Sunday, December 30, 2012

Is it time to gear up for an abbreviated NHL season?


I think so.

It might be jumping the gun a bit, but the latest offer from the NHL makes for some significant movement on their part. Methinks the players will probably make one more offer and the sides will come to a middle ground on remaining "hot-button" issues like contract length and variance.

From the way it looks, the distance between the two sides is anything but a "gulf." The only gulf is the size of the NHL owners' collective ego which would want them to put a final offer on the table for the players to agree upon.

NHLPA Executive Director Donald Fehr, who has done a masterful job of negotiating despite starting out in a deep hole, seems to have a pretty good feel for what the players want and what the owners are willing to compromise on. He and the NHLPA spent Saturday going over the 300-page NHL offer, while Deputy Commish Bill Daly mentioned "informational sessions" set for Sunday morning but, "nothing beyond that."

Edit:  Link extra:  Toronto Globe and Mail's Bruce Dowbiggen blames the owner's scorched earth first offer for the players rallying behind a calm, cool, collected, and somewhat mischevious Donald Fehr


Last Friday was a good hockey day which started in the morning with the World Juniors and it would have been great had the USA U-20 team defeated the Russians.

The US squad held their own in the 2-1 loss, with a group of hard working players who were simply outclassed up-front by a pretty fast and talented Russian group.

Sabres prospect Mikhail Grigorenko (2012, #12 overall) was on display and had a solid, if point-less, game for Russia.

Sabres 2012 second-round pick (#44-overall) Jake McCabe was on the US squad and the big defenseman more than held his own. McCabe is the captain of the US squad who happens to be coached by former Sabres defenseman Phil Housley.

Later that night, I was one of 19,070 fans at the F'N Center to watch the Rochester Americans 4-1 victory over the Lake Erie Monsters. It was a record crowd for the Amerks and eighth largest in AHL history.

BTW, Mike Schoppsie. The Lake Erie Monsters are Colorado's minor league affiliate. They were bought in 2006 by Cleveland Cavaliers and Horseshoe Casino owner Dan Gilbert.

Anyhow, it was good to see a hockey game this season. Although it never achieved the level of an NHL game, for the most part, the guys on the ice worked hard.

Two players who seem ready to get back to the NHL are Cody Hodgson and Marcus Foligno.

Hodgson had two goals and clearly looked like a man amongst boys while Foligno just did his thing--nothin' crazy, nothin' stupid, just a solid NHL-type/power forward game.

Brayden McNabb had a rough game with three minor penalties, although he did manage to garner two secondary assists.

Amerks defenseman TJ Brennan (2007, #31 overall) looked as if he's ready to make the jump to the NHL on a full-time basis.

After spending three years working on the finer points of his defensive game, the offensive defensman seems ready to really bust out on the score sheet. He presently leads the team with 12 goals.

One player I was keenly interested was 2012 first-round draft pick (#14 overall) Zemgus Girgensons.

The "Latvian Locomotive," as he's been called had a good game in what looked to be a clearly defined role on the third line.

His capacity to see the plays evolving and his constant movement to, and around, the puck were on display. He wasn't a Patrick Kaleta-type wrecking ball, which is not his style, and really didn't do anything stupid throughout the game, but he did manage some decent checks.

As you watch him, you can see he's soaking everything in and as of right now it doesn't seem as if the AHL game is too fast for him.

When the NHL season starts, one would think that he'll be up on the Amerks first line soaking up even more.

Until then, he looked real good as the youngest player in the AHL.

Williamsville native David Leggio had a strong, 3rd-star, game in net.

I'm not sure if he'll get a shot at the NHL, but I'd sure like to seem him get the opportunity to play in an NHL game.

This is not to say he's the next Terry Sawchuk or anything like that, but he is a very sound goalie with some attitude and aggressiveness.

At age 28, the guy has worked his way into the position that he's in as the #1 goalie for the Amerks. He has spent years both overseas and kicking around the minor leagues before he finally found a home with Rochester. (For some background, click here.)

Leggio audio from WGR.

Hodgson audio from WGR.

Amerks Head Coach Ron Rolston audio from WGR.

So much for "the hill we will die on."

Remember that one from Deputy Commish, Bill Daly?

And how "insulted" he was by the players response back on December 6?

And how Commish Gary Bettman was "livid" after NHLPA Executive Donald Fehr went to the podium basically saying that the sides were pretty close?

Remember Daly and Bettman at the podium "disappointed beyond belief?" And how they couldn't understand where Fehr got this idea that they were "close" to a deal when "[Fehr] knew there was a major gulf between them [and the owners]?"

Do your remember all that crap? (if not, you can refresh your memory by clicking here and here. Or get a more opinionated view of the events by clicking here.)

Daly's "hill to die on" wasn't really a hill. Nor did they die on it. Maybe it was more like a sand dune and they wanted to play "king of the mountain."

Friday's offer to the players has the NHL moving from five to six years on maximum contract length and from 5% to 10% on contract variance, amongst other things.

Plus, remember that Daly pulled the $300M "make whole" agreement off the table in text to NHLPA Counsel Steve Fehr on that same night? You know, when the owners were so outraged at what Donald Fehr had done?

It's back. In it's entirety.

