Donald Fehr, centre, is the new NHLPA head. (Kathy Willens/Associated Press)
Of all the things new NHLPA head Donald Fehr said in both his introductory conference call and during his on-set interview
with HNIC's Ron MacLean, one thing stood out most for hockey fans: that negotiations on a new CBA probably won't begin until the spring of 2012. (The CBA expires on Sept. 15 of that year)
I hope he's either a) wrong, or b) lying. Either is acceptable in this case.
What the NHL needs over the next 21 months is actual leadership from Fehr and his ownership counterpart, commissioner Gary Bettman, because Playing Russian roulette with each other -- and a deadline -- wasn't much of a rousing success for everyone in 2004-05.
HNIC Hotstove contributor, ESPN.com columnist and heavy metal karaoke enthusiast Pierre LeBrun quoted one executive
as saying, "My owner told me in no uncertain terms that if certain things aren't fixed, he's out. He'll sell the team."
My response would be: How do you think a work stoppage is going to help your franchise value? Fans aren't going to care about the rhetoric that's going to come about how the economics are broken or how the owners are distorting the truth. Both sides will be equally despised.
You can get the best deal in the history of CBA negotiations, but if fans are so angry that they refuse to come back after the second shutdown in eight years, what's the point?
Part of this delay will be to watch the NFL, NBA and MLB try to settle their own issues. All of those CBAs expire before the NHL's, with severe storm clouds forming in football
and, especially, basketball
But, why not start as soon as possible? You can always adjust depending on what happens in the other leagues. Most hockey fans see Fehr as one of the guys who stopped baseball in 1994, rather than a person who negotiated two later CBAs without damage. Plus, they don't trust him, since he's got no pedigree within the sport. If he truly wants to be seen as part of the solution, this is a terrific chance to prove it.
As for Bettman, who has executives believing he wants this to be his "legacy deal," what kind of legacy is two cancelled seasons?
The best thing about Ron's interview with Fehr? When MacLean asked him about his mentor Marvin Miller referring to NHL owners as "miserable people," Fehr replied: "I suspect if you asked Marvin, would he have used those phrases about baseball owners in the late 1960s, he might well have said yes.
"And you've had a change there. I don't know that there is not a reason you wouldn't have a change here, eventually."
That's an important attitude. The best thing for both the players and the owners is a new CBA that addresses both sides' concerns and doesn't involve any kind of work stoppage. The fan base that is ready to worship them for delivering a painless solution. Can they get the job done?
True leaders could.30 THOUGHTS
1) Really was impressed watching the Flyers after their 5-3 win in Montreal
. Sergei Bobrovsky gave up one ugly goal, but was generally terrific in making 38 saves. Several players -- including backup Brian Boucher, which says a lot about his character -- made sure to go over to him and say, "We only got two points tonight because of Bob." (Bob is his nickname) You should have seen the smile on his face. He's new and doesn't speak a ton of English. This kind of little thing is hugely important. Winning teams do that.
2) It is astonishing to watch Washington right now. There is zero resemblance
to the team that captivated the NHL with its exuberance and enthusiasm. One Vancouver player said he could see the pressure on Toronto's players, but the Maple Leafs look nothing like the Capitals. What that organization must realize is you cannot win the Stanley Cup that way. Those players need to loosen up.
3) That said, several coaches will tell you that a team is ready to go on a hot streak when it loses games it should win. That was certainly the case for the Capitals, who lost winnable games last week to Anaheim and Boston. (The Capitals outshot the Bruins 26-2 in the third period, but could only beat the ridiculous Tim Thomas
once) Let's see if that's true, since they beat Ottawa Sunday.
4) The other thing that will benefit Washington long-term: the improvement of the Southeast Division. There were too many easy games over the past few years. That doesn't make you better. Cliff Fletcher has said the great Oilers created Calgary's 1989 Cup champion. Detroit walked through the Central for almost a decade, but the Red Wings
are a different class.
5) It came out last week that the Canucks really went after Ryan Kesler
in his exit interview, demanding he do a better job of handling cheap shots and attempts to make him angry. A little more detail: they showed him video of Sidney Crosby, Jonathan Toews and Mike Richards responding to such things by scoring goals. Kesler seems to have gotten the message.
6) In fact, the whole team just seems so much more relaxed. Because Western Canada loves it some Scott Oake, I don't see the Canucks much. Even in that limited time, however, you can see the difference. The team used to obsess about a lot of really irrelevant things. That's not as apparent, and it seems like Manny Malhotra
has a lot to do with that.
7) Example: one player said that early in the year, he was upset about something said about him in the media. Malhotra heard it and basically asked why he cared. Then Malhotra pointed out how they had a good life playing hockey, "so there was no point in being angry." That's a critical perspective since Vancouver is probably Canada's second-toughest market for players, after Montreal
8) A lot of talk about how to fix Steve Mason
, but one of those solutions is not sending him to the minors. As a 22-year-old with more than 60 games played, Mason would need to clear waivers, and that's not happening.
9) Boston coach Claude Julien showed a lot of class in admitting PK Subban
's hit on Brad Marchand was totally clean. Too many coaches would say otherwise, either as a motivational tactic or to rattle the Canadien. It's better for the game when good, clean hits are admitted as such by the opposition.
