Archive for December, 2012

Friday musings…world junior talk and CBA news

- December 28th, 2012

In the effort of full disclosure, I was close to getting up (okay, staying up) to watch Canada’s comeback win over Slovakia on Friday but opted for the replay instead.

Another strong game for 2011 Winnipeg Jets first rounder Mark Scheifele, who had a goal and an assist and was chosen player of the game.

Along with his skill, Scheifele showed a little more edge to his game, throwing a few body checks and being on the receiving end of a couple knee-on-knee collisions as well. However, he kept his composure and got the job done, delivering the GWG with a nifty redirection to give him three goals (matching his total from the 2012 world junior) and four points in the first two games.

Jacob Trouba, the Jets’ 2012 first rounder, notched his second goal of the tournament and was also chosen player of the game for his squad in Team USA’s 2-1 loss to Russia.

Going to be interesting to see that Canada/Team USA match-up on Dec. 30. Thinking it might be a good idea to see that one live, but we’ll see how it goes.

As for today’s CBA news, it’s a positive step that the NHL has come up with a new, extensive 300-page offer, but we’re guessing the NHLPA will not agree to everything outright. That’s just the way negotiations have been working to this point.

Here were some of the highlights of the NHL proposal, as pointed out by a source to Sun Media colleague Bruce Garrioch:

  • The league has agreed to change contract term limits from five years to six years.
  • The NHL will allow for a contract variance of 10% either way. That is up from the 5% it first offered.
  • The league is willing to allow one buyout per-term that won’t count against the cap, but it will come out of the players’ share of hockey related revenues.
  • The league is leaving the ‘Make Whole’ of $300 million on the table.

NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly confirmed the offer early Friday afternoon in a statement posted at NHL.com but didn’t go into the details.

“In light of media reports this morning, I can confirm that we delivered to the union a new, comprehensive proposal for a successor CBA late yesterday afternoon,” said Daly. “We are not prepared to discuss the details of our proposal at this time. We are hopeful that once the union’s staff and negotiating committee have had an opportunity to thoroughly review and consider our new proposal, they will share it with the players. We want to be back on the ice as soon as possible.”

The NHLPA is holding a conference call Friday afternoon but there are reports that they won’t be responding to the offer publicly.

I’m not ready to get too worked about this just yet, as it looks like there will be at least one more back-and-forth between the league and the players before this gets settled — or the season goes off the rails completely.

But again, I think it’s another step in the right direction.

At the end of the day, I’m standing by my original view that the two sides are too close not to be able to salvage a season, but it’s looking more and more like 48 to 50 games will be the max and the best guess is that the season must be up and running before Jan. 20 to avoid playing into July.

One way or another, the end is near.

Enjoy your weekend.

Strong start for Scheifele, Canada at world junior

- December 26th, 2012

Raise your hand if you were among those who actually set the alarm around 3:15 am CT to watch Canada face Germany in their opener at the World Junior Hockey Championship in Ufa, Russia?

To be perfectly honest, I was planning to simply rely on the PVR and catch the game a little later in the morning.

However, the topic came up during Christmas dinner and suddenly it seemed like a good idea.

A little groggy, I rolled out of bed and made my way downstairs to watch Canada earn a 9-3 victory and improve to 1-0.

Naturally, I paid close attention to Winnipeg Jets’ 2011 first rounder Mark Scheifele and he didn’t disappoint, notching a pair of goals while playing on the top line with Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Jonathan Huberdeau.

The line was dominant, combining for 10 points (five for Nugent-Hopkins, three for Huberdeau and the two goals for Scheifele).

Although it’s clear Scheifele is still adapting to life on the right wing, he showed good finish and it’s clear that he has chemistry with Nugent-Hopkins and Huberdeau.

All three guys have tremendous hands and are going to be fun to watch throughout this event. They’ll be tough to contain for any opponent.

Players in the event may be focusing on one game at a time, but I can’t wait to watch Scheifele and company go head-to-head against a strong Team USA that features Jets’ 2012 first rounder Jacob Trouba and Seth Jones (projected to go early in the 2013 NHL Entry Draft) on the back end.

