Archive for December, 2012

Happy New Year

- December 31st, 2012

NEW YORK _ Well, I’m in the city that never sleeps for the biggest night of the year.
So, who is going to drop the ball first: The NHL and the NHLPA at the bargaining table or the good folks in Times Square to welcome to 2013.
My money is on the league and the union.
Yes, the clock is ticking on this negotiation, but there is still time to get a deal done. There is no question today is pivotal (I’m sure I said that in September, October and November), but the season is on the brink here.
The two sides need to get a deal done by Jan. 11 to open camp on Jan. 12. People tell me they don’t care anymore. They are the same ones who read every word I write and then tell me why they don’t care.
That’s the thing: People do care. They want the game back on the ice. They want this squabbling in the boardroom to stop.
The NHL has to cool its jets today. NHL commissioner Gary Bettman might be upset with what union executive director Donald Fehr puts on the table, but it seems to me there is no time for another hissy-fit.
I am probably wrong. Talks will probably break off one more time and then the union is going to file its disclaimer of interest. There is a lot of racetrack left to cover here.
In any case, Happy New Year. I won’t be watching the ball drop tonight. I’ll be thinking of the year that has gone by, missing my calling my father Jack for the first time to give him best wishes and looking forward to a shortened season ahead (maybe).
Let’s see where this goes.

Just collude already

- December 6th, 2012

A contentious issue for NHL owners and players, we hear, is the maximum length of contracts.
Owners want it to be five years, to protect themselves from themselves.
Players want it to be seven years, so they can take advantage of the irresponsible owners.
The solution, of course, is simple.
Owners need to give in to the players on this one. Agree to the seven years – then never sign anybody to a deal longer than five.
I guess I just don’t understand how collusion can be proven.
“Why aren’t you going longer than five years on this deal, Mr. Melnyk?”
“Because five years is long enough, Your Honor. There are all sorts of things that can happen to a player over a half a decade. The biggest fear is his production can drop. I’m not risking $7 million a season that Joe Schmoe will still be as good as he is now in five years. He’s lucky I’m going that long. And why should he be guaranteed that kind of money for that long? I have no guarantee that the fans will still be filling my building in five years, or even next year, for that matter. I have no guarantee that the league won’t be down the toilet in five years. Especially right now. After both sides made a complete joke of ourselves with this wrestling match over the fans dollars, after we risked the cancellation of yet another season because of our greediness and utter stupidity, I had no guarantee the fans would even come back when we finally did get this agreement signed. Five years is long enough. I’m not going longer.”
“Hard to argue with that, Mr. Melynk. I find you and your fellow owners not guilty of collusion. Case closed.”
Somebody please tell me contract lengths aren’t a stumbling block and can’t be a potential deal breaker. Tell me this isn’t true. Because if owners can’t figure out a way around this issue, they don’t even deserve to have franchises.

Day 81/82

- December 5th, 2012

Not sure what to think of this rollercoaster ride.
Not in New York because I had something that needed to be taken care of here but I do get the sense this lockout is going to end, if not soon, then sooner or later.
You’re into posturing now. Both sides staking their claims as they get down to the final hours.
The board of governors didn’t get a lot of info today.
They were told talks were going well. That’s pretty much it.
Nobody is sure what to make of Donald Fehr.
He hasn’t done a deal in hockey before.
The owners are concerned he’s going to put a fly in the ointment before this deal gets done.
That could happen. It is part of negotiations. It is the way things go. Negotiations are all about leverage.
Both sides have to realize they are using the fans as leverage. The league can’t afford to lose this season. They can’t afford another full season lockout.
I think they’ll play because I don’t think they are nuts enough to lose another season. I base that on nothing. i have covered pretty much every word of this lockout since it started Sept. 15th. I have been there for meetings. I have spoken to the principals. I think they want a deal. I think they want to play.
Now they have to show us. Time is ticking away.

