It is hard to come up with a new reason to care about talks between the NHL and NHL Players' Association, especially when the mood going in appears to be overwhelmingly negative. Fans either hate everyone involved or are watching something else, not that you can blame them. Media? Well, it's part of our job description. But you try to find something, in part because there are people financially dependent on two sides determined to go ahead with the worst suicide mission since Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid.
So here's this week's question: Is the greater frustration among hockey people inside or outside the negotiating room? I don't know if it's right to say either the NHL or the NHLPA is cracking or bending, but there is growing discontent with how this process is unfolding. "Helpless" is how one team executive described his feelings right now.
"It's starting to remind me of 2004," said one veteran player. "Back then, you thought the big date was Dec. 1, then Dec. 15, then later. The next thing you knew, the season was cancelled."
I don't think we're anywhere close to a cancellation (yet), but NHLPA special counsel Steve Fehr's comments from last week that the two sides are not that far apart put him in the minority. There is a wide cross-section of people -- owners, general managers, agents, players -- who are unhappy no agreement is in sight as we move towards December.
That's why it wasn't a surprise to read a Philadelphia Daily News report that Flyers chairman Ed Snider had "soured on the process." Snider, who owns approximately 30 per cent of the team, denied the story, but I would just say this about Daily News writer Frank Seravalli: He's not one to make wild guesses.
The obvious question for any annoyed fan reading this blog would be: Why doesn't someone say something publicly? It's a great question because I think there are people itching to do it.
It comes down to two problems.
First, the players legitimately don't think that they've been given any concessions worth accepting. So what's the point of coming out against their position? At the same time, the owners are so angry at NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr that they don't want to give him any additional leverage.
Second, and more importantly, what are the repercussions? Obviously, any owner who makes a statement risks a $1-million fine. By now, that's pocket change compared to what some of their teams have lost in revenue. It's not the money, though, it's what happens down the road.
"The commissioner [Gary Bettman] will remember," one executive said.
Outdoor games, entry drafts, all-star weekend, even a spot on the powerful executive committee -- all of that stuff is important for owners to get. Step out of line and you know those opportunities are lost.
The players are a bit of a different case. I don't believe they are being kept in the dark by Donald Fehr.
"If you're not up to date with what's happening, it's your own fault," one player said last week. "There are plenty of conference calls."
But I do think some are intimidated by Fehr and I also think many of them saw what happened to Trevor Linden. Eight years ago, Linden decided to break away from then-executive director Bob Goodenow, give in to a salary cap and make the best possible deal. Linden was clobbered for it and his reputation smeared. How does history judge him now?
Privately, there are people on both sides weighing that kind of question. Is it worth it? What are the consequences? It's easy for those of us on the periphery to say, "Just do it!" But we're already past the point of asking, "What are the consequences if nobody says anything?"
For this week only, it's 20...took some private time. I'll have a full 30 Thoughts next week.
1. So what happened at the end of the Nov. 9 bargaining session, one that necessitated a meeting the next day between Bill Daly, Steve Fehr and Kevin Westgarth to calm the waters? As talks were falling apart, there was a verbal debate between Wild owner Craig Leipold and unsigned free-agent defenceman Chris Campoli, both of whom were upset by how things were going. Concerned things were going to escalate, Bettman stepped in. Then, some words were exchanged between him and Winnipeg Jets defenceman Ron Hainsey.
2. For the record, Bettman and Leipold declined to comment. Hainsey, via text message, denied it happened. Campoli, reached Sunday, really didn't want to talk, clearly uncomfortable that the story went public (Glenn Healy of Hockey Night In Canada mentioned it last week). All Campoli would say is, "This is being overblown. It was just two passionate people arguing their positions." That was backed up by sources on both sides. "Disagreements are part of the process," one said.
3. Seravalli's Daily News article mentioned the Flyers were "interested in teaming up with the mid-market, high-revenue Pittsburgh Penguins to sway more governors toward a swift resolution." Later, it stated the idea of using former U.S. President Bill Clinton as a mediator. Total longshot, but there is a connection. Penguins president David Morehouse worked in the Clinton administration. Wouldn't we all like to see what would happen between Clinton, Bettman and Fehr? (Clinton used to be tight with Pittsburgh owner Ron Burkle, but that bromance reportedly is over).