And, let's go way back to the early counter offer by Fehr and the players.

The original B.S. proposal by Bettman and the NHL had the players share dropping from 57% to 46%. (Tweet from Adam Proteau:  "The moment the proposal was presented, every player in the room knew Gary had just written off 1st 3 months of the season." - an NHL agent.)

Fehr's counter was that the owners should fix the problems they themselves created by enhancing league-wide revenue sharing that could possibly reach as much as $250M. The latest offer has the owners increasing revenue sharing from $150M to $200M, according to ESPN's Pierre LeBrun.

There were a lot of lunkheads and their lemming followers/owner lovers who said on numerous occasions that the players should take the offer and be happy.

There were many instances where the NHL said--or implied--that this is as far as they would go.

And there were many instances where Fehr knew they were bluffing.

Bettman said that there is a drop dead date for the season--it needs to start Jan. 19 for a 48-game season and it would seem as if they've finally gotten it through their heads that 50/50 was huge and that the players aren't willing to give much more. Take that revenue split along with a cap on contract length and variance and the owners clearly won.

But, not to the point where it was Dresden with the union totally destroyed.

In fact Fehr has done his job remarkably well, as the Hockey News', Ken Campbell writes, and has salvaged more for the players than anyone, including hardline owners, could have imagined.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

NHLPA gets the OK from players, plus... has a great piece featuring three Russian greats--including Alexander Mogilny--in the 1992-93 season.

The players ended a five day electronic vote by giving the NHLPA Executive board the power to file a Disclaimer of Interest in the courts.

According to TSN, as well as other national media sources, the vote was 706-22. That's 97%.

That constitutes an overwhelming majority (about as close to unanimous as you can get) of the players backing NHLPA Executive Donald Fehr and the NHLPA Executive board.

Yes we all know that the NHL launched their pre-emptive strike before the vote, but one would think that Fehr planned on that happening and was prepared.

A quick note:  According to, during the NBA lockout, 63 pro players played overseas.

*************'s Slava Malamud takes us back to a time when the world was changing dramatically.

Alex "Alexander the Great" Mogilny
During the late 80's/early 90's the Cold War was ending, the Berlin Wall was coming down and trailblazers from the Soviet Union/Russia were taking center stage in the NHL.

Malamud centers his piece around three Russian superstars in the 92-93 NHL season--Buffalo's own Alex "Alexander the Great" Mogilny, "The Russian Rocket," Pavel Bure' in Vancouver and Detroit's Sergei Federov.

Take the time to immerse yourself in this flashback.

Some of the points on Mogilny which Malamud touches upon are--his defection (which was covered nicely here,) his incredible 92-93 season and his influence upon present Sabres prospect Mikhail Grigorenko.


Monday, December 17, 2012

Ottawa Attorney, Eric Macramalla, keeps it simple for us laymen

It's the NHL lockout 2012, which is a head-scratcher to begin with. The NHL had seven solid years of growth for the league and it's players after the last one in 2004/05 and, it would seem, that the two sides needed to tweak--however severely--hockey related revenue as well as other issues.

It's the complex numbers--past, current and future-- in the negotiations which feature the NHL and NHLPA being represented by legal big-dogs Gary Bettman and Donald Fehr respectively.

It's the morass that is now headed to courtroom featuring not only the legalities and precedents of legal filings, but the multitude of little things like the attorneys and judges and location that could sway a case, or a portion of the case, one way or another.

Thankfully, for those of us who get lost looking over something as simple as a parking ticket, Ottawa attorney Eric Macramalla, TSN Legal Analyst, is keeping it in perspective for us "Average Joes."

Macramalla started helping sift through legal jargon as the word "decertification" was beginning to make its way into the lockout vernacular. He began is work on TSN (as well as an appearance on WGR) with a piece breaking down the difference between decertification and disclaimer of interest (the latter be the avenue the players are now voting on,) and proceeded with his November 26 piece, A primer on NHLPA decertification.

And as the legal maneuvering is primed to get more complicated with each legal filing, Macramalla does it again with his latest piece, The NHL's lawsuit and what's next.

From the NHLPA Executive Board planning a disclaimer of interest vote by the players to the "pre-emptive" strike by the NHL in its dual filings, Marcramalla provides some answers--simply stated--as to the why's and potential ramifications of any move by either side. He also touches upon the recent NFL and NBA lockouts citing similarities and differences.

He offers no conclusions, stating "the only certainty is uncertainty," but does help us understand where we came from, where we're at and possible directions the lockout could head--including the possibility that the legal punches thrown by both sides could lead to more bargaining and an agreement.

It's a great read, and Macramalla's work is greatly appreciated by "Average Joe's" like us.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

The lockout is headed to court

Late Thrusday night the NHLPA Executive Board approved putting a Disclaimer of Interest to a vote by its full membership. An approval would mean would mean that the union would walk away from the players it represents thus dissolving the union.

The move would then be followed by anti-trust suits by individual players against the NHL.

The NHL, swiftly filed papers in New York Friday morning asking a federal court to deem the NHL lockout legal while simultaneously filing an "unfair labor practice" charge against the NHLPA with the National Labor Relations Board saying the tactic is merely a way "to extract more favourable terms and conditions of employment."

