On Dec. 4, 2012, the NHL and its players had what NHL Players' Association special counsel Steve Fehr called "the best day we've had" of lockout negotiations. That was followed 48 hours later by a massive meltdown and NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly's world-famous "hill we will die on" quote.
Exactly one year later, the business of hockey looks to be at its best ever. Now that the off-ice picture looks more like an original da Vinci as opposed to a toddler's finger painting, it is time for the NHL and NHLPA to fix the most important thing: on-ice concerns.
This is not to bitch about the quality of play. I love the competitiveness. As one team executive said last week: "When did every game in this league become life or death?"
You may hate the loser point given for an overtime or shootout loss. But its existence added incredible urgency to the season. No team can afford a bad start anymore.
Angered by Joe Pavelski's shootout winner in last Saturday's 4-3 loss to the San Jose Sharks, Anaheim Ducks captain Ryan Getzlaf told reporters" "We don't [know the rules]. That's the problem. Everything's interpretation. I can't even make a comment on it because I don't really know what the rule is. Whatever they think is the rule that night."
Getzlaf is absolutely right.
Here's the problem. Last summer, NHL general managers wanted to eliminate the spin-o-rama from shootouts. But the NHLPA blocked it. If you can't get agreement on that, you certainly aren't going to get agreement on Pavelski's move. So we get mass confusion and a prominent player ripping the game.
How, exactly, does the sport benefit from that?
The NHL and NHLPA fought over goaltending equipment. The union was annoyed that several GMs thought the league could unilaterally change the playoff system at a November meeting (they were reminded there is a three-year commitment to the setup). The NHL was furious at the players for waiting until the last possible minute to approve hybrid icing.
I get that there's a lot of mistrust between the two sides. It's deep-rooted and it's not going away any time soon. But the owners, league office, franchises and players will never have an opportunity to make more money for themselves than they will in the next decade.
Last summer, they worked together to clarify Rule 48, a smart move that ended confusion. But too often, it becomes, "If we do this, what will you give us?"
If the NHL and NHLPA maximize the on-ice product, they will maximize wallet fatness.
1. During the discussion about hybrid icing, the union asked for a one-month trial, allowing for it to be removed in-season if unpopular. The NHL didn't want that, which I understand. But if either entity is wary about this kind of change, add a review one year later. There's nothing wrong with saying, "Look, we tried something and it didn't work."
2. For the first time, I heard an NHL executive predict a $90-million salary cap. He said it last week and his organization expects that number in four or five years. I bounced it off a couple of other guys and they think it's possible. It was funny because one big-market exec said, "I hope so ... good for us," while a couple guys who aren't quite there sighed heavily.
3. Some of you asked via Twitter why NHL teams would be upset when they receive nice cheques from the increase in revenues. One smaller-revenue GM explained it this way: "If the salary cap increases by a larger amount than the money you get, that's trouble."
4. One of the biggest questions about the NHL's exclusive Canadian media rights deal with Rogers Communications is, 'What will happen to ownership of the Toronto Maple Leafs? Bell and Rogers split 75 per cent with minority owner Larry Tanenbaum holding the rest. There is undoubtedly some sort of shotgun clause built into it, which, if used, would force one of the telecom giants to buy out the other (NB: the August 2012 sale valued a 37.5 per cent share at $533 million). This happened with the original ownership of the Toronto Raptors in 1996. That led to the creation of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment Ltd.
5. Asked why his team is going so well, Ducks GM Bob Murray immediately named Getzlaf: "He's been outstanding ... only one off-game all year." For the record, that was last Tuesday's 6-3 loss at Dallas (NB: Murray is not one of the execs referenced above).
6. Murray told me a great story about the team's captaincy selection. The players voted and Getzlaf and Saku Koivu got the same number of first-place ballots. So they went to second-place selections and they tied again. Murray went to Koivu, who told him the team had to choose Getzlaf and promised to help. The new captain rose to the role.
