Chris Chelios for "seeking a scapegoat" for his anger over the course of the lockout by blaming NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman.

Never mind that, throughout the course of this lockout, Fischler has been more than happy to lay blame squarely at the feet of Goodenow. No double standards there, eh?

Fischler also chides the NHLPA for engaging in personal attacks upon the Commissioner:

The character attacks are not entirely surprising to seasoned sports observers who have studied the NHLPA’s strategy. One such individual is Stan Kasten, former president of the Atlanta Thrashers, Hawks and Braves.

“I’m critical of the union’s calculated tactic of demonizing Bettman personally,” Kasten tells me. “It’s not an uncommon ploy in labor negotiations, but I consider it disreputable nonetheless.”

Yet it was okay for the NHL to engage in a lengthy smear campaign against the NHLPA?

Kasten's right, it is disreputable, and there's no question that a few players mouthing off did little to cast themselves or their peers in a lousy light, yet if you go on the NHLPA website, you won't see a single disparaging word against Bettman, other than a couple of media releases from Bob Goodenow where - gasp! - he accused Bettman of being unwilling to negotiate.

- Buried amongst Fischler's usual anti-NHLPA hype was this little nugget:

We blew it big-time, thinking Mike Babcock had no place to go but remaining with Anaheim. Frankly, we never figured Detroit would dump Dave Lewis and we still believe that Lewie’s playoff failures had less to do with his coaching and everything to do with mediocre netminding. More power to Babcock for landing on his skates!

You'll recall I recently called Fischler on his premature dumping of Babcock and his agent for rejecting the Ducks one-year offer, which mysteriously vanished from his column soon after it was announced that he was a candidate to coach the Detroit Red Wings.

Of course I had saved that original article and posted it here, asking Fischler to 'fess up to his boo-boo, as it would garner more respect from his readers. Maybe he or somebody on the MSG Network staff reads this column?

Anyway, kudos to Fischler to admitting he blew it.

- Regular readers may recall that I've suggested for quite some time (over the course of this lockout, in fact) that just because there's a cap ceiling in place doesn't mean that most small market clubs will spend up to that ceiling.

The Calgary Sun has our first official confirmation, and yes, it's the defending Western Conference champion Flames.

"While the Flames have long made clear they have no intention of nudging anywhere near the expected $37- or $39-million US salary cap, Sutter said the 24% salary rollbacks will keep his club far away from the $36 million it spent in 2003-04.

Of grave concern to Sutter is the huge hit of roughly $4 million in payments previously available through the soon-to-be-abolished Canadian assistance plan.

Complicating the bottom line, the Flames likely won't benefit from the new CBA's revenue-sharing plan either, which will cause the top third of NHL revenue generators to pay into a pool for the bottom third.

"If I'm a top-10 team in terms of revenue and I have to share with the bottom 10 teams, I can't imagine there's any way I'm also going to chip in for Canadian teams," said Sutter.

Flames owner Harley Hotchkiss introduced the system in which U.S. clubs helped Canadian teams make up the currency disparity.

"You have to assume the Canadian assistance will go away and we're a mid-market team. That's why I assume it won't change the way we spend."

So, with a self-imposed cap of likely no more than $28 or $30 million US, how then are the Flames going to be able to keep unsigned captain Jarome Iginla, who will demand close to the 20% maximum of the team's payroll?

"It definitely doesn't make it any easier," said Sutter, who hopes to keep the core of the 2003-04 finalists despite the fact early fan backlash will even further diminish revenues."

The Flames presently have 11 players signed at $12.8 million, and in addition to Iginla they must re-sign Miiikka Kiprusoff, Daymond Langkow, Jordan Leopold and Steve Reinprecht.

So if their self-imposed cap is no higher than $30 million, and "Iggy" ends up costing them around $7 million per season and "Kipper" around $3 million, there might not be a lot of wiggle room to re-sign other players and then perhaps bring in some help from the UFA market.

Looks like they're also going to pay the price for success if they can carry over their strong play from 2003-04.

This makes me wonder just how good this new CBA will be for small market clubs, particularly if they should see their revenues improve to the point where they no longer qualify for revenue sharing.

Remember, this lockout was supposed to be about helping small market clubs like the Flames, but now suddenly, they're a mid-market team in no need of assistance and with their own self-imposed cap system.

- Here's another player comment about the lockout that aren't likely to get mainstream media attention, courtesy of the Philadelphia Inquirer:

The snail's pace in coming to an agreement is proof to (Flyers captain Keith) Primeau that the two sides were never close to a settlement last winter. There had been several reports that the two sides were close to a deal in February.

"We feel there was no opportunity for us in the winter," Primeau said in a telephone interview from Canada. "The sides have been meeting for weeks now and they still haven't finalized the deal, so how were they going to do it in the winter and get on with a season?"

Clarke felt that a deal was close in February, but now he doesn't dispute Primeau's claim.

"In hindsight, he is probably right," Clarke said. "At the time, I thought they were close."

Clarke was not involved in the negotiations. "It looked like where we sat, once a salary limit was in place, the rest would fall easily," he said. "But we were wrong."

Wowsers! Even Bob Clarke agrees with Primeau's take! But of course we won't see or hear that in the press because it's not a player or a GM openly slamming Bob Goodenow.

- TSN reported on some new elements that are believed to be part of the new CBA. I'll be analysing these in today's Foxsports.com column.


It was reported several weeks ago that there would be a one-time-only stipulation in the new CBA that would allow teams to buy out existing player contracts without the buyout counting against next season's salary cap.

This stipulation would address the obvious problems some teams would face in getting under a hard salary cap.

That's led to growing speculation as to which players might be considered prime candidates on each club for contract buyouts.

So, with some help from the July 2005 edition of The Hockey News (or "The Cheesecake Edition"), which contained a listing of all 30 teams and those players under contract for 2005-06, here's my take on which players on each club could be facing the buyout blues.

First the teams THN believe have "low headroom":

COLORADO AVALANCHE: They've got to re-sign David Aebischer, Adam Foote, Milan Hedjuk, Alex Tanguay and John-Michael Liles, plus they also hope to re-sign Peter Forsberg, albeit at a much cheaper rate. All this while they've got $21.3 million currently tied up in salaries

Thus, the Avs have to make serious decisions about the $13 million they're paying to Joe Sakic and Rob Blake. And since it's been learned that players won't be allowed to renegotiate their contracts, it could be buyout time for one or both.

One has to believe the Avs will try to retain Sakic and Blake, but I can't see them sacrificing their future to retain two guys who now have limited shelf life, no matter how great their careers have been.

DALLAS STARS: They've got $22.5 million committed to eight players, with Bill Guerin and Pierre Turgeon eating up almost half of that amount. If they're determined to re-sign Jason Arnott, Brendan Morrow, Mike Modano and Sergei Zubov, one or both are bound to go.

Turgeon's a goner for sure, and there's growing speculation Guerin might also be shown the door. Modano, too, might be on his way out if he doesn't like the offer he gets from the Stars.

DETROIT RED WINGS: With 16 players under contract for $38.1 million bucks, the Wings are going to have to do some serious roster paring, particularly if they plan on re-signing Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg and bringing back aging stars like Steve Yzerman and Chris Chelios.

They could opt not to re-sign Curtis Joseph, who's under a club option for next season, but that will leave them without a prime starting goalie, unless the plan is to hand the reins over full-time to Manny Legace.

Ray Whitney's $2.6 mil is likely gone, but then the Wings will have to decide if Derian Hatcher, Brendan Shanahan and even inexpensive character forward Darren McCarty are worth bringing back.

NEW YORK RANGERS: Six players listed at $21.6 million, although if the Washington Capitals are picking up half of Jaromir Jagr's salary, that drops it to around $17 million.

The Blueshirts claim to be on a youth movement, and that could mean freeing up even more room by buying out Bobby Holik and Darius Kasparaitis, both of whom burn up over $10 million in salary.

If they chose the buyout path, that'll leave the Rangers with only $7 million tied up in salaries, and plenty of room to go shopping in the UFA and trade markets. Once again, it could be another busy summer for the Rangers.

PHILADELPHIA FLYERS: 13 players are eating up $33.7 million in salaries. The most obvious chops are John LeClair and Tony Amonte, whom Clarke was trying to rid himself of during the 2003-04 season, which would lop over $11 million from the payroll.

Another potential candidate could be Jeremy Roenick and his $4.94 million, although it's believed Clarke would like to keep him around.

Still, with Robert Esche, Simon Gagne and Kim Johnsson to re-sign, and highly touted prospects like Jeff Carter and Mike Richards waiting in the wings and also needing to be signed, it's possible Roenick could also end up facing a buyout.

TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS: 8 players at just over $27 million, the Leafs have to decide if they're also going to re-sign aging veterans Gary Roberts, Joe Nieuwendyk, Brian Leetch and Tim Domi.

Mats Sundin and Ed Belfour presently absorb over $11 million of that $27 million but they're believed untouchable. The most likely candidate to be bought out is Owen Nolan, who at $5.6 million is simply too expensive to retain.

But even buying out Nolan will only bring the Leafs payroll down to around $22 million, which isn't going to give them much space to resign key players or to go shopping for help.

Next up, the clubs THN considers should "Proceed With Caution":

ANAHEIM MIGHTY DUCKS: 9 players at $20.4 million. It's going to be interesting to see what new GM Brian Burke has in store for this roster.

The most obvious place to chop would be Sergei Fedorov and his $6.08 million, but it's unknown at this point whether Burke will keep "Feds", buy him out, or try to peddle him like he did Pavel Bure back in 1999.

Netminder J-S Giguere probably isn't going anywhere, but underachieving Petr Sykora and oft-injured Steve Rucchin eat up $5.7 million and they could be the most likely candidates to go.

ATLANTA THRASHERS: have presently 12 players under contract at $14.3 million. They've still got to re-sign Dany Heatley and Ilya Kovalchuk, but they have plenty of cap room for both guys, who'll likely see deals around the $4.5 -$5.5 million per season range.

That may not leave much more room to flesh out their roster, since it's unlikely the Thrashers will spend up to the cap ceiling. If they need to free up space, Slava Kozlov, Shawn McEachern and Patrik Stefan could be prime buyout candidates.

CALGARY FLAMES: have 11 players at $12.8 million, and must re-sign the two main components of their 2004 playoff run, Jarome Iginla and Mikka Kiprusoff. They also have to get Jordan Leopold, Daymond Langkow and Steve Reinprecht under wraps.

A lot will depend on how much it costs to re-sign "Iggy" and "Kipper". The former could seek upward of $7 million per season, while the latter probably won't accept less than $3 million. Still, there should be enough room left to re-sign the others and to flesh out the remainder of their roster.

CAROLINA HURRICANES: 7 players, $11.8 million. Current RFAs include Erik Cole, Jeff O'Neill, Glen Wesley and Justin Williams. The 'Canes will likely re-sign all four, although they'll probably get much less than they would've under the old CBA. This club isn't expected to go hog-wild in the free agent market, although they do have interest in Jason Allison.

