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- Not much doing in lockout news. The two sides are set to stage small group meetings on Wednesday, followed by a much larger meeting of the main negotiators on Thursday.

Could there possibly be a resolution by Thursday night? Possible but I still think we're about two or three weeks away from that.

I do believe now that, barring an unforeseen development, a deal is close, based on Larry Brooks' report of May 29th. Follow the aforementioned link or go to my Foxsports column for substantiation of this opinion.

- There are several other good reasons why I believe this is going to be resolved soon.

One, teams traditionally put season tickets on sale by mid-to-late June. Last year at this time, most teams could count on good or strong sales because there was still hope the 2004-05 season could take place.

This time around, with the lockout ongoing, the teams and the league have no 2005-06 season yet to sell to the fans. Season tickets are the backbone of team revenues, and with no season to sell, the impact upon those sales could be serious.

Second, there are sponsors who have no NHL with which to advertise their products. If this lockout drags on throughout the summer and threatens the start of next season, those sponsors could either demand a reduction in the fees they're being charged by the league, or dump the NHL altogether.

Finally, there's a real desire by moderates on both sides to get a new deal hammered out. Both sides understand that further damage to revenues will mean a smaller pie to divide.

That's why we've seen a sharp decrease in the rhetoric between the two over the past month.

- When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro." - Hunter S. Thompson.

I'm not a subscriber to organized religion, for reasons that I'm not going to share here, although I'd be willing to do so with anyone foolish or brave enough to ask.

That being said, I don't knock those who hold devout beliefs, just as long as they're not trying to impose those beliefs upon others against their will.

This rationale was reinforced earlier this week when I ran across the story of a New Jersey State assemblyman and Baptist deacon seeking a resolution with the state assembly next month to change the name of the New Jersey Devils.

Craig Stanley's reasons are as follows:

"This is an age where symbolism is very important...I've always cringed when people say they're going to see the Devils...The merchandise, the paraphernalia is based on the actual demonic devil. Personally, it causes a little bit of an issue with me."

I'm sorry that Mr. Stanley's delicate sensibilities are upset by the Devils, but even a child can understand that the New Jersey Devils are in no way tied to satanic symbolism or worship.

As this story noted, the Devils were named after the fictional "Jersey Devil", a monster of 18th century state lore that ranks with the Loch Ness Monster, Bigfoot and the Abominable Snowman.

About the only hellish thing the Devils unleashed upon an unsuspecting world was a highly successful defensive system that was copied by most other NHL clubs thus sucking the life out of the NHL game.

I wonder what Mr. Stanley would prefer them to be called? Perhaps a nice, safe, inoffensive name like the New Jersey Neddies would suit his taste. Their mascot could be Ned Flanders of "The Simpsons" fame. That would be fan-diddly-tastic!

Thankfully, neither the acting state governor nor the Devils owner are buying into this nonsense, rejecting the notion of changing the team's name.

He's hellbent on keeping the Devils name," Stanley said.

Either that was an attempt at humour by Mr. Stanley, or he said it with a straight face.

I hope that someone from Mr. Stanley's district will take him aside and gently remind him that there are other, far more important issues that need to be addressed in his capacity as a state assemblyman than worrying about the name of a hockey team driving people down a supposedly dark path.

Oh, and for those of you thinking I'm picking on a Baptist, I come from a Baptist family.

- Finally, it is with sadness the hockey world hears the news of the passing of former NHL lineman John D'Amico, who died of leukemia and bone cancer on Sunday night.

I've singled out on-ice officials for derision over the years, but I never had a cross word to say about D'Amico. He rarely made a bad call and was highly respected by players, reporters and fans alike.

Indeed, D'Amico officiated so many Montreal Canadiens and Toronto Maple Leafs games televised on Hockey Night in Canada during my youth that he was as familiar to me as the players I watched and idolized during that time.

Rest in Peace, John. You earned your place in hockey heaven.


- Disregard all the speculation you've heard about Brendan Shanahan being involved in the money side of the CBA talks. His involvement with the talks over the past couple of weeks is due to the inclusion of a competition committee in the next CBA.

Remember, the basis for that committee was the "Shanahan Summit" which took place during the dark winter days of the lockout, whereby a select group of players, coaches and GMs met - with the blessing of the NHL and NHLPA - to discuss improvements in the on-ice product.

League disciplinarian Colin Campbell has also been attending negotiations, but nobody is suddenly speculating about how much influence he's having on the money side of the talks.

Like Campbell, Shanahan has little, if any, influence on the economics of the next CBA. League media cheerleaders are playing this up in their usual attempts to stir up discontent amongst players and agents.

- Again, rumours of Bob Goodenow's imminent demise as NHLPA director are baseless.

The lack of comments from players and agents willing to go on record is most telling. The fact that all these stories are originating from NHL sycophants should tell you something more.

Remember, if NHLPA sympathizers like Al Strachan of the Toronto Sun or Larry Brooks of the NY Post start reporting Goodenow's on thin ice, then you know he's in trouble.

- Sidney Crosby certainly tore it up in the Memorial Cup this past week, proving he can rise to the occasion during intense competition.

OK, so his club got shut out in the championship game, losing 4-0 to the London Knights, but that's because of two reasons: the Rimouski Oceanic play a lousy defensive game, and nobody other than the Crosby line really stood up offensively.

Yet Crosby still finished as the tournament's leading scorer and best offensive player.

This kid may not become the next Gretzky, but I believe he's going to become a big star in his own right. That's what'll make him the most sought-after commodity in this year's draft...whenever it's held.

According to the Toronto Sun, Crosby's favourite team is the Montreal Canadiens and he'd love it if the weighted lottery the NHL has in mind for this year's draft send the rights to the first overall pick to Les Habitants.

Expect Canadiens fans to be praying to the Forum Ghosts come draft day!

- Pittsburgh Post-Gazette columnist Bob Smizik believes NHL commissioner Gary Bettman will be the genius who settles the lockout.

Smizik cites Bettman's keeping the owners united and his recent sense of urgency in negotiating a deal, stating the Commish will emerge the victor and be hailed a genius should the next CBA contain a hard salary cap and linkage.

Smizik suggests it'll make it easier for small market clubs like the Penguins to compete with big market rivals and could serve as a model for other sports leagues, who aren't likely to follow it.

Yet in the very same article, Smizik perhaps inadvertently notes reasons which could be used in a counter-argument to his claim of Bettman's "genius".

The absence of big TV revenue, including the recent loss of ESPN's option year worth $60 million.

Major corporations such as Sony and Molson's who may take their business elsewhere if this lockout drags on throughout the summer.

As for linkage and salary caps, read below in yesterday's article to get my response to that.

He also neglects to point out that Bettman and the owners obviously believed the players would fold rather than risk losing an entire season over a matter of principle.

Pushing for a quick resolution after playing hardball with the players since June 2003 and thus putting advertising and broadcasting revenues into jeopardy isn't genius, Bob.

And the ills of the league over the past ten years occurred on Bettman's watch. That's not genius, either.

I'm not knocking Bettman as a negotiator. He's going to get the linkage and hard cap he was seeking from the start. But as I've noted before, he's hamstrung by the very owners he's representing, and some of them will start looking for loopholes in Bettman's CBA the minute the ink is dry on it.