Should be an outstanding battle.

A few other quick takeaways from the 9-3 win:

* Like the way Ryan Strome is playing. He’s got great vision and excels on the power play. Thinking he’s going to come up with a couple of important goals in this event.

* Scott Harrington is a rock on Canada’s defence. Lots of blocked shots, especially in the first period, and he’s a steadying force. Going to be interesting to see him match up against some of the skilled forwards for Team USA and Russia.

* Malcolm Subban was steady in net. No chance on the first goal (poor support for Canada on the PK allowed Germany to score a backdoor tap-in) and a bad giveaway from Mark McNeill led to another. No real softies for Subban and that has to bode well as Canada prepares to face Slovakia on Friday in the wee hours in the morning.

NHL-NHLPA talks break down again

- December 6th, 2012

Cherry picking.

Spinning folks into an emotional frenzy.

The gap is not unbridgeable.

Or is it?

The quotes from the podium were coming in fast and furious on Thursday as the CBA negotiations between the NHL and NHLPA hit another snag.

If you didn’t have a front-row seat at home watching on TV or were close to a computer screen following via Twitter, you probably wouldn’t have believed what was happening right before your very eyes.

Although it was becoming clear the mood was shifting from cautious optimism to varying degrees of pessimism, the pendulum swung back to the positive side after NHLPA executive director Don Fehr stepped to the podium and said the players had given a lot in negotiations and he felt a deal could be finalized soon.

But as players were doing scrums on the scene with reporters, Fehr re-emerged at the podium to announce the NHL had informed them — by voice mail — that the moves the players made were not acceptable.

“It looks like this is not going to be resolved in the immediate future. I hope that I’m wrong. But that seems to be where we are today,” said Fehr.

Gary Bettman and Bill Daly took the podium next and spoke for more than 30 minutes. The commish was visibly upset and the frustration was evident in his tone.

Bettman also made it clear that anything brought to the table this week in negotiations were now off the table, including the $300 million on the proposed “make whole” provision.

Later, a series of statements were released by the four new owners that were added to the negotiating process this week, including one from Jets governor and co-owner Mark Chipman, who thanked the league for involving him in the process and expressed his disappointment to fans and sponsors for not being able to bring the lockout to an end:

I came here optimistic that we could find a solution. That sense of optimism grew after our first few sessions, including the small group discussions late last night.

Regrettably, we have been unable to close the divide on some critical issues that we feel are essential to the immediate and long-term health of our game.

While I sense there are some members of the players association that understand our perspective on these issues, clearly there are many that don’t.

A little later in the evening, I had an opportunity to speak with Jets player rep Ron Hainsey from New York, minutes before he had to jump back onto an NHLPA conference call.

Immediately, I asked him where the players go from here?

“We’ve got to talk to the players, we’re going to have a call tonight. We’ll go back to them tonight and see where they’re at.”

I also asked Hainsey what the most frustrating part of the day was?

“Yeah, there a little confusion about what took place. It seemed like the meeting was productive. We thought we actually had closed a couple items out, pending clarification on some pension stuff. And that the money (for make whole) was close, if not done.”

Since the Bettman presser wasn’t being shown live in the US like it was in Canada, Hainsey made his way down to the room where the commissioner was speaking because he wanted to listen in.

“The response was very strange,” Hainsey said. “I really don’t know what to think. It’s kind of perplexing. We thought it was going pretty good.  It really felt like we were close to getting this game back on the ice, if we could polish it off.

“I really felt that way for the first time in a while.”

Hainsey also brought up the fact that the tone seemed to change when he informed the owners side that Fehr needed to rejoin the discussions to try and close the deal, noting he was told that could “potentially be a deal-breaker.”

In closing, I asked Hainsey about Chipman’s involvement in the meetings but he didn’t provide an expansive answer. After all, the NHLPA was trying to get its message out and their priority is not to heap praise on the owners.

“We talked at length in there. It was good, candid conversation, from the whole group, including (Chipman),” said Hainsey. “Then the group tone changed when we said that we said we thought we were close and were ready to bring our leadership back in to close (the deal) out. The feeling changed, that’s just what happened. I thought we were close to getting going.”