"The Union has threatened to pursue this course not because it is defunct or otherwise incapable of representing NHL players for purposes of collective bargaining, nor because NHL players are dissatisfied with the representation they have been provided by the NHLPA," read the NHL complaint.
"The NHLPA's threatened decertification or disclaimer is nothing more than an impermissable negotiating tactic, which the Union incorrectly believes would enable it to commence an antitrust challenge to the NHL's lockout."

If you thought the negotiations were getting complicated, being overwhelmed by legalities and legal precedents represents utter insanity.

It's here that we'll just pass it on to the legal "experts" and rely on trusted journalists for direction.

CBC's Elliotte Friedman steps up to the plate here, Explaining the NHL's latest move.

First off, everybody pretty much knows the NHL launched a "pre-emptive" strike against the NHLPA. In addition to the legal aspects, there's also the state where the papers were filed. It's believed that New York State, according to Friedman and others, is more 'pro-employer.'

Getting into the nuts and bolts of the matter, somewhat, Friedman points out that the NHL, unlike the NBA who also was faced with decertification, plans on using "quotes and tweets" from players to back there claim that union dissolution is nothing more than a negotiating tactic.

Unfortunately for Sabres fans, outspoken goalie Ryan Miller is being used as an example. The league, according to Friedman, pulled this from a Globe and Mail article dated Nov. 22: "Decertification becomes part of the script," Miller was quoted as saying..."[and] is a push back and should show we want a negotiation and a fair deal on at least some of our terms."'

Friedman delves into other areas such as the gamble--on both sides--decertification poses and also makes other parallels between the NHL lockout and the NBA lockout--both sides being represented by the same legal counsel that represented the NBA and the NBAPA.

The NHL jumped pretty fast to get this into the courts because of the NHLPA Executive Committee decision to put decertification to a vote. One would think that NHLPA Executive Director Donald Fehr and his charges knew this was coming, as Friedman states, "It shouldn't be a surprise the players sent a trial balloon before jumping in with two feet, because they are trying to determine if an actual attempt to do it will result in a cancellation of the season."

This could actually be somewhat fun.

Based upon the Heckyl and Jeckyl theatrics of Thursday, December 6, when Fehr sent Gary Bettman and Bill Daly into a fit of rage, this could be even better.

Of course they could all get together and finalize the deal.

But that would be too simple and maybe not as much fun for those of us who find dark humor entertaining.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Obama to NHL and NHLPA, "do right by your fans."

President Obama was in Minneapolis, MN discussing "the fiscal cliff" last night with CBS affiliate WCCO. (for full transcript of the interview, click here)

Minnesota is a big-time hockey state, so in closing Frank Vascellaro asked if the President would intervene in the lockout.

Obama says that the owners and players should settle it themselves then voices an opinion that many fans have:  "you guys make a lot of money and you make a lot of money on the backs of fans, so do right by your fans. You can figure out how to spread out a bunch of revenue that you’re bringing in, but do right by the people who support you."

In response to his helping out, the President said he should not need to jump in on a battle that he says is between "really wealthy players and even wealthier owners. They should be able to settle this themselves. And remember who it is that’s putting all that money in their pockets."



In other news, via Puckdaddy:

Mark Cuban said that the NHL "didn't fix the problems [during the last lockout] and they should have."

NY Times writer Jeff Z. Klein says that the league today "is in many ways as troubled as it was before the previous lockout," and points out that three teams--the Toronto Maple Leafs, NY Rangers and Montreal Canadians--are responsible for 80% of the NHL's revenues. Which is a staggering number.

He taps into the thoughts of Tony Knopp, CEO of Spotlight TMS, a company that manages corporate tickets sales who says that, 'Clearly, its business model is dysfunctional."

But what's really hurting the league are, in the words of Drew Dorweiler, "wounded animal" franchises.

Dorweiler, is managing partner of a business evaluation firm in Montreal--Dartmouth Partners. Klein quotes him as saying that, “Missing so many games shows that for some of these teams, it’s better when they’re not playing, because then they’re not losing money. In a nutshell, it’s because there’s a structural nonviability of certain franchises in their current locations.”

Obviously Canadian-centric, but certainly worth noting based upon numbers alone.

But there are other ramifications of this lockout--the third one in 20 years.

“To many people, this has become a pattern, an M.O.,” said Brian Cooper, the president of the Toronto sports management company S &E Sponsorship Group “It’s almost as if consumers and sponsors are getting the message, ‘Enjoy the next six or seven years, because you know we’re going to be out the year after that.”

The only solution is labor peace, says player agent Jay Grossman. “Though the routes that baseball and football have taken to labor peace have been vastly different, both realize that labor peace equates to record growth in revenue and franchise values leaguewide,” he said. “The notion that an unconditional attack on players in three consecutive lockouts will enable growth for every N.H.L. club misses the mark.”

This particular edition of Puckdaddy's Puck headlines really touches on a lot, from the above mentioned piece, to Henrik Lundqvist and Shea Weber, to Donald Fehr, to a piece about how the ECHL and AHL have upticks in attendance that are not necessarily due entirely to the NHL lockout. (where are all the fans who'd watch anyone instead of the "pampered, greedy NHL players?)