If they're seeking to free up more cap space, Rod Brind'Amour could be one option. A great all-round player, "Brindy" has been fading in recent seasons as his rugged style seems to have finally caught up with him. Aaron Ward might also be another candidate .

COLUMBUS BLUE JACKETS: Just over $19 million invested in 14 players. The Jackets have to re-sign Rostislav Klesla, Alexander Svitov and their franchise player, Rick Nash, who'll likely command around $5 million per season, thanks to his Richard Trophy-winning season in 2003-04 and his performance for Team Canada at the 2005 World Hockey Championships.

Should the Jackets seek to free up space, either for those extra salaries or to go shopping for additional depth, Geoff Sanderson, Todd Marchant, Luke Richardson and Scott Lachance could all be prime buyout candidates.

LOS ANGELES KINGS: 12 players at $15.6 million, and no really expensive players to re-sign, unless they want to bring back Ziggy Palffy or re-sign Martin Straka. THN suggests former King Glen Murray might be "a good bet" to return.

The Kings will probably look for some veteran help via the free agent or trade markets, but they've also got a promising crop of inexpensive youth which may get a real shot at cracking the roster. About the only candidate to be chopped would be Aaron Miller, who might be facing retirement anyway due to his ongoing battle with post-concussion syndrome.

MINNESOTA WILD: 10 players currently eating $13.8 million in payroll. They'll undoubtedly re-sign young RFA Pierre-Marc Bouchard, but the jury's still out on free agents Andrew Brunette and Alexander Daigle, whilst RFA goalie Manny Fernandez is believed seeking a trade.

There's no obvious buyouts to be made with those ten players under contract, and given the Wild's management and coaching style, they'll likely seek solid, two-way -and affordable - team players, meaning we shouldn't expect a Wild spending spree.

MONTREAL CANADIENS: Presently there are huit (8) Habitants burning up $14.4 million in payroll for Les Canadiens, and they've got key players like Jose Theodore, Saku Koivu, Mike Ribeiro, Michael Ryder and Andrei Markov to re-sign.

Koivu and Theodore combined could cost the Habs over $10 million in salary, and once they get the others re-signed, they might have a limited cap space to bring in more depth. That could make Patrice Brisebrois or possibly Craig Rivet buyout candidates.

NEW JERSEY DEVILS: Ten players at $15.3 million, the Devils also have to re-sign Patrik Elias, Scott Gomez, Jamie Langenbrunner, Scott Niedermayer, Brian Rafalski and Scott Stevens.

Stevens, Gomez and Langenbrunner could be easy. Elias might not return next season due to Hepatitis B, while Niedermayer and Rafalski may be looking to move on regardless of the Devils offers. It's unlikely they'll buy out Martin Brodeur or John Madden, so this summer is shaping up to be a good test of GM Lou Lamoriello's management skills.

NEW YORK ISLANDERS: Only four players but they're eating up $15.5 million, with Alexei Yashin's salary worth almost half that amount. Guess who's the most likely candidate for a contract buyout?

Should that occur, the Isles payroll will be down to around $7 million, giving them plenty of room to re-sign key players like Adrian Aucoin, Rick DiPietro, Roman Hamrlik, Trent Hunter and Mark Parrish, plus to restock their roster via free agency.

OTTAWA SENATORS: presently have ten players burning up $23.6 million in payroll. They've also got to re-sign key players like Mike Fisher, Martin Havlat, Marian Hossa and Jason Spezza.

That could be expensive, particularly Havlat, Hossa and Spezza, which could mean the Sens may be in need of some extra cap space. That could spell buyout for Greg de Vries and Bryan Smolinski, whose combined salaries are over $5 million.

ST. LOUIS BLUES: 13 players at $23.8 million, and they've got to decide if they're bringing back Chris Pronger, Pavol Demitra and Alex Khavanov. Pronger will be especially difficult, as he's likely to seek the maximum allowable under the cap, which could be in the $7 million range.

If there's room to be made, Keith Tkachuk and his $7.6 million and Doug Weight and his $5.7 million are the likely candidates, although I suspect of the two, Tkachuk would be the most likely to go.

SAN JOSE SHARKS: have ten players under contract at $13.5 million, and must re-sign Patrick Marleau, Mike Rathje, Brad Stuart and Marco Sturm. There's been some talk that Rathje may decide to test the UFA waters.

The Sharks shouldn't have any problem re-signing all four and restocking their roster, most likely from within their own system. The only real candidate for a contract buyout looks like Scott Thornton ($1.710 million).

TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING: There are 9 members of the defending Stanley Cup champs under contract to the tune of $15.7 million. The Bolts have five key players to re-sign: Martin St. Louis, Vincent Lecavalier, Nikolaki Khabibulin, Dan Boyle and Ruslan Fedotenko.

There isn't any real obvious choices for a contract buyout, either, which is going to make this summer an interesting one for Lightning fans as they wait to see if management can afford to re-sign those aforementioned players plus fill other gaps in the roster.

PHOENIX COYOTES: 21 players under contract at $28.4 million, with only Brian Boucher, Paul Mara and Derek Morris to re-sign.

It doesn't appear likely the 'Yotes will get involved in any wild free agent bidding or even contract buyouts. But if they're so inclined, Brian Savage ($2.85 million) is the obvious choice.

VANCOUVER CANUCKS: 6 players at $11.8 million, with key players like Markus Naslund, Brendan Morrison, Mattias Ohlund, Dan Cloutier and Sami Salo to re-sign.

No real contract buyout options, although there is talk that Todd Bertuzzi might seek a trade, especially if Naslund decides not to return. Their other free agents shouldn't be a problem to re-sign. If Naslund stays overseas and Bertuzzi seeks a trade, the Canucks could be a very busy club in both the trade and free agent markets.

Finally, the teams THN believes gets the "Go" light to spend, spend, spend in the coming months:

BOSTON BRUINS: four players, a paltry $2.8 million, meaning lots of cap space to re-sign key free agents like Andrew Raycroft, Joe Thornton and Sergei Samsonov and to perhaps bid competitively for Sergei Gonchar or any other available UFA talent. No apparent buyout candidates.

BUFFALO SABRES: 9 players at only $9.1 million, more than enough room to re-sign Maxim Afinogenov, Daniel Briere, JP Dumont, Jochen Hecht and even Miroslav Satan, although he seemed to want out of Buffalo during the 2003-04 season. No apparent buyout candidates, not that they'd need to go that route given the space they'll have available once they get their key players under contract.

CHICAGO BLACKHAWKS: $10.2 million committed to 8 players, with Tyler Arnason, Mark Bell, Bryan Berard and Jocelyn Thibault to re-sign, and no apparent buy out candidates. Plenty of room to go shopping to fill those gaps, meaning a good first test of new GM Dale Tallon to get the best bang for his buck.

EDMONTON OILERS: 12 players at less than $13 million, meaning lots of available cap space to re-sign Eric Brewer, Shawn Horcoff (who might be of more offensive value to the Oilers thanks to his time spent in Europe last season), Ryan Smyth and Mike York. The only real candidate for a buyout might be the disappointing Brad Isbister.

FLORIDA PANTHERS: 7 players at a mere $6.4 million. Jay Bouwmeester, Olli Jokinen, Roberto Luongo and Mike Van Ryn must be re-signed, but it seems highly unlikely the Panthers will have any problems doing so. No apparent buyout candidates, and lots and lots of cap room once they've re-signed their key free agents to go shopping for depth.

NASHVILLE PREDATORS: 9 players at $10.3 million, with Dan Hamhuis, Scott Hartnell, David Legwand and Steve Sullivan on their "must re-sign" list. Look for the Preds to shop for affordable talent to make a repeat appearance in the Stanley Cup playoffs. The only possible buyout candidate might be Denis Arkhipov, who's been slow to develop and had some off-ice problems in recent years.

PITTSBURGH PENGUINS: 7 players at the low, low price of $5.49 million, with Ryan Malone, Alexei Morozov, Dick Tarnstrom and of course Mario Lemieux to re-sign. THN suspects it'll be "Mario and Mark and a bunch of guys earning minimum wage" filling the Penguins ranks, but there's been rumblings out of Pittsburgh that the Pens could be quite active in the coming weeks, possibly even setting their sites on Alexei Zhamnov and former Penguins like Alex Kovalev and Martin Straka.

WASHINGTON CAPITALS: 4 players at just over $7 million, with Jeff Halpern, Shaone Morrisonn, Brendan Witt and Dainius Zubrus to re-sign. They'll obviously try to get Alexander Ovechkin under contract and then start shopping around for as much depth as they can find.


- The Boston Globe's Kevin Paul Dupont, no fan of the NHLPA or as he mockingly called it the "JSNPA" - Just Say No Players Association - asked the NHL owners not to rub their labour "victory" into the players collective noses, then proceeded to do just that himself, whilst engaging in yet another round of Goodenow bashing.

Why should the owners gloat when they've got cheerleaders like Dupont to do it for them?

Anyway, Dupont trotted out the same mantra as other Goodenow critics, that the players could've signed a better deal in February -referring obviously to the league's "final offer" of a $42.5 million salary cap - than what they're about to sign off on.

Meanwhile, Detroit Red Wings player rep Manny Legace launched another salvo at Goodenow and the player executive for wasting an entire season of salaries to get a deal that would be worse than what they were offered in February.

I commented on this on Saturday, posting up what the NHL's offers were and noting where the problems were in the details of each, as explanation why the NHLPA - their "no cap, no linkage" stance at the time aside - didn't take those offers.

I won't chew my own cabbage twice, but to summarize, it was apparent that if the NHLPA had signed off on the February offer, they stood to lose their salary arbitration rights, their right to stage a contract holdout beyond training camp, full qualifying offers and a limited system of revenue sharing which was to be phased out of the life of the new CBA.

Just how, exactly, was that a better deal than what the players are signing now? I've yet to see anything from a pundit or NHLPA member to substantially buttress this claim.

Until I do, all this talk of "the players could've had a better deal in February than in July" is baseless.

- The Toronto Sun's Al Strachan, an NHLPA supporter, believes those players stepping forward now to complain about Goodenow and the NHLPA's strategy are off-base.

There were no pockets of resistance. Nowhere is it recorded that Sean Avery stood up and declared himself brainwashed. Manny Legace, the Detroit player rep, did not suggest an alternative course of action.

Strachan cites that, with over 650 players attending meetings, it wasn't hard to find out what Goodenow and the executive told them. He claims the players were made fully aware of PA strategy, plus Goodenow warned them that, to get what they wanted, they'd have to risk losing one or two seasons.

That ties in with recent comments from the Flames' Jarome Iginla, the Canucks' Dan Cloutier, Brent Sopel and Brad May, the Sharks' Brad Stuart and Alyn McCauley and the Oilers' Georges Laraque in response to Kings forward Steve Avery's contention the players were "brainwashed". They claimed they were all well-informed and fully aware of what the consequences might be.