What'll be genius for Bettman is if he can und0 the damage caused by both this lockout and ten years of neglecting a fading on-ice product.

If the NHL emerges better and stronger when the next CBA is due to expire, then it'll be genius. If this CBA can somehow keep free-spending owners from exploiting loopholes to their own advantage at the expense of struggling markets, then it'll be genius.

Until then, the jury is out.


We've been hearing for weeks now from the press that "progress" was being made in the NHL-NHLPA labour war, but there has really been nothing truly definitive from the media to give us any real indication that this was so.

All we've had to go by, and that goes for many in the media, was the press releases from both sides, as well as guarded comments from the negotiators, as to the status of talks.

But this morning, Larry Brooks of the New York Post not only proclaimed a settlement may be near, but gave some specifics of what the next collective bargaining agreement may contain.

"It is as yet undetermined whether an agreement will be based on the league-preferred flat percentage-of-the-gross or on the floating-cap-range structure proposed by the union on April 4, nor on how great a gap will be permitted in payrolls between the highest- and lowest-spending clubs. It appears as though that the PA will attempt to calculate which system is likely to include the most upside, once the parties reach an agreement on a uniform definition and reporting of league revenues, and then negotiate on that basis."

As I've stated in previous columns here and for, this is where I believe the PA is hoping to make the most gains. Critics of the PA have slammed them for not doing this earlier, but remember, throughout most of the course of this lockout, definition and reportage of revenues was not the front-burner issue for the PA. It was seeking to avoid linkage and a hard cap. It's only been within the past two months that its tactics have change to consider those issues.

That's not to suggest this hasn't been given due consideration by the PA in the past. Indeed, the principal reason for the PA's dismissal of the Levitt Report was that the definition and reportage of revenue was not clearly defined, something NHLPA Senior Director Ted Saskin confirmed to me in an interview I conducted with him last summer for

In other words, the league is seeking to tie salaries to 54% of league revenue, whilst the PA is demanding a clearer definition of that revenue, suspecting that there is a large discrepancy between that reported in the Levitt Report and what it may truly be if based upon a uniform system of reportage.

" In either case, it is extremely unlikely that the upper limit will be as high as the strings-attached $42.5M offered by the league just prior to cancellation of 2004-05, though that offer neither allowed for annual hikes based on revenue increases nor mandated a club payroll floor. Expect an initial upper limit of between $36-38M, with a floor of approximately $24-28M per team under either scenario."

PA critics have been harping for months over how dumb Bob Goodenow and company are for not taking the higher cap limit, but Brooks reminds us all why they didn't take it, although one must also remember that the PA was also seeking a higher salary cap of $49 million when they finally agreed to consider a hard cap.

Still, a system that allows for the cap to increase with revenues and mandating a cap minimum are two key issues. The former obviously allows room for teams to spend more should revenues rise, whilst the latter sets a minimum standard that all teams must meet.

This may not seem important now, after all, revenues are bound to be lower under the first two seasons of the new CBA compared to what they were under the last one. The players seemingly take a serious loss here, but that may not be the case.

With revenues and reportage of same more clearly defined, the players losses may not be that serious, and should revenue increase, which is bound to happen by the mid-way point of the next CBA, that will be beneficial to the players.

Ditto the cap floor, which ensures that teams must spend within a set amount to ice their product and not get cheap by pocketing money they could've spent on salaries to maintain or improve their clubs, something that again will be beneficial to the players.

Given the cap numbers Brooks is expecting, I'd anticipate the average payroll will be somewhere around $32 million, give or take a million. Overall that's not going to be as serious a hit to the players as some observers may believe.

The last time the average payroll was around that number was during the 1999-2000 ($31.6 million) and 2000-2001 ($33.3 million) seasons. During those two seasons, the top 25 salaries were between $5 million - $10 million.

We may not see new contracts topping out at over $9 million per season with as much frequency, if at all, under a hard cap system, but I'd still anticipate salaries between $5 million to $8 million for the top players will remain commonplace.

And if teams hire "capologists" like they do in the NFL to find legally creative ways to skirt a hard cap (such as prorated signing and performance bonuses), salaries over $9 million might indeed still remain part of the landscape, with part of those amounts hidden via creative bookkeeping.

The lowest paid will continue to get their salaries between $325K to $800 K. It'll be the rank-and-file players that'll likely feel the hit more directly, and it's here where Goodenow and his lieutenants are seeking to minimize the loss for them in the short term, whilst hoping that increased revenues down the road combined with the floating cap allows them to recoup part of those losses.

Brooks also noted that there's still been "no accord on definition of revenues, specifically on the critical and ambiguous definition of suite and concessions revenue", but writes both sides have been making progress on that issue over the past two weeks.

To me, that's the backbone of the next CBA, a clear definition of revenues. Once that's been agreed upon by both sides, I'd expect this thing to start moving forward quickly.

There are other issues, however, that could slow the process, but Brooks addresses those and sheds some insight.

Regarding the PA's 24% rollback, he claims it will be part of the deal.

"The rollback will apply to the 288 contracts currently in force as well as to the 259 contracts due qualifying offers this summer."

That's over 540 contracts we're talking about here, which is significant.

What's going to be a good test of that rollback, however, is whether or not certain owners can control themselves and keep salaries down within that rollback range.

One of the major criticisms of that rollback is that the PA knows it's only a short-term thing, that even if the owners agreed to accept that rollback, certain owners would still resort to their free-spending ways and eventually salaries would climb significantly again.

Which should tell you all you need to know about both the basis for this lockout, and why we can expect similar problems under the next CBA.

The onus will fall on the owners, particularly the traditional free-spenders, to maintain some element of self-control when it comes to player salaries.

Sure, the 24 percent rollback can be used as the negotiating point for future contract talks with individual players, but all it takes is one or two free-spenders to blow that out of the water.

That's probably why the PA hasn't yanked that offer from the table.

As I've stated countless times throughout this lockout, it is ultimately up to the team owners to decide how much they're willing to spend on individual salaries and team payrolls. Players and agents can make demands, but it's the owners, along with their general managers, who decide if they wish to pay. The responsibility falls on them.

"Both sides have confirmed that qualifying offers and salary arbitration will be based on the union's Dec. 9 proposal rather than on any of the subsequent more restrictive league offers. QO's therefore will be 100 percent for players earning over $1M, and either 105 percent of 110 precent for those below that standard, as opposed to league offers that had featured qualifiers at either 75 percent or 85 percent for those earning more than $1M."

This was a minor issue, one that has apparently been worked out in advance. This represents little change in how qualifying offers are done under the new system compared to the old CBA, except that it won't be based on the average salary. This represents a concession by the league, albeit a small one, considering it's now getting its goals of a hard cap and linkage.

Though we're told there may be "tweaking" necessary to "harmonize" arbitration with a hard-cap system, salary arb will be based on the more the complex and player-protective union proposal than on subsequent league offers that would have permitted clubs to unilaterally defer arbitration or given teams the ability to take players to arbitration on an annual basis.

Another concession by the league if this actually comes to pass. There was no way in hell the PA was ever going to accept losing arbitration or have it eliminated from the deal in the future if certain triggers came into play, such as a significant decrease in league revenues.

