Tuesday, November 27, 2012

NHL news and notes

A mere three days after the word "decertification" was being seriously thrown around in the NHL lockout, federal mediators will now be a part of the negotiating process.

The NHL and NHLPA are allowing George H. Cohen, the director of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service, to lead a team to help along the negotiating process.

According to TSN "[Cohen] has worked with the players' associations for Major League Baseball and the NBA, and was also an adviser to the NHLPA before joining the FMCS three years ago." He also, according to the the article, mediated during the 2010 negotiations in Major League Soccer and 2011 talks in the NFL and NBA, along 'with this year's dispute between the NFL and its on-field officials.

Said Cohen, 'I have had separate, informal discussions with the key representatives of the National Hockey League and the National Hockey League Players' Association during the course of their negotiations for a successor collective bargaining agreement," said Cohen. "At the invitation of the FMCS, and with the agreement of both parties, the ongoing negotiations will now be conducted under our auspices.'

Although recommendations are not binding, they may smack enough heads on both sides of the table to really get the process moving.

Or maybe (probably?) nothing will come out of it. James Mirtle of the Globe and Mail pointed out that it didn't work in football or basketball.

 Jeffery Kessler, a high-profile lawyer, was quoted by Mirtle concerning mediation, 'The reality is, in professional sports, you have very smart, sophisticated negotiators on both sides,' Kessler said. 'There’s no one who’s more experienced in negotiating labour agreements than Don Fehr [executive director of the NHLPA]. And equally so I’d say Gary Bettman [NHL commissioner] and Bill Daly are very experienced negotiators.'

I don’t know that the mediators are really the problem. The problem is the positions are so intractable.'

Doesn't sound as if mediation will amount to much, but it's something.


Speaking of the lockout, Washington Capitals defenseman, Roman Hamrlik, called out NHLPA director Donald Fehr last week saying, "I am disgusted. We have to push Fehr to the wall to get the deal. Time is against us. We lost 1/4 season, it is $425 million. Who will give it back to us? Mr. Fehr?" And followed up by saying that the NHLPA should have a vote "Four questions - YES or NO - then count it. If half of players say let's play, then they should sign new CBA. If there is no season he should leave and we will find someone new. Time is our enemy."

No, Roman, time is your enemy. At 38 years old, your time is limited and even if you play next season, signing a deal worth $3.5M (your current salary,) is about as far-fetched as Fehr getting run out.

Oh. And there's another veteran of three lockouts chiming in on the situation.

Future Hall-of-Famer, and three time Stanley Cup Winner, Martin Brodeur is 40 years old and after the final loss to the LA Kings in the Stanley Cup Finals, it was said he was contemplating retirement. But he decided to come back and this lockout may ultimately lead to the end of the line for one of the greatest goaltenders of all time.

Brodeur wasn't too happy, calling Hamrlik's actions out of line and a sign of weakness. "I don't think (Hamrlik) has ever addressed it [internally] as far as the NHLPA is concerned," he said. "and he has to go out in front of the media and then show a sign of weakness from a player who should no better at his age."

He doesn't stop there, "When players talk about things that they don't know, then they're not well informed, it makes it like you're not informed. I think it's your duty as a player. And if you don't, you should just not talk about it."

Brodeur was echoing (more delicately) what Caps forward Troy Brouwer said concerning Hamrlik's comments. After Hamrlik was backed by fellow teammate, goalie Michal Neuvirth (“This lockout is not about majority of players," Neuvirth said, "I think. It is about several superstars with big contracts,”) Brouwer unloaded with both barrels:  “Those are two guys that have never been on a conference call, never been to a meeting, never paid attention." And then proceeded to lay into them, "For me, I think those guys selling us out, being selfish like that and making those comments … ” Brouwer said, trailing off. “Me being on their team, how am I going to trust them as a teammate from now on? Because you know they’re not going to support players in the big scheme of things when you go and you play on the team with them; it’s going to be tough to want to back those guys from now on.”


Is this a sign of the NHLPA fracturing?