Strachan suggests the players lack of will was what brought this situation to the point where they'll now accept a lesser deal.

Perhaps, but it's also clear that, by holding out for a season, the players are getting a much better deal now than anything they would've gotten from the league earlier in this lockout.

- Last week's tale of intrigue concerned the coaching situation of the Detroit Red Wings, where by week's end it was determined that Wings coach Dave Lewis was out and now-former Anaheim Mighty Ducks coach Mike Babcock could be in.

The reason Lewis got the axe? According to the Detroit Free Press, management believed he was too close to the players. In Babcock, whom some members of the Detroit management know well, they believe they'll have a "take-charge" guy, which would be particularly useful to a Red Wings club that's going to get younger under the new CBA.

But y'know, it really doesn't matter what kind of coach you are in the NHL. Your tenure with a team is usually short-lived and it's rare that someone will stay behind the bench longer than five seasons with the same team.

So too bad for Lewis, who's bound to find either a coaching job or an exeutive position with another team, and good luck to Babcock, who's jumping into one of hockey's hothouses with the Red Wings.

Whether he wilts or blossoms remains to be seen.

- Read this blurb in yesterday's Buffalo News:

The new agreement, with a reported salary floor of $24 million and a ceiling of about $37 million, will allow the team to cut its player payroll from the 2003-04 figure of $34.5 million.

The team's new payroll is expected to be just below $30 million.

Last February, when the season almost was saved in a last-ditch negotiating effort, Sabres officials privately feared that the $42.5 million salary cap turned down by the players was too rich for the Buffalo franchise.

So what are they gonna do when (not if, when) revenues rise over the next two or three seasons and suddenly the cap ceiling is set at $42 million or higher, and the cap floor rises to almost $30 million?

Revenue sharing will help, right? The new deal is supposed to have improved revenue sharing for the bottom ten revenue producing teams (depending on their location) which would prove beneficial to the Sabres.

Then again, maybe not:

While that revenue-sharing figure might not be huge, maybe $1 million or $2 million a year at most, that still could be a significant component of the Sabres' plan to break even or make a small profit.

Houston, we have a problem....

If the cap ceiling and floor rises, that $1-$2 million will only seem like a pittance to clubs like the Sabres. It's still going to make it difficult for them to retain their best players, especially when they hit the magic UFA eligibility age of 28 by 2007.

Let's face it, most small market teams aren't going to spend up to their cap ceiling, not without the help of substantial revenue sharing, which if this report by the Buffalo News is true, isn't going to help them that much.

After all, if teams like the Sabres were finding it tough to make a go of it with payrolls between $30-$35 million, what makes anyone think they'll consistently spend up to their cap ceiling, especially if it keeps rising every year?

Yes, the salaries of players may be more affordable now, but if the cap limits rise with revenues, so too will those salaries. And if there isn't sufficient revenue sharing to aid those small market teams, they're still facing the same problems as under the previous CBA.

Just because salaries are lower than under the previous CBA doesn't mean teams like the Sabres will be able to afford them over the length of the new CBA. Not without help.

- As for how revenue sharing will be determined, the NY Post's Larry Brooks has the details:

Revenue-sharing obligations for the league's 10 top income-producing clubs, sources have told The Post, will be tied directly to the amount generated by each team, rather than on the generic formula proposed by the NHL throughout the cancelled 2004-05 season. It is unknown how that pool, to be supplemented by playoff contributions, will be divided by the league's 10 lowest-revenue clubs.

The Post has confirmed that the television-market exemption first disclosed in this space on Sept. 16 will apply. Therefore, even though the Islanders and Mighty Ducks were among the league's bottom 10 revenue producers in 2003-04, their inclusion in the New York and Los Angeles markets, respectively, disqualifies them for aid.

As it should be. It would've been a farce to see the NY Rangers forced to give part of their revenues to their rival, the NY Islanders, or the LA Kings sharing revenue with the Anaheim Mighty Ducks.

There's only one lingering question that I have about revenue sharing: what provisions will there be to aid small market Canadian teams if the "loonie" should take another tumble?

Right now the Canadian dollar has been trading steadily at between .80 to .82 cents, considerably higher than throughout the period of the last CBA where it averaged less than .70 cents against the American dollar, sometimes dipping as low as .62 cents.

That put some Canadian clubs, like the Oilers and Flames, behind the eight-ball.

Hopefully there will be some provision made to assist teams like Calgary and Edmonton in that regard under the new CBA to protect them if the "loonie" value drops again.

- Speaking of Brooks, in his Sunday column (subscription required) he suggests that some of the NHLPA membership may have some serious questions, especially regarding the future of Director Bob Goodenow.

Brooks claims Goodenow has all but disappeared from sight over the past six weeks, but that's contradictory to what my source in the NHLPA office recently told me.

This individual pointed out that no one has seen NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman over that same period of time yet no one is wondering what his status is. The source claims Goodenow still runs the PA ship, and he and Bettman are essentially doing what they usually do, leave the day-to-day talks to lieutenants like Ted Saskin and Bill Daly and then providing their input during caucus meetings.

Still, I wrote last month that if an NHLPA cheerleaders like Brooks was questioning Goodenow's hold on power that the PA Director might be in trouble. While I have no reason to doubt my source's claim that Goodenow still has the support of the majority of the PA membership, it's possible there couldl be a vocal number openly questioning his leadership at the next NHLPA meeting.


I was surfing the net the other day, doing my usual routine of checking out the latest lockout news from all 30 NHL cities, when I came across this article by Bucky Gleason of the Buffalo News.

Gleason contends it was obvious to "anybody with two eyes and half a brain" that the NHL team owners were going to "win" this latest labour war with their players.

Of course, hindsight is always 20/20 but to be fair to Gleason, he'd written in previous columns his belief the owners would emerge victorious.

I believe, however, it's far too soon to start proclaiming a victor out of this. Yes, the owners got what they wanted, salaries tied to revenues and a hard cap system, but it remains to be seen if these hard-won "salary drags" actually work out as well as they expect.

After all, the owners were believed the winners back in 1995, and we all know how things subsequently turned out.

"But Spector, many of the men who owned NHL franchises back then no longer own those clubs. The fresh blood of the new owners will ensure this doesn't happen again."

Oh, really?

So Ted Leonsis was a pillar of restraint four years ago when he acquired Jaromir Jagr and then signed him to an insanely high contract that proved almost unmoveable?

So Charles Wang showed incredible fiscal prudence when he allowed GM Mike Milbury to bring in and overpay Alexei Yashin and Michael Peca?

So Tom Hicks was wisely managing his money when he okayed the insane UFA purchase prices of Bill Guerin and Pierre Turgeon?

So Jim Dolan was impersonating Ebenezer Scrooge when he rubberstamped the outrageously high contracts of Bobby Holik and Darius Kasparaitis?

So Philip Anschutz was akin to a miser when he okayed the big money contracts of Jason Allison and Ziggy Palffy?

And what was Maple Leafs Sports and Entertainment (aka The Ontario Teachers Pension Fund) idea of watching every penny when they signed Ed Belfour to $8 million per season?

You see, a good number of those "new owners" were partially responsible for driving up player salaries. They did so because, like long established owners like Philadelphia's Ed Snider and Detroit's Mike Illich, they're competitive and want to give their team an edge.

Sure, they stood shoulder-to-shoulder in this current labour war with the players, but they've shown in the past that they'll always do what's best for themselves and their respective teams, rather than the overall good of the league.

Gleason and other hockey pundits have been very critical of NHLPA Director Bob Goodenow, blaming him for leading the players down a dead-end path where they had no hope of victory.

It's been quite fashionable of late for many in the press to engage in this "piling-on" of Goodenow, but if recent history has taught us anything, it's that whatever seems to be a loss for Goodenow and the NHLPA can ultimately turn into a triumph. Unfortunately, far too many pundits are forgetting that lesson.

That's why I'm cautioning everyone that what seems like labour victory for the owners could once again blow up in their collective faces if they continue the same traits under this deal as they did under the old one.

The remainder of Gleason's story was also quite interesting:

More than anything, it should be a win for small-market teams. The likes of Buffalo, Edmonton and Pittsburgh were good hockey towns with good hockey teams before NHL economics minimized their ability to compete. The new deal will not fix everything, but it should level a playing field that has been slanted toward the rich for at least a decade.

If the salary cap is $37 million, every team should have good players at reasonable rates, prices that won't equate to your firstborn for a seat in the nosebleeds. It should put a premium on scouting rather than spending, the way it does in the NFL.

First, he's right in his assessment that good small market hockey towns were struggling to compete under the old system. Those teams either had to fold, or the system had to be changed to level the playing field as Gleason suggested.

But that $37 million salary cap, or whatever the figure is at the start of the 2005-06 season, is fluid. Should revenues go up, so too will that cap ceiling.

There'd better be significant improvements in revenue sharing because if not, the gap between halfs and half-nots will remain, perhaps not as wide as in recent years, but still there regardless.

Even with revenue sharing, there's no guarantee that small market clubs will be able or willing to spend up to the cap ceiling. Indeed, all they have to do is spend over the established cap floor, which may start at $24 million.

Furthermore, you can't legislate against stupidity. There will be teams who'll make bad signings, lousy trades and poor drafts. Salary restraints isn't going to change that.

As for a premium of scouting over spending, the NY Rangers were a prime example that you could overspend on a lousy on-ice product yet have a decent draft record.

The Colorado Avalanche, Philadelphia Flyers and Detroit Red Wings were three of the big market overspenders, yet they also have draft records that are the envy of most of their peers.

The Edmonton Oilers were one of those teams that were forced to spend prudently, yet throughout the 1990s their draft record sucked on toast.

As for every team filled with good, affordable players, again that's up to the management to determine that a team with a $37 million payroll is stocked that way.

As the Rangers proved, you could have a team with a payroll twice that number and still ice an inferior product. It's not the amount you have to spend, but what you spend it on that counts.

As for reasonable rates to watch those teams, I'm shocked that there are still some columnists like Gleason who honestly believe lower salaries will equal lower ticket prices.

It's supply and demand, what each market will bear, that determines those prices. Salaries have nothing to do with it.

Take Buffalo, for example. A good hockey town, but one that in recent years saw its team struggle on the ice due in no small part to its financial problems off of it. That included its owner being marched off to prison for embezzlement, with the fallout being the club declaring bankruptcy and in danger of either being moved or folded.

That in turn affected the numbers at the turnstiles, leaving new ownership no choice but to reduce ticket prices as an incentive to get the fans back.

If Thomas Golisano can provide stable ownership for the Sabres, and the on-ice product improves, the fans will return. And once they do, ticket prices will eventually start rising again. They won't go as high as they do in a bigger market, but they will rise accordingly with the team's popularity.