7. The details are hard to pin down, but, at some point last season, the Florida Panthers came pretty close to pulling off a deal that would have sent Dmitry Kulikov to Toronto. One of the teams backed away. But it would come as no surprise to see this conversation rekindled. Kulikov certainly has talent yet is inconsistent. Could he benefit from a change?
8. Two scouts and one coach, independent of each other, said they would try Jake Gardiner at forward. Interesting. They all think he could do it. This is, of course, Brent Burns' fault.
9. The Ottawa Sun's Bruce Garrioch confirmed the Hotstove Tonight report that Senators assistant GM Tim Murray will get an interview with Buffalo Sabres president of hockey operations Pat LaFontaine about the GM vacancy. Despite this season's struggles, there's a lot to like about Ottawa's building process. There is a method to LaFontaine's expanding interview list -- a form of industrial espionage. What he's realized is you should interview as many people as possible to get all the ideas/thoughts about philosophies you can steal. It's a common practice in sports.
10. If there's one concern raised by potential candidates, it's that LaFontaine keeps putting people in place. He hired Kevin Prendergast to take a look at the team's scouting operation. And replacing Ted Nolan - hugely popular in Buffalo - is not an easy first move, should that be the new GM's wish.
11. Quote of the week, from Ladislav Smid of the Calgary Flames. Asked how hard it was to adjust to Calgary's system from Edmonton's, he smiled and said: "Not so bad. I've had six coaches in eight years."
12. Watching Sven Baertschi brings reminders of Nino Niederreiter - and not because they're both Swiss. Niederreiter didn't like being in the AHL last season. But he was one of that league's best players and it's a major reason he's making such an impact with the Minnesota Wild. It damaged his relationship with the New York Islanders, despite being the correct move. Does Calgary have similar concerns? The Flames' AHL affiliate, the Abbotsford Heat, are a good team and a stint there makes sense for Baertschi. It's not a failure. It's a step in the development process.
13. The Wild really liked Niederreiter, who went fifth overall in the 2010 draft. He was atop their list with Ryan Johansen (fourth, Columbus Blue Jackets), Jeff Skinner (seventh, Carolina Hurricanes) and Mikael Granlund, who they got ninth. Minnesota always kept an eye on him in case there was an opportunity. It came last summer.
14. Islanders GM Garth Snow made multiple denials of a potential coaching change and, from the available intel, it looks like his first preference is to make another trade. Goalie is the obvious position. But a few sources indicated he's open to several ideas, although they wouldn't provide specifics.
15. New York Rangers head coach Alain Vigneault raised eyebrows when he started Cam Talbot on Monday's 5-2 loss to the Winnipeg Jets, giving Henrik Lundqvist two games off in a row for the first time in almost three years. Vigneault likes to plan out his goaltending assignments. But he adjusts them if one guy gets hot. Vancouver Canucks fans might remember Cory Schneider starting 11 games in a row last season. You have to believe the condensed schedule and Sochi Olympics have a lot to do with this.
16. I think the Phoenix Coyotes tried to trade Rostislav Klesla. But the large number of teams tight to the cap, including themselves, made it difficult to do so. It is possible he does return, though. The big hit he took in pre-season from Jordan Nolan set him back and Phoenix wants him to get ice time. There was the opportunity to play three games in four days for the AHL Portland Pirates last week. However, a personal situation prevented that. Starting Friday, the Pirates have six games in eight days. That could help him get back.
17. There's something in the water in Phoenix. New ownership ends uncertainty at the NHL level, only to have a different type of craziness in the AHL. Portland is renovating its building. But a fight has developed between the team and building operators over concession and advertising sales. The Pirates were supposed to play home games in Lewiston, Maine, until January. But it may go longer. The Coyotes must want to strangle someone.
18. Last week, I mentioned the changes made to Ben Scrivens' glove arm/hand. The Los Angeles Kings goalie said coaches Bill Ranford and Kim Dillabaugh also asked him to stand with his legs closer together, improving his balance.