Perhaps the owners believe that under a hard cap system with linkage arbitration won't remain the cash-cow for the players that it was under the previous CBA. Again, however, that's up to the owners to determine that. It'll be interesting to see if arbitration levels the playing surface, since the previous one rewarded players with raises regardless of the arbiter's ruling.

There has not yet been an agreement on which player costs will be included within the cap. Nor has there been agreement on a revenue-sharing formula or the disposition of 2004-05 contracts.

These could be potential showstoppers, particularly revenue sharing and last season's contracts.

The PA has sought increased revenue-sharing for some time, whilst the league has been against it, preferring instead a vague concept involving the pooling of playoff revenue.

The reason why the PA wants this is obvious: to ensure small market clubs have the money available to spend up to their cap limit, rather than pleading poverty as an excuse not to retain key players or pursue unrestricted free agents.

The PA also wants the teams to honour the 2004-05 contracts, believing they should carry forward into next season since last season was lost to the lockout. If the owners believe otherwise, that could make this deal collapse.

Finally, Brooks indicates that the qualifying age for unrestricted free agency will drop:

" (U)nrestricted free agency to be established at 30 for at least this year — and expected to be lowered over the term of the agreement to 29 or 28."

If this comes to pass, there will be considerably more interest in the UFA market than in previous years, since teams will now be able to bid on players still within their prime. Brooks also has a list of players near the end of his article who could be available this summer, which would be a good initial test of how the new CBA will hold up.

The players obviously love the notion of UFA status at a younger age, but moreso the owners, particularly the deep-pocketed ones.

If you thought the free agent markets under the old CBA were frenzied, you ain't seen nothin' yet, hockey fans.

With more younger, prime talent apparently to be available under the new CBA, it'll be very interesting to see how well the traditional free-spenders can restrain themselves.

Given their competitive nature, I expect this is where we'll see the majority of the creative bookkeeping I referred to earlier. The self-restraint of those owners will be taxed to the limit.

Now I know knowledgeable hockey fans gag whenever they read anything attributed to Brooks, given his track record with trade and free agent rumours. Some of you might even fire up your e-mail to chastise me for citing anything by Brooks.

Player movement speculation aside, Brooks has been on the mark with his coverage of this lockout, even in the years leading up to it. The reason for that is simple: he's getting his info directly from the NHLPA.

That's what makes him a better source for what's truly happening within the ranks of the PA than MSG Network's Stan Fischler, who has far limited access considering his roll as NHL propagandist.

I'll cut Fischler some slack, though, as he works for the same organization that owns the New York Rangers. And yes, Brooks's access to NHLPA inside info makes him a mouthpiece of the PA as surely as Fischler is one for the NHL.

So if Brooks reports that a deal is close, that means the NHLPA may also believe it too.

But remember, just because this thing may be close, doesn't mean that it's in the bag. It's still possible that hardliners on either side could scuttle the process and there still remains other issues to be sorted out.

But given the concerns about sponsors, the loss of the ESPN contract, and the fact that the teams must soon begin selling season tickets, it may well be that, finally, the end game is near.


It was reported last night on that ESPN, the American sports network, has declined to pick up the $60 million option year in its contract with the National Hockey League.

It's believed, however, that the network may seek to negotiate a new deal with the league with what Sportsnet called cheaper rights fees.

TSN has more on the news here.

That contract was nowhere near the five-year, $600 million the league once had with both ESPN and ABC. Still, the loss of $60 million is something that can't be ignored.

The league may attempt to put a positive spin on this, possibly by downplaying it by talking about how this contract was going to expire in a year's time anyway and claim they can still negotiate a new deal, but this is not good news.

I can't say that I'm surprised, having expected this for some time. And as blogger Mike Chen observed, this could serve to further ramp up the pressure on both sides to get a deal done soon.

One is now left to wonder just how solid the local broadcasting deals are for the 30 NHL teams.

Obviously teams like the Maple Leafs, Rangers and Flyers won't have to worry, either being owned by cable companies or having their own networks.

But this might be a concern for struggling smaller market clubs, particularly those in the United States.

Don't think sponsors won't notice this.

The Puck Stops Here addressed that issue on May 23rd, suggesting that the loss of sponsors won't be a major hit to the league as others may step in to replace those who might depart.

That may well be, but it's a safe bet that those who do will be seeking lower fees to advertise their wares in the NHL than the predecessors.

Of course, time can heal all wounds, and someday in the future the league may get back broadcasting and sponsor deals worth as much or more than what they were worth prior to the lockout.

But the league is going to have to seriously improve both its on-ice product and its image in order to do so.

Give NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman credit, for he brought in sponsors and negotiated broadcasting deals that had never been seen before.

Now, however, he's going to have to work twice as hard, both to retain those sponsors the league already has, and to attract new ones, plus he's going to probably have to swallow a lesser deal with ESPN to have a limited number of NHL games per season televised nationally on "The Deuce".

For now, there is only one certainty: the longer this lockout goes, the more hits the league's revenues are going to take.

And that should be of real concern to both sides.


There's a school of thought out there suggesting the NHL would be better served having Sidney Crosby playing for the New York Rangers.

This topic naturally came about in the wake of recent revelations the NHL would be holding a weighted draft (via bouncing bingo balls in the words of James Mirtle) in which teams that missed the playoffs the most over the past three or four years would have a better crack at landing Crosby than those which made the postseason over the same period.

Thus, the NHL's "most important franchise", the Rangers, would have better odds of getting the rights to "the Next One", given their seven year absence from post-season competition.

Sure, it would make sense to have a potential franchise player and perhaps a potential league saviour playing for the Rangers. They play in the biggest sports market in the United States, and any increased positive publicity for the Blueshirts means increased interest in hockey in the vital US sports market.

But until the Blueshirts make a committed effort to properly rebuilding their shattered roster around Crosby, their situation isn't going to improve. Nor will his wearing a Rangers sweater make the NHL an enticing league to watch.

Crosby playing 40 games per season in the Big Apple will help pique some interest, but until that franchise actually turns into a perennial playoff club, he'll remain a promising youngster or a rising young superstar on a bad team.

Just like Alexander Ovechkin in Washington.

Former franchise players, from Maurice Richard to Bobby Orr to Wayne Gretzky to Mario Lemieux all started with crappy teams, which had the foresight to build around those players thus guaranteeing them championship success within a relatively short period of time.

None of them, however, played in as important a market as New York.

If the Rangers front office continues to lack patience, focus and determination to rebuild properly and continue along the same path as they've done in their last seven NHL seasons, the only thing they'll have to sell to the sports world would be Crosby.

That would be a one-trick pony show that would grow stale very quickly, and certainly wouldn't be the best face the NHL would want their "most important franchise" to put forth.

It would merely become an extension of the morbid fascination non-Rangers hockey fans have with that club, that of seeing just how much more of a laughingstock this once-proud franchise can become.

Having said all that, the Rangers to their credit finally addressed their real problems by ditching most of their high-paid veterans late in the 2003-04 season in exchange for promising prospects and draft picks.

Whether this was done to commence a long-overdue overhaul of their roster or simply to dump as much salary as possible prior to the signing of a new CBA remains to be seen.