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Mark Cuban: "[the NHL] didn't fix the problems last time...

and they should have."

So spoketh the Dallas Mavericks owner, Dallas Stars season ticket holder and Pittsburgh Penguins fan.


I thought that the NHL, when they steamrolled the NHLPA in 2004, fixed the problems with their plan--a hard cap, and an immediate 24% salary rollback, amongst other things.

The players were getting too much of the pie. Right?

So they sliced the players take from approximately 71% down to 57%.

Their plan was to bring "cost-certainty" to the league by linking salaries to revenues. Right?

So they instituted a salary cap to put every team on a level playing field.

And things seemed to be working out...for about a year and a half.

That's how long it took for league revenues to start jumping and for the big-dog owners and their GM's to start developing their individual plans to circumvent the cap.

The Philadelphia's and NY Rangers' of the league started getting creative with stashing away contracts in the AHL. Soon thereafter, teams got more creative with front-loaded contracts spread out over double-digit, or near double-digit years. Then, if that wasn't enough, came the circumvention of the throttled circumvention--signing bonuses that kept the year-over-year variance within league guidelines.

Former Sabres owner Tom Golisano, being the shrewd businessman he was, knew where this was headed and as soon as late 2006 was rumored to be looking for a buyer then. A small market like Buffalo could not compete with the big dogs without cost certainty.

Golisano, much to his credit, and with great thanks from Sabres fans all over, held on to the team until he found the proper buyer--Terry Pegula. But during that time, he placed a simple edict upon the shoulders of his COO, Dan DiPofi--"at least break even." (he made a profit only one year--2006)

The "at least break even" edict kept the team within it's own salary cap, that was beneath the league's. And they failed to make the playoffs two out of the next three years.

Even though the team was in the red, a close eye was kept on the parameters of revenue sharing--another part of the last CBA--so that the team would be very close to "breaking even."

Let's post how the league actually fixed the problems between lockouts.

Michael Ozanian of Forbes, stated in a November 29, 2004 piece entitled, Ice Capades, "The 30 teams in the NHL lost a combined $96 million (before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization) on revenue of $2.2 billion during the 2003-04 season, with 17 teams posting a loss. The prior season the NHL lost $123 million on revenue of $2.1 billion."

Eight years later, Forbes released it's annual report again. The 30 NHL teams were collectively in the black to the tune of $250M on revenue of $3.3B. (click here for link to Forbes article via a previous blog)

The breakdown had 13 teams losing $130M before profit sharing while the rest of the teams made $380M. The top three teams--Toronto Maple Leafs- ($81.9M,) NY Rangers (74M,) and Montreal Canadians (51.6M)--made a combined $207M.

The league's turnaround represented nearly $350M in the seasons between lockouts.

How's that not fixed?

Mr. Cuban explained, "When you have all your southern franchises basically sucking wind, there's a message there that you have to fix it. I mean, you have two different worlds; the north and the south. It's kind of like the civil war right now going on, and it's got to be fixed."

So, because there are teams struggling in southern markets like, say, Phoenix, due to Bettman's overzealous expansion plan that reached deep into these "non-traditional hockey markets," it's up to the players to prop them up? By grabbing more of their share?

Yes, they want the players to do it. To the tune of a 50/50 split.

And the players are OK with that.

Based upon $3.3B in revenue a 7% drop in players salaries equates to $231M. If everything stays the same, the league will end up nearly doubling their 2011/12 cumulative operating income.

But that's not enough.

I guess in order to further fix the problem, they want the players to help keep "drunken-sailor" GM's in check by limiting the contracts to five years and not allowing for a year to year variance of more than 5%. This is to help keep the weaker franchises on a level playing field.

Because the salary cap wasn't enough. Nor was the salary rollback (in 2004.) Nor is the 7% grab the league now has in it's pocket.

Not only did they dictate how much the players share would be, they also want to dictate how the players divvy up thier share in the name of "a level playing field."


Thanx, Mark.

No matter how asinine ownership can be. No matter how faulty Commish Gary Bettman's grand expansion plan was. And no matter how much money the top franchises will hoard and keep from their "have-not brethren franchises" it's the players that need to bail out NHL stupidity and greed.

*shakes head*

BTW, from that 2004 Forbes piece. They estimated the average worth of an NHL franchise to be $130M.

Today, based upon Forbes' most recent estimates, the average worth of an NHL franchise is $282M.

The lowest estimated value for any NHL franchise is St. Louis which Forbes estimates to be worth $130M, the same amount as the average franchise before the last lockout.

FYI, Tom Golisano bought the Sabres in 2003 for $92M and sold it in 2011 for $189M.

Monday, December 10, 2012

There are moderates in the NHL lockout and...

Mario Lemieux wanted them to be heard.According to Rob Rossi of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, Penguins part-owner Mario Lemieux wanted to get involved in a possible solution to the lockout, but he also wanted to wait for the right time.

He, his superstar/"face of the NHL" player, Sidney Crosby, his friend (Crosby's agent,) Pat Brisson, had decided to try and get the moderate voices on both sides to be heard.