Meanwhile, just up the road sit the Toronto Maple Leafs, who play in arguably the biggest hockey market in the NHL.

The team is wildly popular, made the playoffs in each of the past six years, and are owned by deep-pocketed, stable ownership.

Because of the Leafs popularity and on-ice success, the club has no problem selling out its venue. Thus, they have some of the highest ticket prices in the NHL. What they pay in salaries has no bearing on those prices.

An even better example is the Minnesota Wild, who had one of the lowest payrolls in the NHL in 2003-04 yet were among the top ten in ticket prices.

The reason for this is because the Wild are very popular, despite the young, inexpensive roster. Minnesota is called "The State of Hockey" and the fans there are thrilled to have NHL hockey back after losing the North Stars over a decade ago.

The bottom line is, the salaries may be lower but the ticket prices won't be. Sure, many teams will either freeze prices or drop them by as much as ten percent for next season, but that's done solely as enticement to bring back fans jaded over the NHL because of a season-killing lockout.

Once those numbers are stabilized back to what they were prior to the lockout, those prices will rise again in many cities, especially in the big markets.

Better players spread across more teams makes for tighter competition, which creates more interest, which draws more fans, which increases revenue, which increases salaries.

See how it works?

But how do we know better players will be spread across more teams under this deal?

Remember, the UFA eligibility age is set to decrease over the next four years, from 31 this year to 30 in 2005, 29 in 2007 and 28 in 2008.

What that means is that if small market clubs are still unable or unwilling to spend up to their cap limits, and if there hasn't been marked improvement in revenue sharing, they still run the risk of losing their best players to either free agency or trades.

That means those teams will have their best players for a much shorter period than they previously did under the old CBA.

Big market teams won't be able to resist the opportunity to snap up young players in the prime of their careers. They'll jettison aging veterans in the mid-to-late thirties to free up payroll room to make that happen.

What could then result is a league whereby big market teams get younger, whilst small markets become a mixture of young developing players and aging veterans signed via the UFA market.

At the end of the day, it'll be the owners who'll decide if this new CBA is going to work as intended.

Given their track records in recent years, their competitive nature, and the fact that good management, not legislation, results in good teams, I have a tough time buying into Gleason's sunny forecast.


As the NHL and NHLPA draw ever closer to finally signing off on a new collective bargaining agreement, there's been suggestions made by some of my readers, as well as some hockey pundits and even a handful of NHL players that this lengthy lockout could've been avoided had the NHLPA accepted one of the NHL's earlier offers.

The basis for this is the PA's acceptance of a cap system and salaries tied to revenues, two key points the players swore throughout most of the lockout they'd never accept.

Since they're accepting it now, the thinking is the PA could've avoided the loss of an entire season's worth of salaries, and perhaps gotten a higher cap ceiling, if they'd merely accepted an earlier league proposal.

As most of us now know thanks to numerous media leaks, the new CBA is espected to contain a cap ceiling of $39 million and a floor of $24 million, with salaries linked to revenues. Those existing contract have been reduced by 24 percent of their original worth, plus an additional 15% of current and future salaries will be held in escrow, to be distributed back to the teams if salaries exceed 54% of revenues.

Those cap limits are allowed to fluctuate depending on revenues, thus they can increase as revenues increase.

Furthermore, there's believed to be an agreement on a unified system for teams to determine and report revenues. The top ten money-earning clubs will share an as-yet undetermined amount of revenue with the bottom ten moneyearners.

Salary arbitration will remain in place but will be "baseball-style", meaning an arbiter must choose either what the player is seeking or what the team is offering, rather than settling in the middle as was the case under the previous CBA. Also, teams will now have the right to take players to arbitration.

Entry-level bonuses will be closely restricted. Qualifying offers are expected to be at 100% of the previous year's salary.

Now, let's take a look at those previous offers from the league and see what it was proposing to the players since last July:

From July 2004:

* A Performance-Based Salary System, in which a player's individual compensation would be based, in part, on negotiated objective criteria and, in part, on individual and team performance.

* A Payroll Range System in which teams could spend within a negotiated range of payrolls.

* A system premised on the Centralized Negotiation of Player Contracts, where the League would negotiate individual player contracts, either with players and their agents or with the Union directly.

* A Player Partnership Payroll Plan (P-4), which would involve individual player compensation being individually negotiated on the basis of "units" allocated for regular-season payrolls, supplemented by lucrative bonuses for team playoff performance.

* A Salary Slotting System, which would contemplate each team being assigned a series of "salary slots" at various levels, each of which would be allocated among each team's players pursuant to individual player-team negotiation.

The league also offered a hard cap system at that time, believed tied to 53% of revenues, or a cap ceiling between $31-$33 million.

Nowhere in here is there anything addressing the aforementioned points that will apparently now form the agreement presently being finalized.

From December 14th:

Almost complete rejection of the NHLPA's earlier offer, except for acceptance the 24% rollback, but in a restructured format whereby the highest paid would see their salaries reduced the most in a blatant attempt to divide the PA membership. Other highlights:

"We made a detailed system proposal -- a 'salary range' -- which, based on last year's economics, would see team player costs between $38.6 million and $34.6 million."

"If you accept everything the Union says will result from their proposal, the players will receive 56.6% of our revenues on Day 1 of a new agreement. To repeat, the players' proposal translates to 56.6%. We countered at 54%"

"Salary Arbitration is inflationary -- very inflationary. This one is easy. We said it must be eliminated."

"As to Qualifying Offers and the other proposals -- They either do not provide meaningful relief or will need further discussion when we finally have a new system in which these elements will operate. They can all be discussed at a later point."

"We also proposed liberalizing the requirement for unrestricted free agency, acknowledging that the 31-year-old age limit was negotiable downward."

"We accepted the Union proposal on changes to the Entry Level System, with the proviso that all bonuses be eliminated. "

As for revenue sharing, here's what was leaked to TSN the day prior:

"We envision a revenue sharing pool that will be funded primarily by a portion of revenues generated in the Stanley Cup playoffs," as opposed to revenue sharing on the basis of regular-season revenues."

It was subsequently reported that this revenue sharing would be phased out over the course of the next CBA.

The league insisted on eliminating arbitration and entry-level bonuses. There is no set minimum amount for payrolls, a vague concept of revenue sharing involving playoff revenues which ironically could see small market playoff clubs assisting small market non-playoff clubs, and an unwlllingness at the time to sufficiently address qualifying offers.

The only thing the league gave ground on was increasing the linkage of salaries to revenues was a merely percentage point, from 53 to 54% and reducing the entry level cap, plus the 24 percent rollback on top of this.

No wonder the players rejected this counter-offer.

Now here's the highlights of the February 2, 2005 offer:

# A League-wide Player Compensation Range, which again increases the League's offer on maximum Player Compensation from 54% to 55% of League-wide Revenues and guarantees that Players will receive a minimum payment of 53% of League-wide Revenues;

# A Floating Team Payroll Range, which would obligate each Club to pay its Players no less than $32 million and no more than $42 million in Player Compensation on an annualized basis. The Payroll Range would be adjusted every year to reflect changes in League-wide Revenues;

# The maintenance of Player Contract "Guarantees" in their current form;

# A profit-sharing plan pursuant to which the Players would share in League profitability over a negotiated level on a 50/50 basis;

# The implementation of a jointly monitored accounting and audit function, with multi-million dollar fines -- and forfeited Draft choices -- the penalty for failure to disclose required financial information;

# The establishment of a Joint Owner-Player Council to discuss various business and game-related issues;

# Recognizing a shortened regular season with a full Playoff, a distribution of revenues generated from the 2005 Stanley Cup Playoffs to ensure that the Players receive the agreed-upon 53% of League Revenues;

# A revised Entry Level System which preserves each Player's ability to negotiate performance bonuses and which incorporates an additional League-wide bonus structure for outstanding performance on a League-wide basis;

# A revised Salary Arbitration System with expanded election rights for both Players and Clubs;

# A proposed reduction in the age for Unrestricted Free Agency to age 30, with a possible further reduction to age 28 (tied to salary arbitration);

# A 62% increase in the League's Minimum Salary to $300,000 per year; and

# The use of a Payroll Tax on Clubs within the Floating Team Payroll Range at the Union's sole discretion.

Finally, the league begins to give ground and actually negotiate. Almost all these points make this deal look as good, or possibly better, than the one being signed now.

But dig a little deeper by reading the full proposal and glaring problems emerge:

- 100% Qualifying Offers for Players earning less than $800,000; 75% (or $800,000, whichever is more) Qualifying Offers for Players earning $800,000 or more.

- Players and Clubs obligated to reach agreement on terms of a new contract by no later than fourteen (14) days after the opening of Training Camp; failure to do so results in player ineligibility (and unavailability to Club) for balance of the season.

- League has option to eliminate Salary Arbitration mechanism in its entirety at any time during the term of the Agreement by converting age of eligibility for Group 3 Free Agency to 28.

-To compensate the Players for a shortened 2004-05 regular season with a full Playoffs, we understand that there will have to be a distribution out of revenues generated from the 2005 Stanley Cup Playoffs to ensure that the Players receive the agreed upon 53% of League Revenues.

In other words, slashing qualifying offers by 25 percent for those players earning over $800K (the majority of players earn more than that), elimination of salary arbitration at any time, the use of playoff revenues to compensate players out of pocket for a shortened season, forcing a player to reach a deal with a team within 14 days of the start of training camp or face being ineligible to play in the NHL for the rest of that season.

But the most glaring problem is the absence of revenue sharing. Instead, the league tosses in a luxury tax within the cap system as a bone to the players, while stating the owners don't believe in it.

Then, inexplicably, the league steps backward with its February 9th proposal:

Under the terms of this proposal, the NHL is prepared to accept the NHLPA's December 9, 2004 Payroll Tax proposal, with certain exceptions, provided that the terms of the CBA will automatically and immediately convert to those contemplated in the League's February 2, 2005 proposal, in the event certain economic and competitive conditions referred to below occur during the term of the proposed CBA.

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

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

2. 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

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

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

Upon conversion, the terms of the NHL's February 2, 2005 proposal would become effective, and would be the governing terms of the CBA -- replacing the terms of the NHLPA's December 9, 2004 proposal -- and any "excess" payments made by the Clubs to the Players would be recouped.

This was the infamous "hair triggers" proposal, which was so weighted in the league's favour that it's not surprising the PA wound up rejecting it. After all, what sense was there to agree to a deal that, once any one of four set conditions were met, which would easily occur within the first year of the CBA, then the deal reverts back to the NHL's February 2 proposal?

If the NHLPA braintrust had agreed to that deal, players like Steve Avery, Manny Legace and Jeremy Roenick would have every right to complain about wasting time or being brainwashed.

