30 Thoughts: Holding the line on contracts | Hockey | CBC Sports

Hockey Night in Canada30 Thoughts: Holding the line on contracts

Posted: Tuesday, November 13, 2012 | 01:10 PM

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NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr, middle, exits last Friday's labour talks in New York. (Louis Lanzano/Associated Press) NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr, middle, exits last Friday's labour talks in New York. (Louis Lanzano/Associated Press)

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The latest message the NHL is sending in labour negotiations with the players union is that you cannot have everything, so pick one at the expense of another.

I know how much you guys love lockout analysis, so here is some more.

We know the NHL and NHL Players' Association are close on revenue sharing. We know they are less than $400 million apart on the make-whole provision. They are still arguing over who is going to bear the financial burden of lost revenue from this season.

But now a line in the sand on contract issues?

At Monday's PrimeTime Sports Management Conference in Toronto, NHLPA special counsel Steve Fehr said, "It's kind of hard to believe anyone's going to drive the industry bus off a cliff over things like that, but I've seen things before that surprise me."

So what's going on here?

While it's believed the league is willing to make some concessions on contracts (as long as it gets serious protection against Kovalchuk-like deals), all of this is tied into what it needs to give up elsewhere. The final stages of the world's worst-ever marathon affect one another. If the NHL bends on make-whole or on lost revenue, it may be less inclined to ease on contract length.

There's strategy in this. And if I was an owner, I'd want the league to try it, too -- although two months ago would have been preferrable. Approximately 60 per cent of the players are under contract for next season. By the summer of 2014, that number is down to around 25 per cent (Disclaimer: When I went into sports reporting, I was told there'd be no math, but it was checked twice and looks right).

The NHL's make-whole offer is good for two seasons and $211 million. The NHLPA wants all previously signed contracts guaranteed, a cost it estimates at almost three times that figure. Let's assume the league agrees to do it, but holds firm on maximum five-year contracts, etc., restricting each player's individual free-agency bargaining rights going forward.

Three-quarters of union membership isn't going to be thrilled. Is that enough to cause a split, to throw a wrench into player solidarity? Will it cause problems between agents/agencies with clients signed long-term versus those with a multitude of upcoming free agents? No clue.

But this is the message the NHL is sending with this latest move. Pick one. You can't have everything. For fans, it's another annoying part of the process. We'll see how long this part of the staredown lasts.


1. Most players under contract for 2014-15: Boston, 12, excluding Dougie Hamilton; Philadelphia 10, including Chris Pronger. Toronto (Mikhail Grabovski, Jon Michael Liles, James Van Riemsdyk) and the Rangers (Rick Nash, Brad Richards, Marc Staal) have the fewest. Thanks to capgeek.com for the help.

2. Equal time: Blogged Saturday about the NHL's clumsy attempt to discredit NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr. I received a great deal of feedback, much more than I usually get, from people across the league feeling he "deserved" it because he has instructed the players to "demonize" NHL commissioner Gary Bettman. EDIT: The NHLPA reached out to say any instruction to demonize the commissioner is "absolutely false."

3. Bettman hasn't exactly shown distinguished leadership, but there are a lot of people concerned about the toll this is taking on his health.

4. My favourite Pavel Bure story doesn't really involve him. A friend of mine from university claimed he was at a dinner with Wendel Clark the night of The Russian Rocket's famous overtime winner against Calgary. Minutes before the goal, Clark apparently predicted, "Hook pass from Jeff Brown to Bure to win it." True or not, the guy told that story for years. Still does, probably.

5. On Hockey Night in Canada Radio, Bret Hedican, who played eight years with Bure in Vancouver and Florida, said the winger's great unknown skill was changing into equipment at superhuman speed. Bure would walk in "two minutes before [practice] without any gear on yet and now I'm just putting my helmet on and he's walking out on the ice with all his gear on. We timed him one day. It was like two minutes, two-and-a-half minutes to get dressed."

6. Hedican added he saw Bure push himself with harsh training sessions at the apartment complex they lived in while playing for the Panthers. What it came down to was Bure didn't like working out at the rink. His philosophy was, "When you were at the rink, you were there ... just to score goals and play hockey," Hedican said.

7. Did Pat Quinn and Vancouver ever get begrudging credit from opponents for stealing Bure 113th overall in 1989? "None of those guys would ever admit to being outfoxed," Quinn said.

8. Adam Oates said he knew he'd arrived in the NHL when he and Brett Hull stood listening to the national anthems before Game 7 of the 1990 Norris Division final against Chicago. Hull nudged Oates and told him to look up. A fan had two dummies hung in effigy -- one with Hull's number, the other with Oates's. Of course, he used this as motivation, right? "No, we got killed," he said. Final score was 8-2.