Most long-suffering Rangers fans believe it to be the former. For their sake, let's hope so.

If anything, should Crosby turn into the supposed "Next One" the league has been waiting so long for, he'll only highlight just how lousy the plight of the Blueshirts truly is.

Until the Rangers rebuild into a winning franchise or he decides he wants a real shot to play for a Cup champion, Crosby would be a lonely little petunia in an onion patch.

As for a synopsis of this week's NHL labour talks, check out my Friday column on later today.


Some pundits have suggested for the past several weeks, even months now, that the number of players and agents supposedly disenchanted with NHLPA director Bob Goodenow's leadership during this lockout is growing seemingly every week.

So why haven't they stepped forward publicly to denounce and/or dethrone him?

I mean, come on, we're talking over 700 players and around a hundred agents. Surely to Buddha a rising tide of discontent amongst that number would be too great to quell, or at the very least, to keep quiet.

After all, when the players and agents rose against Alan Eagleson back in 1989, that was big news.

So surely growing unrest toward the NHLPA leader this time around, in the midst of tense labour negotiations and the cancellation of an entire season, is something that would make headlines.

Think back to the early weeks of the lockout, when players like John Madden, Pierre Dagenais, Mike Ribeiro and Mike Commodore were expressing opinions contrary to the PA party line. Headlines screamed "Cracks in NHLPA Armour" each time those guys spoke out.

Yet since last fall, we've heard nothing more from those players, leading to the conclusion those "cracks" apparently weren't representative of widespread discontent.

Now granted, those players were probably spoken to by either someone high up in the PA hierarchy or their teammates or their agents and told to cool it.

The point is, these were just a few guys who happened to speak freely to reporters, early in the lockout, and their comments were treated as though the PA were on the verge of collapse.

That was in October and November.

Now think back to the days leading up to the cancellation of the 2004-05 season. Word filtered out that "name" players like Jeremy Roenick, Chris Pronger and possibly Jarome Iginla had opened separate channels of communication with NHL commissioner Gary Bettman in hopes of ending the lockout and saving the season.

Roenick publicly claimed they weren't going behind Goodenow's back, that they had no problem with how Goodenow was handling things, but that they felt it might be worthwhile to explore another avenue.

The press duly reported that as a sure sign Goodenow was about to be tossed overboard by desperate players seeking a deal.

In fact, after the season cancellation, it was revealed the majority of players were upset at those few who attempted to broker a side deal, leading to Jeremy Roenick's apology during a meeting of the player representatives that followed the season cancellation.

When it was announced last February that the PA was willing to negotiate a cap if the league removed linkage from the table, several players, including Buffalo Sabres player rep Jay McKee, voiced their disbelief and anger over this sudden change in tactics by the PA.

Again, it was duly noted by the media as yet another sign that the PA was in chaos and that Goodenow had lost control.

Yet since those frantic days in February, we've heard not one discontented word from the players or the agents toward Goodenow, other that the unnamed ones cited by so-called "insiders".

Some hockey columnists suggest that Goodenow has such a tight control over the players and agents that the majority of them dare not speak out lest Darth Bob employs the dark side of the force to snap their windpipes like kindling.

Others suggest the uprising may have already occurred; that Goodenow no longer calls the shots and is but a mere figurehead as Ted Saskin, Trevor Linden and Mike Gartner are running the show now.

Now I have no doubt there is probably some dissension in the PA ranks toward Goodenow and his handling of negotiations. I'm sure there are players and agents eager to get a deal in place so the 2005-06 season can commence on time.

That being said, I believe the disgruntled are in a distinct minority.

Furthermore, I find the concept of Goodenow reduced to figurehead status to be absurd.

Think about it for a moment. If Goodenow were the vain, prideful man he's made out to be, would he really stand for his power being usurped by his lieutenants? Would he really stick around if the players and agents had rose up to check his power?

I don't think so.

What's even more laughable is the notion that it's Goodenow dragging his feet, slowing down negotiations, looking to upset the applecart at any moment because things apparently aren't going his way.

Does anyone really, honestly believe that powerful player agents like Don Meehan, Pat Brisson, Rich Winter and JP Barry would stand for that?

Does anyone really believe the majority of the players would?

If you do, sorry, but you're being naive.

If the majority of players and agents were upset with Goodenow, they would've ditched him by now. Indeed, a story of that magnitude would be too great to keep quiet. In fact, a majority of players and agents wouldn't be able to keep quiet for long if they were openly questioning Goodenow's leadership and negotiating tactics.

The majority still support Goodenow, and trust him to get the best deal he can for them. Many recall what he's done for them in the past, and while some undoubtedly have private reservations that he'll hit another home run for them, they trust him to get a fair deal.

And what is it Goodenow could be negotiating for them? The clues are
obvious: the hybrid team-by-team salary cap, the demand for increased
revenue sharing, and spending recent weeks painstakingly reviewing each teams respective UROs and determining how the Levitt Report reached its conclusion of massive losses for the NHL.

I suspect he's conceded the salary cap because he knows, quite frankly, the owners - specifically the big market ones - won't be able to help themselves. They'll find a means, or a player agent will, to legally skirt whatever cap is set down.

I believe he will obviously concede on linkage but wants the league to set up better guidelines as to what consititutes revenue so that all teams will list them accordingly instead of hiding them. That way, if linkage is set at the rise or fall of revenues, it'll be a true amount, which could be far great than that set out by the Levitt Report.

He wants the increased revenue sharing so that small market clubs will be forced to spend up to their cap ceiling, rather than use their status as an excuse to spend far less than they should.

The other issues - salary arbitration, free agency and entry level salaries - remain important points but I believe that the aforementioned points are the ones where he's seeking to "win" down the road for the players.

This isn't about personal obstinance. Goodenow may not get along with Bettman, may feel antagonistic toward the owners, but he's proven to be a shrewd negotiator in the past.

To assume that he's so inflexible that he can't or won't change to adapt to the shifting sands in this lockout is in my opinion seriously misjudging him.

Those in the media who claim Goodenow is holding things up or is in imminent danger of losing his job are engaged in wishful thinking. Some of them feel that way because they're actually mouthpieces for the league, others because they can't stand this abrasive man who has little time for the media except for when they can be used as tools to get his message across to fans and the league.

It's ridiculous to suggest that the lockout would've been resolved long ago if NHLPA Senior Director Ted Saskin, NHLPA President Trevor Linden and NHLPA Board member Mike Gartner were in charge.

I've interviewed Mr. Saskin on three occasions, and it's quite clear from discussing the issues behind this lockout that he would be just as determined as Goodenow to get a fair deal for the players.

Linden and Gartner have been around since 1992 and 1995 and have seen what Goodenow was able to do for them and their fellow players, past and present. They may attempt to use their influence in these negotiations, but in the end they won't stab their boss in the back.

Remember, these negotiations are a two-way street. The PA have been the ones consistently making concessions throughout this lockout. The record bears this out. The league and the owners, on the other hand, have scarcely made any of substance and when they have it's been done grudgingly.

Bettman and the owners have remained intractable throughout: they want a hard salary cap and linkage of salaries tied to 54% of revenues.