Finally, there's the league's "final offer" of February 15th, as presented to NHLPA Director Bob Goodenow via letter from NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman:

We attempted to reach out to you with yesterday's offer of a team maximum cap of $42.2MM ($40MM in salary and $2.2MM in benefits) which was not linked to League-wide revenues. As Bill told Ted, "de-linking" a maximum team salary cap from League revenues and total League-wide player compensation has always been problematic for us, especially since we cannot now quantify the damage to the League from the lockout. This presents the risk we will pay out more than we can afford. As you know, if all 30 teams were to spend to the maximum we proposed, and if the damage to our business is as we discussed at our meetings in New York, then the League would continue to lose money.

I know, as do you, that the "deal" we can make will only get worse for the players if we cancel the season -- whatever damage we have suffered to date will pale in comparison to the damage from a cancelled season and we will certainly not be able to afford what is presently on the table. Accordingly, I am making one final effort to reach out to make a deal that will let us play this season.

We are increasing our offer of yesterday by increasing the maximum individual team cap to $44.7MM ($42.5MM in salary and $2.2MM in benefits). This offer is not an invitation to begin negotiations -- it's too late for that. This is our last effort to make a deal that's fair to the players and one that the Clubs (hopefully) can afford. We have no more flexibility and there is no time for further negotiation.

If this offer is acceptable, please let me know by 11:00 A.M. tomorrow, in advance of my scheduled press conference. Hopefully, the press conference will not be necessary.

So, the NHLPA was willing to accept a salary cap (albeit considerably higher than suggested by Bettman) in exchange for taking linkage off the table.

This would be the deal that players like Roenick, Legace and Avery believe would've been a better one to take than what's being negotiated now.

But all this addresses is a cap system without linkage.

What's to become of arbitration, revenue-sharing, qualifying offers and entry-level bonuses? What parts of the league's previous proposals are to form this new offer? None of that is addressed or even commented upon by Bettman in this letter, leaving far too many unanswered questions.

Reviewing the obvious problems within those previous offers from the NHL, it's apparent - the NHLPA's anti-cap, anti-linkage mindset at the time aside - why each one was rejected.

If the PA had accepted any of those February deals, the players would lose the right to arbitration, revenue sharing and the right to stage a contract hold out beyond the 14th day of training camp. Most players also would've seen their qualifying offers slashed by 25 percent.

Salary arbitration was the main cash cow for NHLPA members under the previous CBA. It, more so than unrestricted free agency, was the system responsible for driving up player salaries under the old agreement.

The old system favoured the player because, even if the arbiter ruled against him, they usually settled on a number between the player's demand and the team's offer, thus guaranteeing a raise.

That led to many instances where teams sought to avoid having a player take them to arbitration as they knew that in most cases, if they won, they'd lose.

A "baseball-style" system, with teams having the right to take players to arbitration and the arbiter have to choose one side or the other rather than settling in the middle, is much more fair to the teams.

Even so, the odds of winning a bigger raise are likely still in the players' favour, especially when they can draw comparison to other players of equal or lesser skill earning more than they are.

Furthermore, arbitration tends to be an unpleasant affair, as the general manager has to cite the reasons why the player isn't worth as much as he believes to be worth.

That often leads to resentment from the player, regardless of the outcome, for he's then led to believe that management doesn't consider him a valuable member of the team.

This was another reason why teams often sought to avoid the arbitration process and why they may still do so under the new deal.

Lose that system, and players are stuck with the "take-it-or-leave-it" scenario, whereby they're at the mercy of their respective general managers, with no real right to establish their market value.

Many fans point to the NFL's hard cap system as proof that a hard cap works, but that's merely an illusion. As the NFLPA pointed out back in 2002, among the real reasons (prorated bonuses, UFA status at age 24, right to renegotiate at any time) that their system works is revenue sharing.

Now obviously the NFL has a much more lucrative system and far stronger revenue streams than the NHL, but the principle remains the same. For the NHL's system to work, there must be improved revenue sharing to allow small market clubs to spend more on player salaries.

Implementing a system whereby revenue sharing would come from a pool of playoff revenue, one that would fluctuate from as low as $60 million to as high as $110 million based on the length of the post season, and then to see it phased out over the course of the new deal, would not be a system that would work in favour of the players or of small market clubs.

Without revenue sharing, small market clubs either would lack the money or the will to spend up to their cap ceiling, which in turn would mean less money to be spent on salaries.

As the majority of players would earn more than $800,000 per season, slashing qualifying offers by 25% would affect them the most. It would create a scenario whereby if a player was ineligible for arbitration rights, and could receive no better offer from another club or no raise from the team holding his rights, he would then be forced to accept that qualifying offer which would be 25 percent less than his previous salary.

Finally, putting a shortened timeline on a player by giving him only until the 14th day from the opening of training camp to re-sign with his team restricts his right to negotiation.

Some will read this and suggest that a player would've had months, from the end of either the regular season (April) or elimination of his team from the postseason (April through June) until the start of camp in late-August or early September to get a deal done.

In most cases, that is plenty of time, but no case is alike. It raises the scenario whereby, if a team didn't want to pay a player a fair raise, they could use this time limit to force the player into signing a lesser deal or failing that, make the player the scapegoat in the eyes of the fans for the inability to get a deal done.

Some may suggest the player could also use that to his advantage to put pressure upon the team, but under this scenario, the advantage is more clearly in the team's favour.

As we saw under the last CBA, only a tiny number of players were willing to forego an entire season to get the contract they wanted, and of those who did, they were considered among the league's top players (Alexei Yashin, Michael Peca, Nikolai Khabibulin) and knew they stood to get top dollar elsewhere. Most players don't have that luxury, nor would most on equal footing with the aforementioned want to face that prospect.

It thus becomes quite clear why the upcoming new CBA will be more beneficial to the players than if they'd taken a short-sighted quick fix by focussing on a higher cap ceiling, one that will eventually be reached or even surpassed within the next two years.


- Is there or isn't there a deal in place between the NHL and NHLPA?

The LA Times respected Helene Elliott says yes, claiming they've agreed to a deal in principle.

The NHL and NHLPA say no, with both sides citing the usual mantra of "there's still plenty of work to be done".

I think Elliott has it right in terms of the major components of the deal that have been agreed upon.

The league and PA would probably acknowledge that, except for the fact there still remains the usual legalese to be transcribed onto paper before they're going to come out and say that they've got a deal ready for ratification by both sides.

There are even reports that they're hoping to have this completed by this weekend, then take it to their respective sides for ratification by either Monday or Tuesday.

I think the deal will be ready to go by the weekend, and there should be ratification votes hopefully by the middle of next week. I say that because I don't want them to do this next Friday, when I'll be out of town on a short but much-needed vacation.

- Most of what's been previously leaked to the media appeared in the Times report, although there were a couple of interesting new items:

The new deal has no luxury tax but addresses revenue sharing through a complex formula under which the top 10 revenue-earning teams will give a percentage of their revenue to small-market teams at the conclusion of each season.

In another key change, players' performance bonuses will be restricted according to a standardized formula. Criteria such as points, ice time and plus/minus ratio will govern bonuses available to forwards. Another set of standards will apply to bonuses for defensemen, and a third set will determine bonuses for goaltenders.

I was going to explain how the elimination of a luxury tax within the system in favour of the top ten clubs sharing revenues with the bottom ten is a better way to go, but Mike Chen does a much better job of it.

As for the standardized formula for determining bonuses, I'm going to wait until I read what that may be once the new CBA is released. Suffice to say, this stipulation is probably being implemented as a means of preventing teams from prorating those bonuses over the life of a contract, which is one method used by NFL teams to circumvent their hard cap.

- The LA Kings' Sean Avery believes his fellow players were "brainwashed" by NHLPA honcho Bob Goodenow, that Goodenow embarrassed them and didn't keep informed as to how negotiations were going.

Makes you wonder if the majority of players believe the same thing?

Perhaps they do, but in the wake of Avery's inflammatory comments, some players weren't seeing it the same way:

"We knew what we were getting into. " think our executive has
done its best. They had to listen to 700 players and get the (pulse) of thewhole group. It's a hard job. It's such a tough situation."

"Yeah, we went to those (players' association) meetings and they were
heated. It's a lot of players with a lot of different opinions. We knew that the negotiations were going to be tough. Everybody knew that for a lot of years. It's so easy to look back and want to do things differently. I'm sure there's going to be a lot of people looking back -- and there should be -- wondering how we could have done it better and more effectively for everybody involved. But that'll come after." -
Jarome Iginla, Calgary Herald, July 7th.

"Obviously, Avery is upset, but he should be calling committee guys instead of going off in the media. We're all in this together and nobody wanted a cap, but we all realize we want to start playing again. If you're a real man, you'd say it to (Goodenow's) face. It's frustrating to hear that from Avery because we can call Bob or Trevor Linden at any time. We have our own website, all the phone numbers and all the information you need to learn about what's going on. There's no way someone should not be informed. I've talked to Trevor plenty of times and we voted the committee in, so it's surprising to me when players get upset and go to the papers when they could just make a phone call." - Dan Cloutier, Vancouver Province, July 7th.

"I don't know the guy and I don't know where he's coming from. He seems to be causing trouble all the time and he has been a mouthpiece in
certain situations. We'd all like to know every last detail and we're getting near the end and there's not a lot of information. But I talk to Trevor a lot and I'm on the website every day." -
Brent Sopel, Vancouver Province, July 7th.

"There's no question that none of us are happy because
we missed a year, but I have no problem with Bob Goodenow." -
Brad May, Vancouver Province, July 7th.

"Everybody's disappointed, but it's easy to say now: 'If we'd done this, if
we'd done that.' But these guys were at union meetings and every single player agreed to stick to their guns. The people who are saying things now, stupid things in my opinion, are doing so to look good for the public. As a union, we were all in this together." -
Georges Laraque, Edmonton Journal, July 7th.

Of course, Avery will probably insist those guys are still brainwashed.

- Speaking of Avery, the Toronto Sun's Lance Hornby also commented on his remarks, but pointed out that there are NHL owners, particularly some big market ones, who aren't particularly happy with Gary Bettman's handling of negotiations.

Bettman will no doubt emerge a hero in the eyes of small market teams for bringing in the cap and avenging a perceived owners' defeat in the 1994 CBA war. But there will be a significant number of rich franchises who saw the hardball tactics of a season-long work stoppage as the wrong approach and now aren't thrilled about rebuilding teams with almost half their pre-lockout payroll.

Though the dissenters, likely including the Maple Leafs, Wings and Colorado Avalanche, won't have the will or sufficient numbers to stop approval of a new deal, Bettman is still faced with complaints ranging from the stale game on the ice to lack of TV coverage and exposure in the U.S.

It's clear that the fate of both Goodenow and Bettman will depend on how this deal pans out in the coming years.

- MSG Network's Stan Fischler must've had more than his usual daily helping of snark when he wrote the following in his July 6th "Bluelines" column:

Brian Burke was right to give Mike Babcock another shot (one-year-deal) at coaching Anaheim. But Babcock is wrong in stalling a week before giving his new boss an aye. Where, pray tell, does Babs - or -- his wonderful agent, Bob Brett think he's going to get a better deal? With Central Red Army??