Rossi says Lemieux put together a coalition of moderates from teams with various financial stakes in the league--Tampa Bay owner, Jeff Vinik, LA Kings President of Business Operations Luc Robitaille, and Marc Bergevin, GM of the Montreal Canadians. And he goes on by saying that as this group gathered steam, "[they] helped sweep aboard ownership groups in Toronto and Winnipeg, the NHL’s biggest and smallest Canadian markets."

"There is no coincidence," said Rossi, "that the Penguins, Lightning, Maple Leafs and Jets were the four new franchises the NHL sent into a room with players this week in New York."

Lemieux, he also said, consciously removed himself from the spotlight preferring his partner Steve Burkle take the helm for the team.

Burkle met with Vinik before the players/owners only meeting while Crosby met with his fellow players.

And they almost ended up getting it done.


Come to find out, though, the moderate owners weren't even up to date on what was happening in the negotiations.

Kevin Westgarth is a role player who made $525,000K last season with the Stanley Cup Champion LA Kings.

NY Times writer Jeff Z. Klein, penned a background piece on the on-ice enforcer who is now an enforcer at the negoitating table with the NHL.

The Klein piece charts Westgarth's background, which includes a degree from Princeton in psychology, his parallel to fellow NHL enforcer and Princeton-grad, George Parros, and his standing side by side with Sidney Crosby, Brad Richards and Executive Director Donald Fehr in union solidarity.

But the most interesting part, which relates to the piece above about Lemieux and the "moderates" getting involved in the talks, is what, Westgarth says, "they brought in." 
'There are a half-dozen or more players who knew exactly where we were and could detail every aspect of where we were at,' he said, referring to last week’s talks. The league brought in four owners to join Jeremy Jacobs of Boston and Murray Edwards of Calgary in the negotiations.
'It became obvious that the guys they brought in had nowhere near a complete understanding of what the proposals were and where we were in the negotiations,' he said. 'I thought it was great that Ron Burkle, Larry Tanenbaum, Mark Chipman and Jeff Vinik got involved — clearly they’re passionate and care about the game — but it shows how tightly controlled the league is.'
And he added, why the talks broke down last week at the mention of Fehr rejoining the process.
'Part of their tactics is to demonize Don — we’ve seen it before,' he said. The settlement ending the 2004-5 lockout was not signed by the union’s executive director at the time, Bob Goodenow. He had been excluded from the process.'
Update December 11:

  • Talks are set for Wednesday at an undisclosed location and Mark Spector of thinks the two sides are close to a deal because, he say, "telephone tour through the industry on Monday found voices on both sides that actively agreed with the position taken by the other side. Or that were at least ready to admit that the demands their side were making were a tad, how should we say, overzealous."
  • More details on the CBA proposals from both sides (piece includes a pic of Sabres goalie Ryan Miller)
  • Via's Brian Stubitz, a tweet from NY Daily News' Pat Leonard:  Asked [NHL Deputy Commish] Bill Daly which owners would be willing to sit in next meeting: "I don't anticipate any owners participating in our next meeting."
Somethin's brewin'. Could be that December 31st and January 1st could be touted as the beginning of a long, fruitful relationship between the NHL and the NHLPA.

Other links:

Elliotte Friedman, CBC, on Ron Hainsey, the NHLPA's "bad cop"

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Did Donald Fehr go too far with his latest move?

Or did he land a stunning counter punch?

Well, there's no discounting the theatrics of this past Thursday. "Gold, Jerry, gold."

The league had another "take it or leave it" offer on the table--three cornerstones, "not to be cherry-picked" according to Deputy commish Bill Daly--after two days of players/owners discussions.

And out comes NHLPA Director Donald Fehr saying that the two sides are real close, close enough to get 'er done and that they've submitted a counter offer.

The response was from the NHL was, "What?"

And so Fehr heads up to the podium again and says that, ummm, they've left a message saying that the talks are off and their taking the latest contract off of the table.

Bill Daly (l) and Gary Bettman (r)
didn't take too kindly to the events
of Thursday evening.
Daly and his boss Commish Gary Bettman take to the podium livid. They, obviously, thought they had it in the bag. That either they'd got what they wanted or could begin fashioning a public relations onslaught against a union--and it's leader--as the reason the there's still a lockout.

Maybe they haven't figured out that with Fehr, there's no deviance from the plan. He's still negotiating and until both sides can come to an agreement.

But, did he go too far?

Maybe. There's a butt-load of opinions out there suggesting that the players sign the deal so that the business of hockey can get going again. And there are a ton of reasons why this lockout should end, or should have ended already.

That Fehr is loathed by Bettman and the owners is a given. During the players/owners sessions, there seemed to be progress, but when it was mentioned that Fehr be included as the players representative to close the deal, the owners response was that the mere presence of Fehr is considered a deal-breaker.

Not surprising. Ownership consists of shrewd, powerful businessmen who are no strangers to contracts and the legalities therein. And they're lead by a New York Lawyer who's one of the best in the business.

The players play hockey. They need legal counsel.

That's why they hired Donald Fehr, who happens to be the best at what he does.

"NHL commissioner Gary Bettman came to the microphone after meeting with the NHL Players’ Association Thursday afternoon and if you looked closely enough, you could see traces of smoke coming out of his ears."

That was written by the Hockey News' Ken Campbell after the league rejected the NHLPA's tri-offer on October 18.