4. Quote of the lockout so far: Jim Hughson on HNIC Radio last Friday. Asked if this gong show needs a mediator, he said (and I paraphrase): "Both sides need a babysitter."
5. There are people who say NBC/Comcast doesn't care about the lockout because a cancellation means a free season at the end of its 10-year NHL contract. TV executives don't think nine years into the future. If things go badly, they don't last that long (same for TV reporters).
6. The NHL's threatened that its offers are going to get worse or that we've already seen its best offer. Don't buy that. But I do think we're approaching a final line in the sand for everybody. That's why it would be nice for everyone to drop the pretense and put their cards on the table. You're both "all in" by now.
7. The New York Post's Larry Brooks reported Sunday that the NHLPA discussed decertification in a conference call last week, but the players decided not to go down that route. This is one of the union's nuclear options, more of a last resort. Basically, decertification means the NHLPA is eliminated and players start filing anti-trust lawsuits. It came up in both the NBA and NFL lockouts last year.
8. If that's being talked about, there can only be two reasons: the players are being warned the season is in danger; they want to send a shot across the bow of the league's boat and, if necessary, we'll do it.
9. If Sidney Crosby decides to go overseas, the KHL won't just send him to a city. It might give him one.
10. I had a good debate with a couple of NHL executives who said they'd be disappointed if No. 87 played during the lockout. Look, it's pretty obvious, Crosby's heart isn't really into the idea. Listening to him talk, you can see a lot of his frustration is because he doesn't want to go anywhere. But the guy's played just 69 games in two years, including playoffs. He's going to have to do it eventually.
11. Interesting. Jonathan Toews underwent the same neurological chiropractic technology as Crosby.
12. Two years ago, Carolina Hurricanes GM Jim Rutherford explained his belief that you cannot truly judge a defenceman until he turns 24. Rutherford says it's the hardest pro position to learn. While in special cases some become early superstars, you can find a diamond in the rough by waiting a little.
13. I was reminded of that while watching Calgary prospect TJ Brodie of the Abbotsford Heat. He started the 2010-11 season with the Flames and there were coaches saying he was ready for the big league. It didn't work out. Now he's 22, coming off a season where he dressed for 54 NHL games, playing very well for the stingiest defensive team in the AHL's Western Conference. The Rutherford theory is strong in this one.
14. That Lake Erie team is fast. "They play at NHL speed," said one opponent. The Monsters are Colorado's guys.
15. Best of luck to 20-year-old Jordan DePape, whose junior hockey career with the Kamloops Blazers ended prematurely with shoulder problems. DePape, a diabetic, was part of a tour last year with country singer George Canyon aimed at motivating those who live with the disease. He deserved a better fate, especially on a club that started so strong. He'll reportedly play at the University of Manitoba when healed.
16. Good on the Flames (and Toronto Maple Leafs) for making an investment into the Canadian Women's Hockey League, about $230,000 over the next five years. Also like HNIC's Cassie Campbell-Pascall calling it "a first step," that there's still a lot of work to do. Leagues like the CWHL, which really have to battle, can never be satisfied.
17. It's a shame the lockout is creating a mushroom cloud of negativity around the NHL because some teams and players are doing really good things. The Columbus Blue Jackets had a Hallowe'en skate that was a big success for its fans and Minnesota's emergency-goalie tryout is a terrific idea completely overshadowed by labour misery.
18. Last year, the Wild used 51-year-old Paul Deutsch in an emergency situation, although he wasn't needed for any game action. This time, the team held a local competition for the honour. It was supposed to be decided in a shootout during the second intermission of Sunday's AHL game against Rockford. Of course, the two finalists tied, meaning there will have to be another showdown later. Great stuff.
19. If there's a King Clancy Award for "leadership qualities on and off the ice" this season, New York Rangers forward Brad Richards might already have won it. He's getting more attention for it than he wanted, but it's deserved. He and Scott Hartnell of the Flyers helped to organize a charity game next Saturday in Atlantic City, N.J.
20. I wanted to say thank you to everyone for the reaction to last week's blog about my family. We must move past every hardship as quickly as possible. The overwhelming response helped. Thank you.
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