As I've noted in previous columns on this topic, the majority of players feel they've made all the concessions while the league has made none. That binds them to Goodenow. Essentially, Bettman and the owners have been their own worst enemy in their attempts to turn the players against their leader.

Could Goodenow be fired? Of course he could, but I don't see that happening yet. If it does happen, wait about three or four years into the new CBA. Depending on how that shakes out for the players, it could determine if he's still around to negotiate the next CBA.

In the meantime, don't expect him to be dumped by the players tomorrow.

There is no mystery to why Goodenow remains in power. He's there because the players and agents want him there.

Here's the best weather vane in determining Big Bad Bob's fate: if NHLPA media mouthpieces like the NY Post's Larry Brooks or the Toronto Sun's Al Strachan start claiming that the majority of players and agents want a new PA Director, then you'll know for sure that Goodenow is in trouble.


Hey-ho, faithful readers! I'm back, rested and refreshed from my all-too-short sabbatical and ready to churn out my daily accounts of the latest NHL happenings.

Or perhaps I should say, non-happenings?

Yes, I'm aware of the marathon meeting sessions late last week and all the "cautious optimism" proclaimed by several pundits and even a few NHL executives.

But really, gang, where are we at this point? No further ahead than we were before this "earthshattering" news.

The only good news is both sides are still talking, but that's about it. This could be resolved in a week, or they could continue to blather on for months with no end in sight, save for the inevitable dissolution of the NHL as we presently know it if the talks should that point.

Instead of real progress, some pundits are regaling us with tales of Goodenow's impending demise, although the usual suspects (hello there, Stan Fischler and the Toronto Sun's Steve Simmons) have been predicting the PA Director's demise since the lockout began last September.

As for me, I'm not about to get wrapped up in the seemingly daily "Goodenow Guessing Game", only to occasionally surmise in my usual sage manner as to what key issues he may attempt to manipulate to his and the players advantage.

That's the only real news on the NHLPA side, kids. I'll leave the guessing of Bob's daily disposition, eating habits, and searches of his family tree for canine ancestry to those who should have better things to do with their spare time.

The only thing mildly interesting to come up during my vacation was Bain Capital LLC, the company that last March made a $3.5 billion pitch to the NHL owners to purchase the league, upping their bid by $500 million to a cool $4 billion.

The NHL has wisely declined to comment on the matter.

The Hockey Rodent has an interesting take on this latest bid and its potential impact on the current negotiations. I, however, am of the same opinion as Mike Chen: unless the big market moneymakers agree to sell their franchises, any chance of Bain purchasing the National Hockey League won't get off the ground.

Nor, for that matter, do I think Bain Capital will start up a new league in conjunction with the NHLPA. Yes, they've got the money to purchase the league, but they're doing it because the NHL comes ready made, with teams and venues and big league players and a ready made, albeit shrinking, fan base.

It's tougher to start up a rival from scratch and get the NHLPA to buy into it. The PA uses the threat of a rival league only as a negotiating tactic in this lockout. It's an empty one at best. They're using it only to try to get the most they can out of the NHL owners in the next CBA.

In the meantime, talks continue today and tomorrow in Chicago, focussing once again on the league's finances. Essentially, the NHL still wants salaries tied to 54 percent of revenues, while the NHLPA wants to know what constitutes those revenues.

The beat goes on, but it's good to be back.


- A lot of the NHL news throughout this lockout has been bleak, but there was a bit of good news recently regarding the fate of the Stanley Cup for this summer.

As we know, every summer members of the reigning Stanley Cup champions get to spend one day with the trophy to do whatever they wish (within legal limits).

There's no Cup champion this year, but according to recent reports, the Cup will be shipped around North America so that aging former players of past championship teams will get to have their day with the trophy.

The "day with the Cup" programme started with the 1994 New York Rangers, so there are plenty of former players who never got that opportunity.

The NHL deserves to be dumped on for the work stoppage it initiated and perpetuated, but when it does something right, the league deserves kudos. This is a very classy thing to do, and as TSN's Bob McKenzie noted, a very good idea.

- A weak list of first year eligible players for Hockey Hall of Fame consideration may mean some players who were passed over in previous years might get selected this time around.

The Canadian Press noted guys like Glenn Anderson, Dino Ciccarelli, Steve Larmer, Kevin Lowe and Brian Bellows might get a second look this time around.

Those considered most likely to gain entry on their first year of eligibility include goalie Mike Vernon and John Vanbiesbrouck and defenceman Gary Suter.

There are older players who've been previous passed over I feel are just, if not more, worthy than the aforementioned. I'll be writing about them in an upcoming article so keep your eyes peeled for that.

- Sure looked odd seeing NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman sitting side-by-side with NHLPA Director Bob Goodenow at yesterday's US Congressional meetings on steroid abuse in professional sports.

Not only did they show up together and were seated together during that meeting, but they both agreed that a random drug test policy would be part of the next CBA.

If only they could agree on the more contentious issues of the CBA as quickly as they did on drug testing.

- A week wouldn't be complete without the usual bon mot from cranky Stan Fischler:

Canada’s loss to Czech Republic is no sin, despite media bleats to the contrary. Players such as Martin Brodeur, et. al. rate kudos for showing up. The shame belongs to those Canadian NHLers who copped out of performing for their country in a year when there was no big-league hockey.

But Stan, I thought you were against locked out North American players plying their craft over in Europe?

In previous articles you warned about bad food, lousy rinks, poor accommodation, questionable bathroom facilities, crappy transportation and other evils about playing overseas.

You made playing in Europe sound downright scary (even though it isn't), so I thought you'd be pleased that so many North American pros opted out of the World Championships.

That aside, he's right about Brodeur and other Canadians who hadn't played a meaningful game since last fall's World Cup of Hockey lacing 'em up for Canada.

But to snidely suggest that other well-known Canadian players copped out of participating is a low blow.

Most who couldn't played didn't because of either injury or urgent personal matters, not because they weren't patriotic enough to play for their country when it came calling.

And why should Canadian pros be singled out, Stan? There were plenty of American and European pros who begged off this time around, yet I don't see or hear anyone calling them "cop-outs."

Ah, Stan Fischler, he's the clown that makes the dark side fun.

- Speaking of the Czech Republic, they've emerged in recent years as Canada's main rival in international men's hockey. The Slovakians are gaining ground rapidly and should also emerge soon as a powerhouse. The Americans are young and improving but remain a work in progress. The Russians seem to lack quality goaltending and playing a more individualistic style. The Finns play a stingy defensive game but seem to lack offensive punch. And the Swedes, whilst brimming with talent, are gaining a reputation for choking in major tournaments.

But right now, it's the Czechs who are Canada's prinicipal rival.

- I'll be taking a much needed vacation starting Friday, May 20th and running until Tuesday, May 24th. Goin' home to visit relatives.


Your guess is as good as mine.

Some pundits are turning themselves inside out trying to figure him out. There's baseless speculation that the PA director has been tossed over the side, that he's now a passenger and Trevor Linden and Mike Gartner are truly running the show.

Consider the source in those reports. Those stories tend to come from pundits who support the league to both win the PR war with the fans and to try to plant seeds of doubt amongst the PA rank and file.