“Cons” artist

- December 5th, 2012

Chris Kelly returned from Switzerland on Saturday because he missed his family, not because he thought the end of the lockout was imminent.
But after his first skate back in Canada, the always-affable Boston Bruins centre was in even better spirits than usual.
Kelly joked about asking someone to remind him never to play for Carleton coaches Marty Johnston and Shaun Van Allen, after those two put the NHLers and their own team through a strenuous on-ice workout Wednesday.
He then had a good laugh when talking about his friend Erik Condra – Switzerland’s new scoring sensation.
Condra tore up the Swiss ‘C’ league – scoring eight goals and 11 assists in seven games for a team called Fuessen EV – before moving to the same ‘B’ league where Kelly played. Not bad for a guy who only had eight goals in 81 games for the Senators last season, right?
Even at the higher level, Condra has seven goals and five assists in seven games. On his own ‘B’ league team, Kelly knew of only one guy that had another job to supplement his income. He was a mechanic, and Kelly doesn’t remember seeing him play.
Kelly kiddingly said that in the ‘C’ loop, guys are going from the “assembly line” to the rink, and maybe stopping for a post-work beer on the way.
Meanwhile, he said, “Cons” is sleeping in, then going to the gym, then heading to the rink. And when his teammates are trudging through the arena doors, they get there to see him skipping rope, all refreshed and ready to go.
Come game time, Kelly joked, “Cons” is able to go five-hole on goalies at will.
Yes, Kelly was in a great mood today, and a part of it no doubt had to do with seeing his kids and wife for the first time in about a month.
But every other NHLer at Carleton was much more upbeat than we’ve seen them in weeks, too. They like to tell reporters “we know as much as you do” about negotiations on a new CBA, but it was almost like they knew a little more this morning.
Of course, it’s more likely that the progress made in discussions between 18 players and six owners in New York on Tuesday had much to do with it. The players here again used the words “cautiously optimistic” that an agreement will soon be reached, but their actions and the vibe they exuded suggests they can stop including the “cautiously” part.
Meanwhile, it sure does look like Boston TV reporter Steve Burton will be able to have the last laugh on all the experts closely covering the story. Burton, who apparently doesn’t regularly follow the Bruins or the NHL, said on Monday that a source had told him high-ranking officials from both sides had met that night and he predicted the lockout could end very soon.
Some media people mocked him, but Burton also was the first to report Phil Kessel’s testicular cancer a few years ago. Why his report wasn’t taken seriously, I don’t understand. So what if he doesn’t regularly cover the league. That even gives him more credibility, as far as I can tell. He therefore wouldn’t come out with such stuff unless his source was a very good one. For all anybody knows, he could be close friends with Bruins owner Jeremy Jacobs.
Because right now, it’s starting to look like Burton is going to be batting 2-for-2 in the hockey scoops department.

Cry me a river

- December 4th, 2012

Sure the Senators want to maintain a good relationship with the Swedish Ice Hockey Federation. But just as sure as Christmas will come and go, so will any bitter feelings the Swedes have over Ottawa’s decision to keep Mika Zibanejad from going to the world championship.
Ottawa is good for Sweden, just as Sweden is good for Ottawa. Swedes love it here. They love to play here. They love to live here. The officials in Sweden can’t keep the Senators from drafting players in their country. They can’t keep them from reporting to the Senators. So they’re disappointed in Bryan Murray’s decision. So what?
All that aside, the Swedes are being just as selfish as they believe the Senators are for leaving Zibanejad in Binghamton over the holiday season. They’re not at all thinking about what’s best for the kid, the player. They’re only thinking of themselves.
Fact is, even Zibanejad knows remaining in the AHL for those two or three weeks is best for his development. Even he wants to stay and continue to learn the North American game.
Going to Russia for two or three weeks, he’d miss about a dozen B-Sens games. That’s a big chunk of the season. And I’m not sure who it was….I think former player turned radio guy Jason York…who pointed out that the fatigue factor in crossing time zones for such a high intensity tournament, then jetting back, would increase the likelihood of injury for the player. His body would be more susceptible to potential damage. I agree. Missing 12 games is one thing, but missing a month or two…or a season, that would be a huge setback for Zibanejad.
Anyway, even if you don’t, it’s hard to argue that Zibanejad wouldn’t be a better player now had he been able to play major junior hockey last season. He’d be more familiar with a game that is quite different from that played on the wide open ice surfaces of Europe. The Senators know it. Zibanejad knows it.
He needs to play with men on the small surface more than he needs to skate in another world championship, even if it meant winning another gold medal for Sweden.
The Senators have and will continue to invest a lot of money in Zibanejad, the purpose being to get him ready for the NHL and give their team a better chance at one day winning a championship of their own. Missing a dozen games further slows a process that was already delayed by the fact he had to play in Sweden last year.
Also, the Senators should have more loyalty to the fans in Binghamton than the fans in Sweden. Because of the lockout, the Binghamton fans are getting an opportunity to see players now that they won’t see much of in the future. They shouldn’t be deprived of watching Zibanejad – even if it is for three weeks – and they shouldn’t be deprived of this golden opportunity their team has at taking a run at another Calder Trophy. That’s the kind of championship hockey that will most help Zibanejad’s development.
Zibanejad makes Binghamton better now. He’ll make it even better in the weeks and months ahead, because he’ll be better, because the Senators made the decision to keep him in North America now.