San Jose' Sharks forward Ryan Clowe, who is spending this lockout as a coach of the ECHL's San Francisco Bulls, said that the union remains strong and that '95% of the players are on the same page.' and is adamant about the union remaining united, 'Sticking together, it’s very important,' Clowe said. 'You saw what happened last lockout. I think it’s easy to say that, but when you’re not sure what’s going on, then you start questioning.'

On Hamrlik specifically he said, 'Roman’s 38 years old. He’s in a different situation. He’s been through a few of these and he wants to play. I’m sure it’s the same with Alfredsson and Jagr.'


Washington Post columnist Thomas Boswell says that the NHL should not underestimate "the Fehr factor."

Boswell has seen Fehr's work with the MLBPA. "After covering six work stoppages, a canceled World Series and three collusion cases during Fehr’s time in baseball," he wrote in the article, "I have a clear sense of how he acts at inflection points," or key junctures of a long negotiation process.

Fehr, he said, means exactly what he says. And Boswell emphasizes that it's the players deal, not Fehr's. There are recommendations, but Fehr does not decide, going as far to say that he'll "Fehr will reduce demands rather than negotiate without full support."

Despite saying that following Fehr throughout the years has given him a migraine, Boswell concludes with, "Hiring Don Fehr, the Sun Tzu of jock labor, to face NHL owners in a lockout is like getting the Godfather to help you fix a parking ticket. NHL leaders need to realize, in a fraction the time it took baseball, that if you go to the mat with a Fehr union, everybody suffers, but you might get it worse."


If things weren't bad enough for the Columbus Blue Jackets--one year of playoffs in 10, lost the lottery for #1 overall pick in June, forced to trade face of the franchise, Rick Nash--it just got a little worse.

(Edit:  bad news keeps rolling in. The Jackets #2 overall pick, Ryan Murray, is done for the season with a shoulder injury.)

Last week Commish Gary Bettman not only cancelled games through December 14, he also cancelled the All-Star Game in Columbus in January.

It's said that the city of Columbus will lose $12M for the event itself and as much as $50M in exposure.

Michael Arace of the Columbus Dispatch wrote of the financial impact the Blue Jackets and their home, Nationwide Arena, have made on the downtown businesses.

He points out that in 2008 there was a study by the John Glenn School of Public Affairs at Ohio State stating that since the doors of Nationwide arena opened "$2B in economic activity have been generated by the Jackets and the arena with more than $1B generated by outside visitors."

Arace also points out some of the positives for the cancelled games and the All-Star Game.

He says that new President of Hockey Operations, John Davidson, will have more time to put his fingerprints on the franchise and will have more time to plan for three first round picks in the 2013 draft. In addition, if the season is cancelled, the Jackets could, once again, be right at the top of the draft board with a chance at potential franchise player, Nathan McKinnon.

As for the All-Star Game, Arace points out that it's probably better this way saying, "Who wants to be the host in the middle of a shortened season, coming off a labor dispute?" he said, adding,  "Also, do the Blue Jackets even have an All-Star?"

Mike MacLean of the Cannon ponies on that last point saying that the Blue Jackets, "lack a true star currently on the roster to serve as the face of the event. Under the current format, a representative from the host team has been named captain of the 'home team' during the live team selection. Additionally, that same player serves as ambassador for the event, pulling triple duty with the media, and acting as the host city's number one cheerleader. That isn't to say that one of the players currently on the roster wouldn't do a fantastic job in those roles, but the fact remains Columbus doesn't have a marquee star player on the roster since [Rick Nash] was traded to New York. The hope is, that when Columbus gets another crack at hosting the event they will have a star player on the roster. A player that wouldn't seem like a stretch leading an All Star roster."

Maybe the stars will align for a (still) fledgling franchise with a pretty loyal core fan-base. Maybe the lockout will last the year. Maybe they'll get the #1 overall pick this year and grab McKinnon. Maybe the All-Star Game will still be in existence in 2015 and Columbus will get it. Maybe McKinnon will develop into the superstar/face of the franchise during that time period.


*Thanx to Puck Daddy for a blog featuring the above links.

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