19. Before the Kings set a franchise record with points in 11 straight games, they weren't very happy with how they were going. They looked flat and there was a reason for it - almost zero competition for jobs in training camp. Really, it came down to who was going to be the sixth defenceman. It's no coincidence things ignited with the callups of Tyler Toffoli and Linden Vey, who didn't have guaranteed roster spots. I would be surprised if GM Dean Lombardi and head coach Darryl Sutter allow that again.
20. Philadelphia Flyers captain Claude Giroux said one of the things that helped him get through his brutal start to the season was an encouraging text from former teammate Mike Richards. Giroux wouldn't give the exact message, while the typically understated Richards called it "a friend helping a friend." Richards did say, though, that he reminded Giroux to look at the big picture, not just each game.
21. Bob Hartley's dad, who the Flames head coach has called "his best friend," passed away when he was 17. So he invited Jean-Claude Morrissette on the team's fathers' trip as a thank you. Morrissette tried to lure Hartley to the Laval Titans of the QMJHL in 1990, only to be rebuffed. But he was successful one summer later, kick-starting Hartley's coaching career. Morrissette attended all of Hartley's championship victories: AHL (1997), Stanley Cup (2001) and Swiss-A League (2012). The plane ticket for the last one was $14,000.
22. New Montreal Canadiens goaltending coach Stephane Waite on how he handled Corey Crawford's glove problems in Game 4 of the 2013 Stanley Cup final: "I just wanted to make sure the day after that Corey had no doubt about his glove. I showed Corey 10 good glove saves he made in the playoffs before that game. After the video, after those 10 clips, I asked him, 'Hey Corey, you think you got a problem with your glove?' He started laughing. He said, 'No.'" Not in the last two wins he didn't, that's for sure.
23. Waite, like many goalie coaches a big believer in pre-practice on-ice workouts, has three kinds of drills he likes to do on a daily basis: "Moving drills, technical stuff and reaction drills."
24. Waite on Canadiens goalie Carey Price: "Last year, Carey loved to go down too early. There were a lot of times he wasn't completely set to face a first shot ... I want him to be more patient, stay on your feet longer." Price did say there was "a lot more movement in my game" last season. "If you're down already and you have to make a movement to make the first save, if that movement has to be too large, then you're too out of control for the next one." Waite didn't make as many adjustments with Peter Budaj.
25. There are more Waites en route to the NHL. Stephane's brother, Jimmy, who all but sealed gold for Canada with 38 saves in a 3-2 win over the Soviet Union in Moscow on New Year's Day at the 1988 world juniors, is the Chicoutimi Sagueneens goaltending coach. His son, Frederick, 17, is a referee and wants to do that as a career.
26. One other thing I learned about the Canadiens: they hired an experienced "French teacher" to provide lessons for interested players. Quite a few attend, even though it isn't mandatory.
27. The concussion lawsuit filed by retired NHLers took a hit when Rick Vaive pulled out, saying he thought it was a California-based worker's compensation sports injury claim instead of a suit. There are some similarities to the NFL here. Deion Sanders, for example, blasted the football retirees' move and made his own worker's comp filing.
28. California used to be a gold mine for this. The state was comparatively loose in its regulations, recognizing cumulative trauma and allowing ex-athletes to file long after retirement. However, intense lobbying from sports leagues led to a change two months ago. My guess? When Vaive was first contacted, it was under the previous law. But the new, stricter guidelines led to a different strategy.
29. The best thing about Canada's junior team inviting only 25 to selection camp? There won't be several straight days of 7 a.m. interviews with just-cut players. I've done that before and it's painful. I'm in favour of anything that eliminates it.
30. The decision is his, but considering how great the atmosphere around the two Winter Classic alumni games will be, wouldn't it be a shame if Steve Yzerman wasn't there?
Follow Elliotte Friedman on Twitter @FriedgeHNIC
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