There's no question the former has worked like a charm as poll after poll still rates the players and Goodenow as the bad guys. Not that he really gives a damn. He wasn't hired by the players to win popularity contests, he was hired to play hard ball on their behalf in negotiation with the league.

So what is Bob Goodenow really up to?

What follows is my best guess. This could blow up in my face down the road and amount to nothing. I could be so far off the trail that an expedition would have to be sent out to find me.

But in reading the tea leaves, as well as the independent thoughts of the better hockey bloggers out there, who aren't in any way affiliated with either side and thus aren't part of the propoganda battle, I think a clearer picture is emerging.

Why did Goodenow and the PA refuse to look at the Levitt Report until now? Because based on the issues they were fighting this labour war on, there was no need to examine it earlier.

The NHL has always referred to the Levitt Report as proof of huge losses and the reason for tying salaries to revenue. The PA, going into this labour war, had no intention of accepting linkage or a hard salary cap, thus there was no reason for them to refer to Levitt, which wasn't a "super-audit" as League Commissioner Gary Bettman claimed, but merely a report by a hired gun of the NHL to confirm the league's UROs.

That may seem dismissive of Arthur Levitt, the former head of the SEC who compiled the report on behalf of the NHL, but he took part in a task that he once dismissed as a baseless undertaking - being hired by an organization to produce a report about its revenues that it wanted to hear.

And then there was the little matter of Levitt's son working for Disney, who at the time of the report owned the Anaheim Mighty Ducks. Potential conflict of interest there, but I digress.

The PA was fighting to avoid a hard cap and linkage, preferring instead a
soft cap system (luxury tax), increased revenue sharing and a massive salary rollback.

Since February, however, the PA expressed willingness to accept a hard cap in exchange for removal of linkage. The league apparently removed this, but then insisted on a $42.5 million cap, which turned into an apparent deal-breaker.

Having already proclaimed their intentions to accept a hard cap, albeit at a higher rate (close to $50 million), the PA seemingly made a tactical error. They couldn't say they would no longer accept something after the season's cancellation when they were willing to accept a cap to save the season when linkage was taken off the table.

But fluidity is the name of the game, and Goodenow had to change tactics. In 1994-95, Goodenow fought hard on some issues only to back off to get concessions on others. When that CBA was signed, most pundits accused the PA Director of giving up too much, that this deal would screw the players over, putting them at the mercy of the owners and GMs. More than a few owners crowed over the victory they achieved at the expense of the hated Goodenow.

In fact, as Dubi Silverstein of Blueshirt Bulletin recently noted, Goodenow had merely laid the groundwork to exploit potential loopholes in the agreement, knowing full well that the owners, particularly the big market ones, wouldn't be able to resist taking advantage of opportunities at the expense of their lesser rivals.

It seems now that Goodenow may have shifted tactics. Having said the PA would never accept linkage or a hard cap, the PA has now agreed to negotiate along those lines by proposing a hybrid system involving a team-by-team cap that would be based on year-to-year revenues.

So the league has won...or has it?

As the insightful Silverstein noted, Goodenow doesn't need an outright
victory, all he needs at this stage is a clear definition of revenues and
what counts as payroll. That's why the Levitt Report has now come into

Indeed, this has been the bone of the PA's contention with Levitt all along. As PA senior director Ted Saskin told me in a phone interview last summer, the problem with the Levitt Report is that UROs weren't clearly defined. What some teams counted as revenues other clubs did not, and that's where the problem lay with linkage for the PA.

Their own audit on four NHL teams nearly four years ago discovered around $50 million in undeclared revenue, which led to the league shutting down any further access to the books of other clubs.

In my opinion, this is the key to the current direction in negotiations. The PA wants a more accurate accounting of team UROs in determining league revenues. Once that's established to the PA's satisfaction, that could see a settlement of the cap and linkage issues.

Other issues remain in play, like arbitration, entry level contracts, and
free agency, which could also take time to hammer out.

The increase in discussions this month probably doesn't mean a deal is
close, but now we may have a clearer picture of where Goodenow is
looking to gain an advantage for his side.

The league can proclaim victory by obtaining a hard cap and linkage, but
they'd best ensure they learned from the hard lessons of 1994-95, that a seeming victory over Goodenow and the PA can turn into a host of problems they didn't foresee.

Goodenow will go for the most obvious and if he can win at that, great, but if not, he has fallback plans, envisioning each potential scenario and where and how he can gain some advantage in each.

How do I know this for sure? I don't, I'm guessing, but it's guesswork based on Goodenow's tactics from a decade ago. I simply don't see Goodenow as someone who would put everything into one major plan and not have a fallback plan if it doesn't work.

Does this mean commissioner Gary Bettman is being outsmarted by Goodenow? Not at all. The Commish is no slouch in the negotiating department, and by requiring only the concurrence of 8 hard line owners, he's ensured that he can fight as long as he wants without fear of being hamstrung by moderates.

Bettman understands the potential damage to the league the longer this drags out. He's not blind, deaf or stupid. But he has an agenda, to represent the owners wishes, and he's going to work hard to get it.

Indeed, the fact that the PA has backed away from their resistance toward a hard cap and linkage should rightfully be seen as a victory for Bettman. He's gotten almost all that he set out to get for the owners, particularly the hardliners. All he needs now is establishing that linkage at 54% of revenues, and he can justly proclaim total victory.

But the problem for Bettman is he's negotiating with a serious liability:
the owners.

For all their unity this time around, Bettman knows that this will fly
out the window as soon as the next CBA is signed. He knows many of them will have their general managers looking for loopholes themselves, and will be quick to exploit them for personal gain.

For all the complaints about how the last CBA didn't work for the owners,
particularly small market ones, don't forget that it was Bettman who
midwifed the agreement with Goodenow, that restricted free agency, UFA status at 31,the right to walk away from arbitration awards and an entry level cap were Bettman babies, the points the owners dearly wanted in place.

Bettman achieved those goals and was rightly praised, only to watch in horror as the very owners he fought for turned all his good work into a joke with outrageous contract signings and exploiting unforeseen loopholes.

Bettman still has the same handicap, and he knows that he has to tread carefully, that what could look like a victory for his side could be turned into a defeat by the very owners he's trying to win this labor war for.

You can bet that, once Goodenow and the PA agree to a deal, Bettman will be scanning this with a fine toothed comb, looking to shut down any potential loophole. But his concern is that the problem with the unforeseen is that it's unforeseen.

Nobody is clairvoyent, and as much as Bettman may appear the big winner in the next CBA, not even he can foresee what his side could do to butcher his good work.

It's the old proverb: be careful what you wish for, you may just get it.


Read the following yesterday in the Calgary Herald, courtesy of the insightful Bruce Dowbiggin:

Unless the league and the NHL Players' Association get a miracle settlement before June 1, all unsigned 2003 picks such as (Jeff)Carter/ (Mike)Richards and 2004 draftees without a bona fide offer could
find themselves free agents by summer. The same will happen a month later for a cavalcade of established stars, unless teams make qualifying offers to players under contract.