10) Had the note last week about referee Marcus Vinnerborg shaking hands with Johan Franzen
after Detroit beat Montreal. One league official thought that mention was unfair. Franzen came over, stuck out his hand and Vinnerborg was taken by surprise, not knowing what to do. He decided to be polite, but that won't happen again.
11) Give the Thrashers' marketing team credit: with a good team, they are trying everything to sell tickets. First was showcasing their group of African-American players (according to 2008 census data, 35 per cent of the area's population is black). And last week there was the "arrest
" of the team's mascot until more tickets were sold. This kind of thing only works when you're winning, and good on the staff to try and support a team that deserves it.
12) Kris Versteeg is not surprised Dustin Byfuglien
is scoring so much as a defenceman. "One [AHL] game in Hershey, he had four shorthanded breakaways," he said. Byfuglien was a defenceman then.
13) During his time out of the lineup with a finger injury, Toronto's Mike Komisarek
was shocked while looking at himself on tape. "I couldn't believe how tense I looked. I was playing afraid," he said. You can see he's being eaten alive by his struggles.
14) Sean O'Donnell
was another of the Flyers who went up and congratulated Bobrovsky after the win in Montreal. If Jacques Martin wants to keep Roman Hamrlik/Jaroslav Spacek and Josh Gorges/Hal Gill, the Canadiens desperately need a veteran like O'Donnell to play with Subban. The pair of Subban and Alexandre Picard isn't strong enough. (In Denver against the Avalanche, Martin did put Gill with Subban and Gorges with Picard.)
15) I also get the feeling Martin and the Habs organization really are uncertain about how to handle Subban. By sitting him already, the Canadiens basically have no other options with a player who has nothing to learn at the AHL level. The best way to improve him is in practice, and the schedule doesn't allow for a lot of practice time.
16) Martin obviously went through this in Ottawa with Jason Spezza
, and I can see his concern: Eight years later, Spezza, a marvellous talent, is still prone to sloppy turnovers that hurt his team. Will Subban recognize he must not follow a similar pattern?
17) Martin, by the way, told his players to "stop trying to make chicken salad out of chicken[bleep]" on the ice. That was before Thursday's win over Boston.
18) Before Jacques Demers'
emergency surgery to fix his ruptured intestines, he and his wife opted not to tell their children how serious the situation was. Thankfully, the operation was a success, but Demers jokingly admitted he almost didn't survive the reaction when his kids learned the truth.
19) Shortly after Demers awoke from the life-saving procedure, he received a phone call from Toronto Sun reporter Lance Hornby informing him Bob Probert had died
. Twenty years ago, Demers, angered by Probert's off-ice activities in Detroit, called the player a cancer. Probert wrote about that in his book, and Demers said if there was one thing he would change about his life, it would be that comment.
20) Evgeni Nabokov's
numbers weren't great in Russia, but do not let that affect your opinion of him. Playing goal in the KHL is completely different than playing it here. There is less traffic, and much more passing. It's a big adjustment.
21) Tampa -- a rumoured destination for Nabokov -- called up Cedrick Desjardins
on Monday. Desjardins asked for a trade from Montreal because the Canadiens gave their backup job to Alex Auld this season. Let's see if he gets some work.
22) Brendan Shanahan is the driving force behind the All-Star Game this season. (Love the idea of the captains picking the players
) But Rob Blake is also involved in the preparations. Looks like his NHL role is growing.
23) Sean Gordon of The Globe and Mail did a takeout on faceoffs during the weekend, with several players accusing Tomas Plekanec
of being the NHL's biggest cheater. What isn't mentioned in the article is that players say he wears those skate covers not to block shots, but to protect his feet against slashes when he moves them closer to the dots. Smart guy.
24) Couple more Fehr notes: Blog reader Wayne Chow makes a good point. Will Fehr address player safety issues like concussions? He ignored/covered-up baseball's steroid problem because it boosted business and made everyone a lot of money. Not exactly his finest moment.
25) Fehr was also a big booster of baseball's World Cup and played an important role in getting it created. The NHL's been debating a revival of its version. It would be held every four years, between Olympic cycles. You can expect he'd support that.
26) And, yes, that means continued Olympic participation. One possibility is that NBC pays a rights fee to the league that represents the value of the NHL players' presence. Without them, the package is less valuable.
27) Bad product placement: Watching Canadiens/Avalanche on Sunday night. Down one goal with 15 seconds left, Montreal is advancing the puck into Colorado zone. All of a sudden, this huge ad comes up indicating free meatball sandwiches if the Avalanche hold on. It was so big, I think one of those meatballs made two saves. We're all slaves to advertising, but that setup would make viewers hate the product.
28) With Jean-Sebastien Giguere worried about his groin injury being a long-term thing, Jonas Gustavsson
will get a heavy workload. Watch the positioning of his arms. He admits he's at his best when they're tight to his body, giving opponents fewer holes to shoot through.
29) As a guy who grew up a Blackhawk fan, I thought the booing of Chris Chelios was embarrassing.
30) Was on the road last week, so couldn't watch the full episode of 24/7
until Sunday. It's excellent. But, I can't help admitting to a serious case of professional jealousy. There isn't a rightsholder anywhere in the NHL who hasn't requested that kind of access.
Back to accessibility links