Everyone thought that plenty of progress had been made, optimism was high, hope reigned supreme. But doom and gloom followed the quick, 10 minute rejection by the NHL.

“It’s clear we’re not talking the same language,” said Bettman, uttering the kind of rhetoric nobody likes to hear in a dispute. “The proposal that was made today, things are not progressing. To the contrary - the proposal that was made by the players’ association was a step backward.”

BAM! That's the sound of reality come crashin' down.

At the time the issue was honoring existing contracts after a 50/50 split with a salary roll back in play. Well, the "make whole" provision appeared and after six weeks of negotiating they seemed to come together on the issue with the NHL putting $300M into the provision.

One should remember that, at the time, there was a large segment of the hockey community who felt that the players should take what they were offered, just like right now. And there was a large Fehr-bashing contingency as well.

But, why did the NHLPA hire Donald Fehr? Because this is what he does, and he does it well.

So when player executive Mathieu Schneider says “It’s just been a moving target,” in regards to how the owners are negotiating, this is something that Fehr knows.

It's understandable when Schneider says he's truly baffled, “I cannot for the life of me understand why they want to be further apart each time."

Fehr understands it. He's seen it before.

This is the example Schneider offered as to why he's baffled (related to length of the new CBA, one of the "three cornerstones" the owners arent' budging on)--"Their first offer was five years. We were at three and an option. We moved up to five years, they moved to six. In this last negotiation this past week, we moved up to six, they moved up to 10. There’s no rhyme or reason for it. The first time we heard 10 was about a week and a half ago when Murray Edwards threw it out at the end of one of the sessions. He said, ‘We’re willing to do a 10-year deal, guys, we think we should do a 10-year deal’."

Oh, Mathieu, there is a rhyme and a reason. They're trying to get the most they can out of a good hearted, well meaning Canadian like yourself. Just remember the reason you all hired Donald Fehr.

"And Don (Fehr) said, ‘You think you should do a 10-year deal because it’s a great deal for you’. (Edwards) didn’t really have any response for that.”

BAM! In your face.

And what about another "cornerstone," the "hill that the owners are willing to die on?" The five year contract limit with a 5% salary variance year-to-year?

Adam Proteau of the Hockey News answered that by saying "the league wants not simply to get a larger piece of its revenue stream, but to effectively tie down the union’s ability to control how its membership splits their 50 percent.

And he quotes an email from a player agent. Said the agent, 'The players have agreed to go to 50-50 for the last "x" number of years of the deal. Shouldn't that be all that matters? Why does the league have to "die on the hill" on an allocation of dollars issue? It's the PA’s 50 percent, the PA should dictate who gets what. Why does the league care and how does the allocation jeopardize franchises?'

As of right now the NHLPA has not addressed the "three cornerstones" directly. And is seems as if the hockey community will do it for him.

In extracting extreme emotion from Bettman and Daly, Fehr got them to express, in no uncertain terms, exactly where they stand and expose just what kind of control freaks he's dealing with.

But, of all the stupid things that Bettman and Daly said on Thursday, the "die on the hill remark" is probably the most damaging.

Sure, the owners in haste and disgust pulled everything off the table, but they're really willing to scrap everything because they want more control over the players share?


So, in fact, Fehr really didn't go to far. He did what was necessary.

That Bettman has a counterpart equal to himself in this process has left him angry and somewhat bewildered. Just look at the reaction from Thursday night.

Katie Baker of Grantland, writes an insightful piece on Bettman and just how strong he is as a negotiator.

Baker touches upon the greatness of Bettman and his negotiating, using a quote from Leafs GM Brian Burke from "The Art and Analytics of Negotiation" panel he was on:   'There's smart--and then there's Bettman smart. He's a very three steps ahead guy.

But here's why Donald Fehr is so reviled by ownership. He's getting Bettman to slip up. She culls a quote from an interview back on Nov. 19 concerning the leagues first offer (from Gary Lawless, Winnipeg Free press interview)
Free Press: Was the aggressive nature of your first offer to the players a mistake?
GB: I think the view some have of our first offer is fairly naive as it relates to collective bargaining. A sophisticated negotiator would have looked at it and said, 'Obviously they want a 50-50 split.' If we're at 57 and they propose 43, they must be telegraphing where they want to end. If your intention was to use it in an inflammatory way, you could do that. If your intention was to make a deal, you could pretty much chart out what the course should be.
She follows that up:
"His candor made me think of something else Burke had said during the Art and Analytics of Negotiation panel at the SSAC: 'My theory is, make the first meeting as short and unpleasant as possible," he said. "Sometimes it's better to just punch the guy in the face.'
Burke was hamming it up a bit for the audience then, but it's a good reminder of how much of this lockout is scripted. It's easy to read everything into a rejected offer or delivered ultimatum, but sometimes all it means is that a negotiation is going on.'
A script written by the owners (actually written by law firm Proskauer Rose for the NBA followed by the NHL) with "a pretty obvious ending, too. Before any irreparable harm, the [NBA] owners backed off their draconian demands, and the players agreed to take a smaller piece of the overall pie."

And it was a course charted by the owners  (in the words of former NHL GM, Doug Maclean) “knock ‘em down, drag ‘em out until December 1st, and then at December 1st getting a deal done.”