Well, Stan, you got it partially right: he's apparently soon to sign with a team that has the name "Red" in their title, that being the Detroit Red Wings.

Of course, you won't see that in Stan's column now, as that little passage has mysteriously disappeared so's not to make him look like a ass. But of course, yours truly, who regularly reads through and copies all lockout and player movement information for substantiation for comments on this site has the original column on his little ol' computer, and that's why you're seeing it here.

Come on, Stan, be big enough to leave that part in, and then admit in a subsequent article you made a mistake by speaking too soon. Your readers will respect you for it. Better than pretending it never happened at all!

- Oh, I wonder what Stan thinks of "Babs" and his "wonderful agent" now? Potentially landing the head coaching gig of one of the NHL's most popular franchises is a nice plumb.

It may also indicate that the Wings are heading in a different direction, focussing more on youth than on aging, expensive veterans.

If so, that may not be good news for guys like Curtis Joseph, Chris Chelios and Brendan Shanahan.

- Speaking of Mr. Fischler, in his latest Bluelines he , referencing similar "attaboy" comments from the Calgary Herald's Stu Cowan, gives props to NHL on-ice officials for their "inherent goodness" for not taking jobs away from officials in lower leagues during the lockout. Not unlike those despicable NHLPA members, right Stan?

Why would lower levels want to hire NHL on-ice officials anyway? Fans aren't going to come out to the arena because, golly-gee-whiz, Kerry Fraser or Bill McCreary are officiating a minor league game.

As I've said before, the reason why locked out NHLPA members were able to get jobs overseas and in the minors was because the owners of teams in those leagues saw an opportunity to make money at the expense of the NHL lockout.

Those fans weren't coming out to watch the officials. In fact, I'm curious as to just how many job offers those officials received? I don't seem to recall many reports of that during the lockout.

- From regular contributor "Go Sharks" comes the following:

Some empirical data/study on OT ties/decided games.

Feb 2004 paper on the affects of implementing OT in the NHL (and the "new" OT format of 99-00 effects of "guaranteed" point, etc.)

From the abstract:

The results suggest that under the new overtime format equally powerful teams will play more offensively in overtime resulting in more games decided by a sudden-death goal. The results also suggest that while increasing the likelihood of attacking in overtime, the rule change would have a perverse effect on the style of play during regulation by causing them to play conservatively for the tie.

Food for thought. It'll be interesting to see if this plays out over the next few seasons under the NHL's new overtime format.

- Don't think I've forgotten about the news of Sidney Crosby negotiating with a Swiss Elite League hockey club. That'll be the focus later today in my latest Foxsports.com article.


For the past several weeks, we've heard from three or four NHL players slamming the NHLPA hierarchy for their willingness to negotiate a hard salary cap and linkage with the NHL, despite having spent most of the lockout rejecting those options.

It's understandable why players like Jaromir Jagr, Jeremy Roenick and Manny Legace have been critical of the PA leadership. After all, it's players over thirty - like those three - who stand to lose more under this new agreement (based on what's been leaked to the media in recent weeks) than those in their twenties who are either in the prime of their careers or soon to approach it. It's this latter group that stands to gain the most under the new agreement.

So it was interesting to read the comments of 24-year-old LA Kings agitator Sean Avery in today's Los Angeles Times. Interviewed by Bill Plaschke, himself no fan of the NHLPA's stance in the lockout, Avery had several choice words aimed at both the PA hierarchy and in particular Bob Goodenow.

"We were brainwashed," he said. "And we're sorry.

"Bob thought he was bigger than he was," Avery said. "Bob brainwashed players like me."


That's a little strong, considering Goodenow warned the players for months prior to the lockout to prepare for a lengthy work stoppage lasting one or possibly two season, something Avery himself acknowledged last February:

"I think, when you look at it, the lockout is about guys like me," Avery said. "If I'm 24 and willing to sit out for two years, that's an indication of where the union stands."

Avery seems to conveniently ignore or forget the reasons why the PA adopted the stance it did.

The NHL made no attempt to negotiate with the NHLPA for over a year from the time the PA made its first proposal. When it did, it made six proposals all tied to salary linkage, seeking to maintain payrolls at $31-$33 million.

From the time the lockout was announced on September 16th until early February, the NHL initiated no offers to the players. In fact, it made no offers at all for nearly three months before finally spurred into reaction by the PA's 24 percent rollback offer.

Each proposal made by the league in February sought to eliminate arbitration, entry-level salaries and revenue sharing, either outright or via economic hairtriggers throughout the life of the new CBA.

The only time in that period the league showed a real willingness at concession was when the PA offered to accept a cap if the league took linkage off the table.

It's only been since April, when the combination of the failed prospect of employing replacement players, the potential loss of broadcasting and sponsership deals, and the PA's suggestion of a hybrid cap system changed the league's tone from confrontational to concilliatory.

I guess Avery was so brainwashed that he just plain forgot about all that stuff.

Plaschke asked Avery where was all his anger last winter when he and the players could've overruled Goodenow to save the season.

"To be honest with you, most of us didn't know what was going on," Avery said. "Guys had no control over the situation. Guys were out there giving interviews and we didn't know the real story. Bob embarrassed a lot of guys."

No question, there were some players with egg on their faces after they proclaimed for months they'd never accept a cap, only to have the PA turn around and do so.

As for Avery's claim of being ill-informed, there were at least two meetings of player reps between September and February whereby Goodenow and the player executive updated them on the lockout status and PA strategy.

The PA also had a secure website whereby players could submit feedback and seek further information regarding the talks and the PA strategy. Goodenow also apparently told the players several weeks ago that if they had any questions they could contact him directly.

The players, including several reps, were caught unaware when the PA agreed to a hard cap if linkage were taken off the table last February, but there was a subsequent meeting with player reps and other players where again the status of negotiations and PA strategy were discussed.

Those same players also took the opportunity to speak out against Jeremy Roenick and other players for attempting an end-run around the PA hierarchy to talk to NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman.

So this means that either the PA braintrust deliberately kept the players in the dark, of which there is plenty of media speculation but thus far no real proof of, or Avery is merely speaking for himself.

After all, both veteran forward Scott Young and Bruins netminder Andrew Raycroft explained why the PA rejected the league's $42.5 million cap offer, citing structure issues and lack of negotiating time to implement such a deal.

"I am furious at Bob," Avery said.

Heck, if they had listened to Avery, the cap could have been $50 million, an idea he publicly proposed at a meeting two years ago.

An idea that was summarily shot down.

Because at the time, the PA's gameplan was to offer up other alternatives, rather than accept a hard cap and linkage.

Regardless, the league never had any intention of accepting a $50 million cap ceiling. The PA offered that in February but it was summarily rejected by the league, which sought a much lower $42.5 million cap.

Of course, both Avery and Plaschke fail to mention that, probably because it got in the way of the sensationalism.

"We underestimated how rich the owners were," he said. "Nobody thought they would be willing to burn a season."

He sighed. "They won. They beat us."

In the short term, particularly heading into 2005-06, that certainly appears to be the case. The league achieved a hard salary cap with linkage, plus the 24 percent salary rollback first proposed by the PA last December.

And if the owners can make this one work this time around, rather than make a mockery of it as they did the last one, then over the long run, they will have beaten the players.

"We burned a year for nothing," Avery said. "We didn't win anything. We didn't prove anything. We didn't get anything. We wasted an entire season."

Yes, you did, Sean, but I don't think you've been paying close attention to what you stand to gain now, rather than what you could've had last February.

If the players had short-sightedly accepted the league's "final" offer of a $42.5 million hard cap, they would've also signed away any right to arbitration, entry level bonuses, meaningful revenue sharing, a cap floor, qualifying offers at 100 percent of previous contracts, the eventual lowering of the UFA qualification age to 28, a uniform system for how teams determine and report revenues, and the possibility of the cap limits increasing should revenues also increase.

All of those things are what's believed to be part of the new CBA, but the focus of naysayers like Avery is based solely on the $42.5 million cap they could've had.

Indeed, at age 24, Avery is heading into the prime earning years of his career, where this CBA will do him the most good, particularly with the lowering of the UFA age to 28, qualifying offers at 100 percent of his previous salary, and the right to take his team to salary arbitration.

Avery's frustration is understandable in that the PA told he and the other players they would never accept a cap or linkage, yet they're now on the verge of doing just that.

But what no one really knows for certain is just how much that stance is being driven by Goodenow, the player executive, or even by the majority of players themselves, who may have told their reps they don't want to risk jeopardizing another season and want to make the best deal possible.

Hopefully everything will come out once the new deal is in place.

"The fans get taken for granted, but, to them, a million dollars is a million dollars," he said. "And we're going to come out looking like crybabies and whiners."

But remember Avery's February comments where he indicated he was willing to sit out two seasons to get the deal he wanted. Funny how he had no concerns about the fans back then.

It's not fair to just slam Avery. Few if any players, agents, owners or general managers had any real concern as to how the fans would feel about all this.

So does Avery speak for other PA members or for himself?

Perhaps we should consider these comments he made last February:

"I think they can eliminate a lot of Europeans who are mediocre and are taking a lot of jobs," Avery told Toronto's The Fan 590.

When told that the NHL Players' Association does a lot of things for the best interests of all players - regardless of background - Avery maintained that it was his own opinion.

"The Association does a lot of things," he said. "I'm just talking for me."

Until there is a much larger choir of players speaking out against the PA hierarchy, then like last February, Avery speaks solely for himself.


- TSN and Canadian Press have the run-down of all thirty NHL clubs and their plans for ticket sales for the upcoming season.

The results indicate most teams will either freeze ticket prices or offer reductions in ticket costs.

Huzzah! cry the fans. Capping salaries has resulted in frozen or reduced ticket prices.


Those clubs freezing or reducing prices are doing so to get you, the hockey fan, back into the seats after the loss of an entire season due to the bitter labour war between the NHL and NHLPA.

Reducing and capping salaries have nothing to do with it.

If ticket prices drop over the course of the next CBA, then you can make the claim that the salary cap was the reason why.

Don't expect that to happen. Those teams doing well at the gate will charge whatever they want, while those that are struggling will cut or freeze their prices.

- In addition to ticket discounts, some teams are also gearing up to woo back disgruntled fans by including some "freebie" concessions, discounts on the same, and by aggresively marketing themselves.

That's all fine and good, but those are merely gimmicks and most hardcore hockey fans aren't going to be swayed by them.

If the NHL wants to win back its fans, and keep them back, and grow that fanbase, they must consistently deliver a better on-ice product.

Otherwise, all the free slurpies and pop in the world isn't going to improve the numbers at the turnstiles.