OK, nothing odd about this, yet another speculative article about RFAs and unsigned draft picks becoming unrestricted free agents. I've covered that possibility, as have other pundits and bloggers. Perhaps the best take on this was TSN's Bob McKenzie when he wrote:

The truth is the fate of all these players, from Crosby to Carter to Richards to any of the restricted free agents to any player who had a contract this season, will be determined as part of the CBA negotiations. For lack of a better term, it's called transition. It will be a significant element of the negotiations above and beyond the NHL and Players' Association agreeing on a new economic system.

McKenzie further explained:

For argument's sake, let's declare the Philadelphia Flyers' unsigned draftee duo of Carter and Richards as unrestricted free agents. They can sign with any team in any league in the world.

Well, maybe not. The NHL is in the midst of a lockout. Individual NHL clubs are not permitted to conduct business as usual. NHL teams cannot sign players right now. If they did, they can't register the contract with the league. Could a renegade team break ranks and sign Carter or Richards, mount a legal challenge against the NHL?

It's possible, I suppose, but if that happens, we've got a much bigger story than the fate of Carter and Richards. A renegade act of that magnitude during the lockout might well spell the end of the lockout. I'm not holding my breath on that one.

Made sense to me. Even if Richards, Carter, other unsigned draft picks or NHL restricted free agents win the right to shop themselves as UFAs, no NHL clubs could sign them until a new CBA is in place.

Most importantly, no NHL team will "break ranks" to sign them and put the league into a position of weakness. No NHL owner will risk becoming a pariah amongst his fellow owners at this state of the game.

But Dowbiggin, who's been covering the NHL labour follies for years for the Herald and CBC television, as well as published two important books on the subject, reports of an interesting twist:

(I)f the powerful International Management Group has its way, that free agency would not be affected by any CBA reached at a later date, leaving their clients free to sign where they wish whenever the NHL rises from the dead.

For Calgary's management, so loyal to (NHL Commissioner Gary) Bettman's strategy, that result could well mean ta-ta to Jarome Iginla, Miikka Kiprusoff and Kris Chucko, its 2004 first-round pick. In short, the league would be turned upside down.

That's certainly the implied threat that is being delivered to the league
this week by IMG -- which represents (among others) super prospects Sidney Crosby and Gilbert Brule, as well as NHL stars Joe Thornton, Mats Sundin, Robyn Regehr, Sergei Fedorov and the Sedin twins. IMG is in the process of sending a letter to the NHL, reserving its rights to have a number of its clients declared unrestricted free agents no later than July 1 of this year.

"Due to the current labour situation and the actions of the NHL," writes
Terrence Prince of IMG, "it is not 'business as usual' and, accordingly, it
is inappropriate for the parties to act as if it is 'business as usual.' "

The NHL's bind has to do with its obligations under the previous CBA for
signing or re-signing players.

According to IMG, "all unsigned players who were drafted in 2003 and 2004 will be free of all current NHL team restraints unless they are either signed by June 1, 2005 (in the case of the 2003-drafted players) or receive a bona fide offer by June 1, 2005 (in the case of the 2004-drafted players)."

Group 2 players such as Iginla, Thornton, Rick Nash, Dany Heatley and Ilya Kovalchuk must receive a qualifying offer by June 30 to see their rights retained by current clubs. But Bettman has forbidden teams to negotiate with any locked-out players. There will be no contracts or qualifying offers; IMG will argue that makes them free agents without restraint.

IMG is indeed a very powerful agency representing some very important NHL and prospective NHL players. When they speak about the status of their clients, other hockey people, including other player agents, sit up and take note.

So what, you ask? IMG can rattle the cage all they want, but that still doesn't matter since no NHL team can sign their players even if they manage to legally win for those RFA and unsigned prospect clients the right to declare UFA status.

After all, and Dowbiggin points this out, the NHL has already stated that the status of those players would be "grandfathered" into the next CBA to prevent teams from poaching off each other.

But as Dowbiggin notes:

It is less clear, however, how the league will stop any legal findings in the absence of a new collective agreement. What's to stop Thornton from signing with an American Hockey League team as a free agent in the absence of a new CBA, then choosing his favourite NHL club later when play resumes?

Again, critics will claim that the new CBA will determine that.

But not if those players have been legally declared unrestricted free agents prior to the signing of the next CBA.

To underscore the seriousness of its position on free agents and unsigned draftees, IMG has retained the services of high-priced labour expert, lawyer Jim Quinn of Weil, Gotshal & Manges in New York. While the NHL could challenge the authority of agents on this issue, it knows Quinn is a power-play expert on sports labour issues. (Oh good, more lawyers.)

"The NHL is taking the position that our players' contract years expire, but clubs can keep their rights over players indefinitely," says IMG's
Calgary-based J.P. Barry. "The NHL cancels the draft, but still decides to
have a combine for undrafted amateurs. These are patently inconsistent
positions, so we decided to retain a specialist in this area to provide us
with some deeper specialized analysis.''

And there's that interesting twist I noted earlier.

If IMG mounts a successful legal challange against the NHL on this, and wins the right for current RFA players and unsigned prospects to become unrestricted free agents before a new CBA is implemented, there probably won't be anything the league could do to prevent this from happening.

The league wouldn't be able to legally "grandfather" those players rights back to their former clubs under a new CBA. You can beat NHLPA director Bob Goodenow won't be stumping to have that clause included.

After all, he successfully fought for unrestricted free agency for his players in the 1994-95 lockout. That has become a sacred cow to the players.

It won't bother Goodenow or his constituents if IMG wins the right for their clients to become UFAs prior to the signing of the new CBA, and should they become successful, it'll mean RFA players and unsigned prospects of other player agents/agencies could also win the right to be declared UFAs.

It would be then up to those players to decide if they want to re-sign with their former clubs or test the UFA waters for a better deal.

As Dowbiggin noted in his column, this would have the potential to turn the NHL upside-down.

Imagine the horror for the Philadelphia Flyers if Richards and Carter are allowed to skate away with no deal and then end up signing elsewhere.

Worse, imagine the jolt to the Bruins if Joe Thornton, their franchise players who is in the prime of his career, was lost as an unrestricted free agent.

How about the nightmare scenario for the Atlanta Thrashers in losing one or possibly both of their young franchise players, Kovalchuk and Heatley.

Or the kick to the gut of Flames fans to see 2004 playoff heroes Iginla, Kiprusoff and Regehr vanish only to reappear playing somewhere else.

Now of course, that's assuming IMG can legally win UFA status for their players. If not, then nothing changes, fans in those aforementioned cities breathe easier, and everything stays pretty much the same.

Yes, it's speculation, and could perhaps have little or no bearing on the current labor talks.

But then, why would IMG take this route if there was little or nothing to gain?

Let's face if, if IMG does seek legal recourse in this matter, it'll provide the NHLPA with a key bit of leverage to use against the league in negotiations.

If IMG's challenge becomes reality, if there's a possibility RFAs and unsigned prospects could be cut loose before a CBA is in place, it would result, once a new CBA is in place, in a free agent signing frenzy the like of which we've never seen.

Such a feeding frenzy would sorely test the limits of the new CBA, particularly the supposedly "hard cap". If there were a loophole to be exploited, you know a general manager or a player agent would find it, and then, whoooo-doggie, the floodgates open.