That was until Thursday night (December 6th, a little later than planned) when Fehr did not follow the script. And worse, by improvising beyond anything the "Bettman-smart" league prepared for, he created a melee' of emotions from the NHL.

Said Baker, "It's alarming when you start to see emotion creep into the boardroom, especially from executives who ought to know better."

That's what happens when the doozy of a counter punch by Fehr landed squarely on the chin of Bettman.

The league will need to give on the "three cornerstones" if they want a deal done. If they don't, then Fehr still has the George Forman right hook to unleash--decertification.

If that lands, all hell will break loose.

Other links:

Jonathan Willis, the Edmonton Journal, on when it makes sense not to make a deal.

Peter Adler, the Edmonton Journal, on player dissent beginning to bubble

Ed Tait, Winnipeg Free Press, on the theatrics of Thursday with quotes from some Jets players

Ray Ratto, CSNBayArea, the battle is between Fehr and Jacobs, not Fehr and Bettman
Sean Conboy, Pittsburgh Magazine, with a historical parallel from the 1959 steel strike

Jeremy Rutherford, St. Louis Post Dispatch, David Backes called the Thursday night drama, "a kick in the groin"

Jen Floyd Engel, Fox Sports, the NHL is like Lindsay Lohan--from a cute, little red head to a train wreck

Joe Haggerty, Comcast Sportsnet Northeast, on the owners disdain for Donald Fehr how close the sides are

Mike from Attleboro, CSSNE, on why fans should really hate the owners/why Fehr should (have) capitulate (d).

Friday, December 7, 2012

I love what Donald Fehr is doing

To have NHL Commish stomp to the podium like a little boy spurned by a girl is, in the words of Seinfeld's Kramer, "Gold, Jerry...Gold."

Nearly everything in these negotiations has been settled upon, according to CBC's Elliotte Friedman, save for "three cornerstones" which are: 
  • a 10-year deal with a mutual re-opener after eight seasons
  • a five-year term limit on contracts (seven years for your own player) -- player contract length is the "hill we will die on," according to [Deputy Commish, Bill] Daly.
  • no compliance buyouts or caps on player escrow as the NHL and NHLPA transition from the old CBA to the new one.
Daly also pointed out that its all or none, there will be "no cherry-picking."

The piece by Friedman is a real good read, from a well respected journalist. Amongst the intricacies of the process he points out is this segment:

During his media conference, the commissioner was annoyed when one reporter suggested the two sides didn't trust each other.
"I don't understand what that word means," Bettman said, claiming they were just "hard negotiations."
I was surprised at that, because other members of the league's negotiating team throughout this process have sensed otherwise.
"Some of [the players] trust us, but not all of them," one said. That is one reason things went from "it might be the best day so far" (Steve Fehr on Tuesday) to an 18-car pileup 48 hours later.

Ideological differences

That negotiator said there are obvious ideological differences and that "Fehr has given them a philosophy and they've bought into it."
Apparently, part of that is trying to convince the owners they need "lubrication in the system" -- which is sort of a code for being able to circumvent the cap. If you were a player, you'd want that too.
Quietly, the NHL has mounted an anti-Fehr smear campaign. If the players had any doubt about how angry he's made the league, it dissipated Wednesday, when the NHL made it clear "the inclusion of Fehr was a deal-breaker," said Ron Hainsey, referring to the players' wish to bring their lead negotiator back to the table. 

The "anti-Fehr smear campaign" that the NHL has mounted against Donald Fehr is in full swing and it's monstrous. Some blogs from another site:
  • Enough is Enough--"I know that the players want what’s best for the game, the problem is, they are being led by a person that had to “learn the game” and while he may have learned it... he doesn't understand it. This mess… this I lay at the feet of one person. Donald Fehr."
  • Players should fire Fehr--"Some 19 years after a Fehr-led labor dispute essentially ruined baseball (for me and many others), I have become increasingly more and more convinced that Fehr is a rat; he does not operate in good faith. He will scorch the earth and ruin the game itself in the name of destroying the opposition."
  • At least we know who the problem is--"What has occurred here is absolutely disgusting. Donald Fehr might be the worst person ever involved with the NHL. If the season is done, it's his fault. Not the owners, not the teams, not Bettman or Daly...I don't even completely blame the players involved with the PA, whose biggest sin is that they're acting like naive children following their leader blindly. Fehr is the Puppetmaster, and quite obviously, he's sick between the ears."
That's not even getting into the comments section of any online article or blog which were by and large anti-players to begin with.

Sorry disappoint, boys. But, to paraphrase Sabres owner Terry Pegula, "Fehr ain't goin' nowhere."

Y'all think the players hired Fehr to buckle like their previous "leadership?" Fuggedaboudit.

He's been through this movie before, he knows the inner workings of a CBA, he knows who he's dealing with across the table and, like a great chess player, he's thinking two, three, four moves in advance.

And he couldn't have played this one any better. Just look what it did to Bettman:

It was such a heart-breaking gut-punch to Bettman that he finally let some previously gagged owners speak.