- Denver Post columnist Terry Frei is calling for Gary Bettman and Bob Goodenow to resign:

The prolonged shutdown has made the league a laughingstock, and, more important, in the long run affected its revenue streams. One of the many examples: ESPN didn't pick up its option to televise games in the 2005-06 season. The network or some other cable operation might be in the picture when the NHL begins playing, but it will be under terms similar to the league's embarrassing revenue-sharing, limited exposure deal with NBC.

The league needs a fresh start, and Bettman would be a divisive influence in the healing process.

On the players' side of the table, Goodenow's credibility is shot. Enough owners didn't want to play at all last season, in order to eat up contracts, that the NHLPA's stunning offer of 24 percent salary rollbacks backfired. It backfired because it wasn't accompanied by a public challenge to the league's owners to seriously and continuously negotiate, at least from mid-December on. Owners were far more fractious than the league's united front indicated, but that never became an issue - because the union didn't call their bluff.

Rather than an impetus to negotiation, the rollback instead became part of subsequent surrender terms. And players were left angrily wondering why the settlement is going to be worse than the offer on the table when the season died in February.

Don't hold your breath, Terry. Unless Bettman decides running the NHL is no longer worth the hassle, he's not going anywhere...unless the new CBA fails to work out over the long run for the owners.

As for Goodenow, after everything he accomplished for the players in the past, I don't see them tossing him aside now because of an apparent "defeat" in this latest labour war.

And Terry? This settlement isn't going to be worse than the offer on the table last February. It's actually better, for reasons I've stated repeatedly over the past month.

- Boston Bruins goalie Andrew Raycroft offered up his take on the lockout and the claim by some players that they're getting a worse deal this time around compared to the February offers from the NHL:

Some players have been openly critical of the union, saying that if they were going to take the financial hit, they should have come to terms back in February, prior to cancellation of the season. However, Raycroft believes a resolution was never a viable option then.

''There was a lot of stuff going on in February," he said. ''I think just the fact that it's taken four weeks of 80-hour weeks to get this done now, it's kind of shortsighted to say we could have gotten something done in February and still had a season. I just don't think it could have gotten done in February, no matter what anyone says."

But of course, this isn't getting widespread media attention, because, like Scott Young's comments from a week ago about how the structure in the league's February offer wasn't as good as what's on the table now, Raycroft and Young aren't big "name" stars like Jaromir Jagr or Jeremy Roenick.

That and the fact both Raycroft and Young are using common sense and obviously have been paying attention to the negotiations, instead of calling for Goodenow's head on a pike, obviously doesn't make good copy.

Maybe if he used more profanity or told the fans to kiss his ass, his comments might've gotten more coverage?

- Yes, yes, I know, Roenick fans, a bit of a cheap shot there, poor Jeremy was quoted out of context.

But he certainly wasn't being misquoted when he told fans who blamed the players for the NHL's woes to kiss his ass.

Again, I understand Jeremy's frustration with those type of fans, but all that does is reinforce the image of the cocky, spoiled, selfish player that he was trying to dispel.

- Finally, Mark Stepneski suggests that, based on recent comments by NHL VP Bill Daly and NHLPA Senior Director Ted Saskin, the deal may still be a week away.

He's probably right, but if they're gonna announce this, it better be before July 15th, because I'm taking a short family vacation starting that day.

With my luck, that's when the deal will go down.


As negotiations between the NHL and NHLPA head into their final days, with a new collective bargaining agreement expected to be finalized very soon, there remains some concern in the press that the deal could end up scuttled when it goes before either the NHL owners or the NHLPA membership for ratification.

The concern regarding the owners is that there will be some parts of this deal that they won't like, specifically the big market clubs, regarding increased revenue sharing and paying penalties for overspending in the new cap system set to be established.

Regarding the players, there's believed to be a group of "die hard hotheads" as one pundit called them who still believe in rejecting a cap system and linkage. There's a supposed fear amongst some critics that this group, supposedly spurred on by NHLPA honcho Bob Goodenow, will try to rally support to reject the deal in hopes of squeezing the league for concessions.

It makes for wonderful conspiracy theory, but reality is that it's highly unlikely either side will reject this new deal when it's put up for their respective ratification.

Sure, there's parts of this deal that aren't going to sit well with certain owners. We don't hear much about that because of course it's much easier for NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman to ride herd on 30 owners than it is for Goodenow to do the same on a 700-plus players association.

The restrictions believed coming to player salaries in this deal probably isn't going to sit well with some of the PA membership, some of whom have been quite vocal in their belief that they could've had a better deal months ago, although the reality of the situation is quite different.

There is, however, a real determination from most folks on both sides to get a new deal done in time to prepare for the 2005-06 season.

This lockout, which cost the NHL an entire season, has hurt both sides. For the players, they've lost out on a year's salary which they're not going to get back. For the owners, they've lost out on revenues they'll never get back.

Both sides understand that if they stretch this battle out into another season, those losses are only going to multiply, meaning less for both whenever this lockout finally ends.

For the overall league, the losses have been painful. ESPN, the major US sports cable network, has kissed the NHL goodbye for now. Some notable sponsers are believed to have either withdrawn their support, threatened to do so, or are seeking to renegotiate their deals with the league.

The losses at the gate, the NHL's primary source of revenue, are unknown at this time, but it's a safe bet that in the short term, overall attendence will take a hit.

The NHL's tarnished image and fading visibility in the American sports market cannot afford the serious long-term damage another lost season would bring.

Despite the media's almost universal proclamation that the Bettman and the owners have "won" this war over Goodenow and the players, it will in fact be several years before we determine for certain which side this deal will favour in the long run.

None of that, however, will matter if the NHL fails to improve its image, popularity, revenues and visibility over the life of the new CBA.

Both sides understand the damage that must be repaired, and that's why you're not going to see the CBA rejected by either side. As one report out of Toronto yesterday suggested, the owners will pass it unanimously, and the players will ratify the deal as well, although the vote is likely not to be a huge majority in favour of it.

The owners and players have essentially drafted up a new CBA from scratch. Now they must set their sights on rebuilding their league for their common good.

So ignore the nervous nellies in the media. The new Collective Bargaining Agreement will pass.


First off, happy Independence Day to my American readers and friends. Hope you're having a wonderful long weekend.

TSN.CA yesterday posted up the list of rule change recommendations for the upcoming season, forewarning us these could be altered once they've been vetted by the general managers.

Below are the list of changes as reported by TSN with my comments in italics:

- Smaller goalie equipment, including 11 inch pads.

Long overdue but finally addressed. I've been harping for years that the league needs to reduce the size of goalie equipment. Now hopefully we'll be able to determine whether it's goaltender skill or equipment that has been partially responsible for the decline in goalscoring in recent years.

# The reinstitution of the tag-up offside rule.

This seems more of a tweak. It remains to be seen just how much this'll open up the game.

# Moving the goal lines back two feet towards the end board to create more room in front of the net instead of behind it.

Remember when they moved the nets out by two feet because they thought more players could generate plays like Gretzky from behind the net? Still, this move should increase the room needed for offensive players to generate scoring chances in front of the net, where most offensive players are at their most effective.

# The calling of more penalties more consistently, specifically for obstruction on players with and without the puck and not just in the netural zone.

Yeah, we've heard this one many times before, under the guise of the almost annual "crackdown on obstruction", which never produced results. Forgive my cynicism, folks, but I'll believe it when I see it. If the league can go through an entire season AND playoffs with the on-ice officials calling the game consistently throughout, especially when it comes to obstruction, then I'll believe this time they mean business.

# The institution of a shootout to eliminate tie games in the NHL. Before going to the shootout, though, overtime would be modified to include one five-minute period of four-on-four overtime and, if still tied, a three-minute period of three-on-three. If, after eight minutes of overtime, the game is still tied, then it would go to a shootout.

I'd love to see tied regular season games settled, and unlike some fans I have no problem with a shootout. But as I've said before, if the quality of the game in regulation and overtime doesn't improve noticeably, then the shootout will be nothing more than a garnish on a s**t sandwich.

# The winner of the game - in regulation time, overtime or the shootout - would receive two points for the victory. The loser, regardless of when the loss occurred, would receive no points.

Yes! If there was one rule that I found absolutely ridiculous in recent years, it was awarding the OT winner two points and the loser one point. This will mean teams will be playing much harder in overtime, indeed, it could make the final half of the third period exciting if it's tied, as teams may go all out to break that tie in regulation rather than face overtime and a potential shootout. Here's hoping this one gets implemented.

# The blue lines would be made fatter, as per the American Hockey League experiment this season, to slightly increase the size of the offensive zones.

# The centre red line will be removed for the purposes of allowing two-line passes.

If they're eliminating the red line to allow two-line passes, I don't see the need to fatten up the bluelines. But that's just me. I'm sure some of you out there will see it otherwise.

# Goaltenders will only be permitted to handle the puck in a designated area directly behind the goal net, as per the AHL experiment this season.

Hey, here's a thought: why not go back to the way it used to be when it came to a goaltending handling the puck? That being, he could wander out of his crease to play the puck, but he became fair game to opposing checkers.

Now I'm not suggesting players should deliberately run the netminder, but if he's playing the puck like a d-man outside his crease, an opposing player should be allowed to check him. That used to work very well in the NHL BB (Before Bettman) and I see no reason why it shouldn't be reintroduced.

# A modified form of no-touch icing, where the first player to cross the goal line - not to touch the puck - will dictate whether icing is called. In other words, if the defensive player gets to the goal line first, icing will be called. If the offensive player gets to the goal line first, no icing will be called. Also, when icing is called, the team that iced the puck will not be permitted to change lines.

That still won't fully eliminate those potentially dangerous breakneck races for the pucks and that's what I'm more concerned about. Simply go to no-touch icing and employ a hurry-up face-off soon afterward.

# Any player in the defensive zone that shoots the puck directly out of play will receive a two-minute minor for delay of game. In the past, only the goalie was penalized for shooting the puck out of play.

I'll be shocked if this one is allow to fly. The players in almost all cases don't intentially try to shoot the puck out of play, and I don't think they should be penalized if it happens accidentally, which it would in most cases.

# Automatic fines to the coach and suspensions to the player for any fight with an instigator in the last five minutes of the game.

I have no problem with this one. This habit of putting out the brawlers in the final minutes of an already decided game is bush-league BS.


- Hockeybird.com has recently reported that both sides have effectively agreed to a new collective bargaining agreement. According to the Bird:

I have no specifics except that the writing of the document and an official announcement is not yet ready. However, it's a go.

Take it for what you will......but we will have an NHL season. It's expected that an announcement will come in 10 days or less.

Hockeybird cautions that anything could happen and it's possible for this thing to be derailed, but it's essentially a done deal and all that remains is putting what could be a tangled web of legalese on paper.

- Seems some NHL general managers aren't pleased about the new NHL competition committee, which will replace GMs as the governing body for recommending rule changes to the league.

"A lot of guys (GMs) aren't happy at all," one GM told TSN. "In fact, they're furious. This competition committee could have been integrated with the GMs, but it looks like it's a replacement type of thing. It's going to be very interesting to see how this dynamic is going to work."