Although Thursday was obviously a dark day, but I’m not ready to concede the season is lost. There’s still time to get a deal done and for at least 48 games (if not 54 or 56) to be played.

This is not blind faith, my genuine belief is that both sides have come too far in negotiations to lose another season.

Only time will tell.

 

 

Scheifele gets the invite from Team Canada

- December 3rd, 2012

Mark Scheifele was one of six returnees to earn an invite to Team Canada’s national junior team selection camp, which opens next week in Calgary.

Scheifele, the seventh overall selection of the 2011 NHL Entry Draft, is the lone Winnipeg Jets’ prospect to make the list of 37 invitees.

The skilled centre is having a great season with the Barrie Colts of the Ontario Hockey League (21 goals, 45 points, 27 games) and Scheiefle is expected to play a big role for Canada at the 2013 World Junior Hockey Championship in Ufa, Russia later this month and into January.

Columnist Paul Friesen caught up with Scheifele and here’s the story:

http://www.winnipegsun.com/2012/12/03/mark-scheifele-the-only-jets-prospect-invited-to-world-junior-camp

I spoke with Scheifele a few weeks ago as well and it’s apparent he feels like there’s a bit of unfinished business to take care of when he pulls on the Maple Leaf again.

That bronze medal didn’t feel right and Scheifele is determined to bring home a gold this time around.

I expect him to play an important offensive role and there has been some speculation from Bob McKenzie of TSN that Scheifele might find himself playing on the top line (on right wing) with Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Jonathan Huberdeau.

Who knows what’s going to happen with line combinations, but given the brand of hockey we saw played at the world junior tournament during the last lockout in Grand Forks, N.D., you can be sure the experience will serve Scheifele well going forward.

There was probably a tinge of disappointment for several other Jets’ prospects on Monday, as 2012 third rounder Scott Kosmachuk and 2011 third rounder Adam Lowry didn’t make the grade.

Kosmachuk, who is off to a strong start with the Guelph Storm of the OHL, was in tough because he’s more of a Top-6 forward and a lot of those spots are spoken for already, given the talent available because of the lockout.

Kosmachuk told me last week his focus was on his junior club and it will be important for him to put those words into action.

Lowry, the captain of the Swift Current Broncos, would have garnered some attention for a spot on the 4th line, but simply found himself the victim of the numbers game — despite playing playing well in the Subway Series against Russia.

I spoke with Lowry a few weeks ago and he’s a very mature individual, so I don’t expect him to have any drop-off to his game.

Lukas Sutter, the Saskatoon Blades centre who was chosen 39th overall by the Jets in 2012, may have been on the radar at one point (as he played for Canada this past summer in the Canada/Russia series) but he’s had a tough start to the WHL season with only three goals, six points and a -13 rating in 27 games.

I wonder if the fact he’s no longer in the mix will spark Sutter to try and return to the form that saw him post 28 goals, 59 points and 165 penalty minutes with a plus-15 rating for the Blades, who will host the Memorial Cup in May.

Speaking of disappointment, it was a tough day for Manitoba players as not one individual from the keystone province garnered an invite. Tried to do a little research on the issue and by our calculations (not scientific), the last time Manitoba didn’t have a player on the roster was way back in 2002.

Brandon Wheat Kings captain Ryan Pulock was expected to get a chance but he’s been hurt (though I was told he’s expected back in action fairly soon) and the talented blue-liner was bypassed this time around.

Canada has a lot of depth on the back end with the likes of 2011 first rounders Dougie Hamilton (9th, Bruins) and Ryan Murphy (12th, Hurricanes) and 2012 first rounders Griffin Reinhart (4th, Islanders), Morgan Rielly (5th, Maple Leafs), Matthew Dumba (7th, Wild) and Derrick Pouliot (8th, Penguins) among those expected to lead the way on the back end.

One final note, Jets’ 2012 first rounder Jacob Trouba is expected to be among the preliminary roster Team USA unveils on Tuesday.