Just how much "restraint" do you think big market clubs would have, knowing that UFAs in their prime like Thornton, Iginla and Kovalchuk were on the open market? Or promising young prospects like Carter and Richards?

Still, this could be little more than an empty threat by IMG, merely a pressure tactic to be used by the PA against the league and the team owners. It's uncertain how quickly the wheels would turn for the player agency in their pursuit of this objectivity, indeed, it could take months, by which time, a new CBA could be in place and this becomes a moot point.

Bettman and the team owners had better hope this is nothing but an empty threat by IMG, because if it isn't...Uh-oooh!


- NY Post hockey pundit and NHLPA cheerleader Larry Brooks takes Friday's announcement of the PA cancelling their player meetings for 24-26 May as a bad omen. He feels this is a sure sign there has been no progress, that the league is still trying to gain a system whereby player salaries will remain linked to 54% of revenues, which the PA has been rejecting for a year now.

Brooks also believes the players remain united behind NHLPA director Bob Goodenow and that the league may revisit plans to ice replacement players by November 2005.

It's fashionable to run down Brooks, whose reputation for spreading unfounded trade and free agent rumours is well-established, but he's been on the mark for the most part with his coverage of this lockout, due to the fact that he's obviously a conduit for the NHLPA.

If you're still expecting the players to break, Brooks' article should give pause.

As I've noted for some time, things aren't as rosy as the league and the owners have been making it out to be over the past six weeks. Unless they're willing to start making a few concessions to the players, expect this thing to drag on throughout the summer.

With season tickets to sell, advertisers and sponsors to retain and broadcasters to placate, the league and the owners are going to have to make some hard decisions in the coming days.

And if they opt to ice replacements, they'll be further burying the NHL as a major sports league in the United States.

- Meanwhile, Stan Fischler, representing the league's POV in the media, believes the NHLPA is doing an ostrich impersonation, sticking its head in the sand.

Fischler disputes the PA's claim that the reason for calling off the player meeting as being over "no new information" coming out of the CBA talks. He claims there was "serious numbercrunching" last week and more scheduled for this week.

Fischler also suggests that at some point, Bob Goodenow will have to face the players and present to them his "exit strategy".

Goodenow's strategy to this point has not been one of "stalling" as Fischler and other critics insist. Rather, it's been to put the onus on the league to make concessions comparable to those offered by the PA.

What's kept the players on Goodenow's side is the PA's concessions and the league's apparent unwillingness to match.

To date, the PA has conceded to a massive salary rollback, a hard cap system, a fairer system of arbitration, reduction of the entry-level cap and closing off bonus loopholes within the same.

In return, they're asking for a less draconian cap than the one offered by the league, removing salary linkage to 54% of revenues from the table and significantly increased revenue sharing.

The players believe - rightfully so - that they've made all the concessions while the owners refuse to do so.

That's why they're hasn't been a massive uprising of discontent amongst the players. Bettman and the owners have made it easy for Goodenow to retain the players' support with their refusal to make concessions.

As long as they continue to believe that, they'll continue to support Goodenow.

- Finally, congratulations to the Czech Republic, who defeated Canada in the Gold Medal Game yesterday at the World Hockey Championships, and to Russia for winning the Bronze over Sweden.

Jes Golbez has analysis, as does James Mirtle.

As for myself, the Czechs deserved to win this. They outplayed and outhit the Canadians, shut down the Canucks best offensive players, and used their own speed and skill to their advantage.

I give credit to the Canadians for getting this far, given their average defensive game and occasionally shaky goaltending. They can thank Rick Nash and Joe Thornton for carrying them into the playoffs, but then both saw their offensive game dry up when Canada needed them most.

Let's just hope this doesn't result in another pointless bout of musing from the Canadian media about "what's wrong with Canadian hockey."

That'll be all the meaningful high-level pro hockey we'll see until maybe sometime this fall.

In the meantime, the AHL playoffs roll on, and the Memorial Cup will soon be starting.


How many times does the following scenario happen when watching your favourite hockey team in action?

They take a comfortable lead in a game, by two or more goals, and then, rather than press the advantage and truly bury their opponents, they sit back on that lead, go into a "defensive shell" and end up blowing or nearly blowing the game.

That's what happened in yesterday's Canada-Russia game, whereby the Canucks took a 4-0 lead by early in the second period, then saw the Russians storm back to make it 4-3 by early in the third.

Give full credit to the Russian squad, they never quit when down by four, kept pressing and took advantage of Canada's defensive mentality to outshoot the Canadians 32-12 in the final two periods.

If not for the goaltending of Canadian netminder Martin Brodeur and a couple of lucky bounces, the Russians would've tied the game and, with momentum clearly on their side, possibly go on to upset Team Canada.

Not to take anything away from the Russians, yet if Canada had played throughout the second and third periods the way they had in the first, Team Russia wouldn't have had a chance to get back into the game.

I blame Canadian coach Mark Habscheid for either instructing or allowing his players to sit back on the lead.

When going up by two or more goals, especially heading into the final period of a game, a hockey coach will tell his charges not to open things up, to keep it tight, play a close-checking game, and not allow the opposition chances to get back into the game.

What inevitably happens is, the style that put a team up by a comfortable lead - usually balls-out attacking offence - is abandoned in favour of "playing it safe".

That's one thing that absolutely drives me nuts about watching pro hockey.

When you've got an opponent down, you don't allow them a chance to get back up. You keep pouring it on, never allowing them a chance to collect themselves.

You don't sit back, give up your attacking style, and adopt a siege mentality.

It cost Canada once already in this tournament against Sweden, and it nearly eliminated Team Canada on Saturday.

When you sit back on a lead, you live dangerously. Unless your opposition is clearly inferior that they have no hope of breaking your defences, it is folly to adopt that style against an opponent of equal or greater skill.

Some defenders of that style claim it's a sportsmanship issue, that "running up the score" shows no class.

Against an obviously inferior opponent like, say, Slovenia, yes it is classless.

Against a powerhouse like the Russians, it's the only sure way to keep 'em buried.

Never lay off the accelerator against a strong opponent when you've got 'em down.


You wanna protect a lead. Keep playing the same style that got you that lead in the first place!

IN OTHER WORLDS NEWS: The Czech Republic defeated Sweden 3-2 in a closely-matched battle that took overtime to settle, and then had to be determined by review because the shot by Radek Dvorak struck the "goal-cam" inside the net and bounced out.

So it'll be Canada against the Czech Republic today for the gold, and Sweden against Russia for the Bronze.

I give full marks to the Czech who deserved the victory, but so too did the Swedes.

The Swedish team, whose last Worlds title was in 1998, last Olympic medal was in 1994, and last World Junior championship was 1981, have been feeling the pressure from their countrymen in recent years.

Since 1998 the Swedes have iced clubs that have been perennially considered amongst the favorite to win those aforementioned tournaments, yet for some inexplicable reason they keep coming up short.

Detractors will claim they lack the will to win, but it was clearly evident in yesterday's tough loss to the Czechs that they certainly were determined to advance to the championship game.

Like Canadians, Swedes are fiercely devoted to hockey, and like Canadians, when their teams come up short, they start to pressure and speculate as to where the problem may lie.

Expect that pressure to ratchet up another notch after yesterday's disappointing loss.