It would seem the basis for the GMs' anger is their potential loss of influence with the league, hence the reference to this committee being integrated.

If that had occurred, however, that competition committee could've been rendered nearly impotent. Yes, one owner and four GMs form part of the committee, but they would've been trying to pitch their changes to the other 26 general managers, who if they didn't like what they saw could've struck down any committee recommendations.

Give the committee a chance. They could do no worse than the GMs as a whole over the past ten years, and if they do, it can always be replaced or disbanded if it's proven non-effective.

But if it works and the quality of the product improves, that's going to mean the NHL's popularity could improve, meaning revenues will improve.

And that's ultimately much more important than the ruffled feathers of some traditionalist general managers.

- Here's an interesting comment from reader "m parker" regarding those voices of dissent coming from the NHLPA in recent weeks:

"Maybe it's just me, but did you notice that all the players spouting off are over 31? All the things about that 42 million offer that stunk would have had little or no effect on them. There would however have been an extra couple million for teams to have spent on their, especially in the cases of Roenick and Jagr, inflated salaries. It's not surprising that first deal looked better to them."

An excellent point. Thus far we haven't heard much, if anything, from NHL players in their twenties. We did hear from 29 year old Vancouver Canucks player rep Brendan Morrison a month ago, but his comments were more of resignation toward the deal.

"I guess hindsight is always beautiful and it's easy for people to now say, `Why weren't you guys just resigned to this deal at the beginning of last year?' Well, nobody knew it was going to play out this way."

This new CBA is going to benefit younger players, those in their twenties who are either reaching or yet to reach their playing prime. They're the ones who'll reap the benefits, whilst those in their thirties - particularly those on the bad side of 35 - won't.

They'll make much less under this new deal, particularly as unrestricted free agents, than they did under the old CBA. For me, that's only proper. Those players in their prime or approaching it deserve to make the most money, not those who are using their reputations - in some cases, fading reputations - as justification for high salaries.

This could be the real reason why some of these guys are sounding off.

Besides, most NHL players by the time they've hit their early-to-mid-thirties have been around for some time, at the very least five NHL seasons, and should've already made very good money by that point in time. If they're to face salary reductions by this point, it shouldn't adversely affect the lifestyles of most of them because of their previous earnings.

- Al Strachan wrote today of why the league won't allow teams to re-sign those players they buy out of their present contracts later this summer:

The league wants this clause for the usual reason: it doesn't trust its partners. Let's say a team has a $6-million player. It buys him out for $4 million, then gives him a new deal at $2 million. As far as the cap is concerned, he's a $2-million player. But he's still earning the $6 million he earned before the ' lockout. The NHL is strongly opposed to this kind of cap circumvention.

And I agree with the league on this one. Remember what I've said for months now about teams looking for loopholes in the new CBA. This one would've been so big you could drive a truck through it, hence the reason the league is closing it off. That scenario Strachan envisions would've happened, count on it.

Strachan goes on to make the point that this sort of buyouts could involve popular local players, which would make enticing fans to return next season much harder.

Sure, the local favourites are popular, indeed, it is the players themselves who are the product. But local favourites move on all the time, and get replaced by new ones. I doubt that losing a couple of fan favourites is going to adversely affect a team at the gate.

- Bruce Garrioch comments on what may be coming down in the new CBA, making it sound like gloom and doom for the players. Most of what he reported has already been common knowledge for weeks now, courtesy of the NY Post's Larry Brooks and his direct pipeline to the NHLPA.

The stars in the game are still going to make their money, but a lot less of it. Role players are going to be stuck at the league minimum.

But remember, that cap is to be tied to fluctuations in league revenues. As they rise, so too will the limits in the cap system. A $39 million hard cap this season can become $42.5 million within the next two or three seasons if revenues improve over that time, and if they steadily increase, that cap ceiling could rise even higher by the end of the new agreement.

Furthermore, there will also be a mandated cap floor, starting somewhere around $22 - $24 million, which could also rise with revenues. That's also going to ensure more money for the players.

If the system of revenue sharing is significantly increased as Brooks suggested two weeks ago, that will also work to the players advantage.

The talk around the league is that the NHLPA's executive committee -- and executive director Bob Goodenow -- have been bitterly divided by this negotiation. There is sure to be more unrest when the players see the new deal.

It's talk around the league, but we've yet to see or hear of any significant uprising or discontent. Thus far we've only heard from a handful of high profile players and one of them - Mario Lemieux - is also an owner so his opinion holds no merit.

"This is going to be a tough sell to the players and a bitter pill to swallow," said a source.

Yes, it could, but then again, if Goodenow and his committee have the support of the majority of the players on this, it won't be as tough a sell as Garrioch's source claims.

In addition to the aforementioned potential increases to the cap levels and revenue sharing, the players don't accept the loss of revenue sharing over the life of the CBA, the loss of arbitration thanks to tricky economic triggers, or the abolishment of entry level bonuses. Plus, they've gained a better, unified system from the league of determining and reporting revenues.

It will be interesting to hear the players' reaction once this deal is put before them for ratification. In the short term, they appear to be the losers. Their salaries are reduced, capped and tied to league revenues.

But if what I foresee occurring over the life of the CBA comes to pass, it could become beneficial to them...much more than if they'd accepted the league's February offer.


As time winds down on what appears to be the final days of negotiations in the long NHL-NHLPA labour war, some notable players have in recent weeks spoken out against the way the PA has handled these talks.

Jaromir Jagr, Mario Lemieux, Jeremy Roenick and Detroit Red Wings union rep Manny Legace have all essentially voiced the same complaints: it was a mistake for the players to reject a hard salary cap for as long as they did, that they misjudged the owners resolve this time around, and the NHLPA should've accepted the league's cap offer of $42.5 million last February.

That the NHLPA misjudged the owners resolve is unquestioned. Even though PA director Bob Goodenow accurately forewarned this labour war could last at least one season and possibly two, it seems clear that the majority of players probably felt this dispute would be settled before February, and that the owners would probably back off their hard line demands for linkage and a hard cap.

Hindsight, however, is 20/20, especially in Legace's case. Here's what he had to say this past Thursday:

The whole thing is a farce... we basically sat out for nothing, wasted a lot of money for nothing. It makes no sense to me.''

''They (ticked) off all the owners and (the owners) went out to screw the players,'' Legace said of union leaders.

''They had the right intention. They made everyone buy into what they told us. Now it seems like they're giving up everything just to start the season on time.

''If we're going to give up all this now, why wasn't the union smart enough to get a deal done sooner, instead of saying, 'Screw you,' (to the owners) the whole time?'' Legace told the paper. ''I lost $1.3 million. What was the purpose?

'Asked if Goodenow is to blame, Legace said, ''It's not just him, it's the whole (executive) committee.''

Now, here's what he had to say last November:

"There's not going to be any hockey," Legace said. "It's a joke. The league doesn't want to negotiate. It doesn't look as if we're going to have a season."

"If you ask any player in the league, they'd say the same thing," Legace said after a workout at the Troy Sports Center. "Everybody wants to play. It's that time of year. But the owners don't want to negotiate.

"We've given them (the owners) offers, they've said no and they haven't come back (with any counteroffers). All he (Bettman) talks about is salary cap, salary cap. He does not want to negotiate."

If Legace were to review his comments from last fall, he'd find the answer to his later questions.

It's easy to look back and question why the PA didn't cut a deal months ago, but the fact is, as Legace noted last fall, the league simply didn't want to negotiate.

Instead, they wanted a cap ceiling in the low-to-mid $30 million range, with no cap floor, the abolishment of arbitration and entry level bonuses, a 25% slashing of qualifying offers, no established system of determining and reporting revenues, and the phasing out of what limited revenue sharing existed over the course of the new deal.

We can't take Lemieux's comments seriously because, as the Penguins owner as well as their captain, he's in a conflict of interest.

Jagr's remarks appear more of resignation than frustration.

The source of the frustration of Legace and Roenick appears to be the fact the PA maintained a "no cap, no linkage" stance for months, only to change tactics in November.

What we don't know for certain is how much those change of tactics were influenced by demands from the majority of players to get a new deal implemented, or if they're actually done by the players executive on their own.

It's not surprising that there's some dissension in the PA ranks now. There are obviously some players who believe they should fight on against a cap and linkage.

The real question, of course, is how many simply felt they'd had enough and want their executive to get them a deal. That the PA is now negotiating a deal involving a cap and linkage suggests this is what the majority is willing to accept.

One thing, however, is obvious: despite the claims of the aforementioned players, the deal offered to them by the league last February was not better than what they're going to get now.

I know I'm sounding like a broken record on this, but it's important to remember that, as former Dallas Stars forward Scott Young noted last week, the PA rejected that offer because they didn't like how the deal was structured.

On the face of it, a $42.5 million cap with no linkage sounded like a good deal, but there were too many unanswered questions involving that offer.

There was no indication that there would be notable improvements in revenue sharing, if the cap could be adjusted for revenue fluctuations, or how revenues would be determined and reported.

Furthermore, it failed to substantially address salary arbitration, entry level bonuses, and qualifying offers.

Moreover, there was no detailed plans regarding how clubs carrying too much payroll would make room on their cap, how injured reserve players would fit into the cap, or what the status would be for players drafted but unsigned.

All of these points are believed to be suitably addressed in the deal that is now being negotiated.

That being said, there is undoubtedly to be some fallout over this in the PA once the new deal is signed. It'll be interesting to see how many players step forward to condemn the deal or their executive.

Most have kept silent, but whether it's out of respect for the process or their executive, apathy, or simply a desire to bring this to a close remains to be seen.

More importantly, it could determine how long Bob Goodenow and his negotiating team remain in power.

I doubt Goodenow's job is in any real jeopardy here. He's still got another two years remaining on his contract, and given everything he's accomplished for the players in the past, I don't see a lynch mob coming for him anytime soon.

What will determine his future could be how this deal works out over the long haul.

If memory serves me correctly (and I may be wrong here so if anyone can correct me on this, please do), Goodenow's contract runs through to November 2007. That'll mean two full seasons and three UFA markets will pass before that contract is up.

If there is no real improvement to salaries, if the cap fails to increase with revenues, if revenue sharing still fails to address the problems of small market clubs retaining players, it could spell the end of his tenure.

But if the aforementioned conditions improve, thus ensuring both the average and median salaries rise, with the promise of more increases to come, those openly questioning Goodenow's leadership could end up endorsing him.

Of course, all of this is merely speculation on my part. I've spoken to my reliable source at the NHLPA head office, and this person assures me that Goodenow and the executive remain firmly in charge and - a few dissenters aside - have the support of the majority of the players.

This person also assured me that Goodenow is acting on the will of the players, and he and the executive are negotiating based on that.

Any immediate dissension in the players ranks aren't a good measurement of any threat toward Goodenow's tenure. Rather, it's if that dissension remains or grows between now and when Goodenow's contract expires.