This is great stuff and this is why I love that Donald Fehr is on board with the players, the guy is sharp and in control and put the NHL ownership hacks in there place. This is what Washington Post columnist Thomas Boswell was saying when he penned, Owners shouldn’t underestimate the Fehr factor.

Just looked at how the Fehr brothers played this one out. (with help from theprovince.)

Negotiations ended, Donald Fehr heads to the podium with optimism. Bill Daly is listening and saying, whoa, wait a minute, that's not what we're thinking.

He calls Steve Fehr who, doesn't answer (LOL), and proceeds to leave a voice mail saying the offer is unacceptable and that everything that was agreed upon is now off the table.

Donald Fehr heads back to the podium (17:00-mark.)

"It looks like this is not going to be resolved in the immediate future," he said. "Previously we didn't think we were nearly as far apart as the owners did, but i think it's clear now after the positions the players took today that there doesn't seem to be much room, certainly not unbridgeable room."

BOOM!!!  Bettman and Daly are left flustered and angry that they did not get their way. (Gary Bettman, Bill Daly, the dynamic duo Q&A)

"Gold, Jerry, Gold"

Y'all can hate on Fehr all you want, but the guy is good, scary good.

I highly doubt that the players are in the dark on all this.

And don't think that there are any amongst the 18 players at the table who are weak like Roman Hamrlik. Pretty sure he hand-picked clutch players to go up against the owners for two days.

He gave them the play...

the NHLPA just tied the score with less than a minute to play.


--A very even-keeled post by an excellent writer, Bill Meltzer, concerning the events of yesterday, complete with wrestling analogies.

--some player reactions, from tsn's Stephen Brunt on Bettman facing off against his twin across the table in his piece 30 minutes of madness.

--It's "owners" (WGR's Jeremy White) vs. "players" (the Buffalo News' Jerry Sullivan) in a heated debate over the NHL lockout. Great stuff.

--Sportsnet's Michael Grange on "bad boyfriend" Gary Bettman.

--Sabres d-man Robyn Regehr on the lockout

--Cam Cole of the Edmonton Sports Journal:  NHL's sorry game takes another downward turn.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Is the end of the lockout near?

Former player Nick Kypreos thinks so. Through edmononjournal. com, Kypreos says, 'Apparently Gary [Bettman] is ready to get a deal done. He wants this thing done Friday. Friday!'

It's a pretty emphatic statement considering where this has gone over the last two and a half months since the lockout started.

Bettman and the owners have been in control, and it would seem if there was a pattern to how they wanted to approach these "negotiations" According to former GM Doug McLean, in the same article mentioned above, 'MacLean said that six weeks ago, he heard the NHL’s position, that “it is knock ‘em down, drag ‘em out until December 1st, and then at December 1st we’re getting a deal done.”'

If anyone ever doubted that the owners were driving this lockout, there you have it.

The commish is set to take to the podium today (right now as I type,) for a press conference. This is on the heels of a owner/players only meeting that lasted over eight hours yesterday, convened shortly this morning and was set to continue after a NHL Board of Governors meeting today.

The owners/players meeting was called for by Bettman after mediation broke down. Six owners-minus Bettman--and 18 players, minus Bettman's counterpart, Donald Fehr, were at the meeting. The owners were:  Jeremy Jacobs (Boston,) Murray Edwards (Calgary,)  Ron Burkle (Pittsburgh), Mark Chipman (Winnipeg), Jeffrey Vinik (Tampa Bay) and Larry Tannenbaum (Toronto).

The players were:  Craig Adams, David Backes, Michael Cammalleri, Sidney Crosby, B.J. Crombeen, Mathieu Darche, Shane Doan, Ron Hainsey, Shawn Horcoff, Jamal Mayers, Manny Malhotra, Andy McDonald, George Parros, Brad Richards, Martin St. Louis, Jonathan Toews and Kevin Westgarth.

Buffalo Sabres goaltender Ryan Miller was also there.

In an interview with The Buffalo News' John Vogl a day before the meeting, Miller talked about various aspects of the lockout, negotiations and owners/players.

Miller is a very cerebral individual (maybe too cerebral to fully focus upon the task at hand in net sometimes,) who has been deeply involved in the process and has been a voice heard throughout the lockout.

Some of his thoughts:  “I can't make sense of what the owners truly need because they want everything. That is why it seems like the finish line is moving.”

“I am confused by the hard line on contracting,” Miller wrote. “My only guess is Gary wants to limit General Managers so he won't have anymore loophole type surprises in this CBA. I understand that position to the extent you don't want contracts to cripple a team, but they are really taking away team building as a skill. Skilled GMs will have to identify how to balance a budget instead of building a well balanced winner.

“There has been a deal available for months,” Miller wrote. “We all expected things to fall into a negotiation after reaching 50/50 [in regards to splitting revenue] but it hasn't. The owners want too much from us and we have to make a stand. We appreciate the chance to play in the NHL but we have to protect our players.”

On that last quote, it goes back to what McLean was saying, basically that the NHL had a format they were following regardless of the process.

And if Kypreos and McLean are correct, the afternoon bargaining session today should provide enough of a framework to begin the process to get the season going with a formal announcement on Friday.

update 12-6-12
John Jaeckel, who writes about the Chicago Blackhawks, quotes a source who said 'Hawks players told to get ready.'