9. Hull on Oates: "I always felt bad for the guy on our left wing. He would come to the bench and he'd ask Adam, 'Did you see me? I was wide open.' He'd look at the guy and go, 'Yeah I saw you, but who do you think I want to pass to -- you or Brett?'"

10. Oates was really holding his tongue on lockout questions: "I'm trying to be diplomatic."

11. We had a Saturday afternoon HNIC game in Colorado a few years ago. We go in two days early and are told Joe Sakic will be giving a speech on the Friday to first-graders at the Denver Firefighters Museum. We show up with a camera and he says, "I really don't like these things recorded." Just didn't want the attention. Each kid was given a Sakic hockey card. He walked up to every child, asked how to spell their name and signed them all. Even low-attention-span six-year-olds stared at him doing this.

12. Colorado conducts business very quietly, but there is certainly a belief Sakic could be Avalanche general manager if he wanted. "You've got to be 'all in' like Steve Yzerman is," he said. Sakic's not ready for that; having too much fun being a dad.

13. One of Sakic's great moments was handing the Stanley Cup to teammate Ray Bourque immediately after receiving it in 2001. What surprised teammates was that Sakic first brought up the idea after Game 6. It was out of character for him to be so presumptuous that they were going to win. Nice little motivational trick.

14. One HNIC weekend, we had a Leafs/Senators game in Ottawa. Toronto practiced in suburban Kanata, Ont., on the Friday and Mats Sundin took a second bus back to the hotel. I was waiting for a cab and since we were staying at the same place, he offered me a lift. So I sit in the front ahead of three other players, including Sundin, who is on the phone. On the trip, the second player exploded at the third one, yelling at him for duration of the ride. I stared straight ahead, pretending not to notice. When we get back to the hotel, I offer my thanks and try to get away. In front of the elevator, there's a tap on my shoulder. It's Sundin: "What happened on the bus won't be repeated, right?" Until now, it never was.

15. New Sundin fact: In 2003, Ric Jackman hit Sundin in the mouth with a clearing attempt, knocking out some teeth and killing the roots. The gums went dark, allowing Bryan McCabe to christen him "Blackjack." Don't think the ex-captain likes that one.

16. Sundin's reaction to the ovation he received upon returning to Toronto as a Canuck remains one of the most striking moments I've witnessed. He tried so hard to be so stoic that seeing him almost break down and cry was shocking. I asked him if he's ever rewatched that moment. "Just the shootout winning goal [from that game]," he laughed.

17. Asked Hull who would win a 4-on-4 game in their primes: Class of 2009 (Hull, Yzerman, Brian Leetch, Luc Robitaille) or this year's group (Bure, Oates, Sakic, Sundin). Hull picked the 2012 guys, partially because he wouldn't feel like defending anyone.

18. Hall of Famer Brad Park was known for his look-offs and head fakes. "I'll tell you who's the best now," he told HNIC Radio last week. "It's this kid [Erik] Karlsson in Ottawa. This kid doesn't make any mistakes ... He sees it so well. He's a throwback to myself and Bobby Orr with his offensive capabilities. This kid is that good. When you're carrying the puck, you know you're going to the right wing, but you've got to sell left wing."

19. I think the only members of the Canucks organization who haven't scouted the Toronto Marlies are the Odds.

20. I talked a little Gustav Nyquist last week. That was a mistake. I meant to hold it back. Anyway, one of Detroit's decisions will be whether or not to keep him in the NHL if he's not a top-six guy. Looks like the Red Wings have five of those spots filled with Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg, Valtteri Filppula, Johan Franzen and Mikael Samuelsson.

21. Sounds like the Red Wings want either Nyquist or Swiss import Damien Brunner to aggressively grab that final spot. Brunner and Zetterberg are lighting it up together in Switzerland, but scoring goals overseas is a much different proposition than scoring them in the NHL. They'll want to see who will want to go to the tougher areas and who'll be willing to shoot the puck. If neither impresses, Dan Cleary or Todd Bertuzzi probably go there. 

22. Justin Bourne of The Score's Backhand Shelf does a nice little deconstruction of this blog every week. He questioned the idea that Nyquist needs to be on the top two lines to stay in the big league. My guess is the issue there is that if you look at the Detroit roster, there are plenty of guys on NHL contracts to fit those roles. We'll see.

23. Hockey Canada's in a difficult spot with the world junior team because the lockout really affects it at centre. None of Mark Scheifele, Ryan Strome and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins may be available if this ends beforehand and now they've got to worry about Boone Jenner.

24. Jenner is second in the OHL with 17 goals in 22 games (Minnesota pick Tyler Graovac has 18 in 19 games). Jenner's four points behind Strome in the scoring race with 33. It's not going unnoticed and Hockey Canada's got to be worried Jenner gets a serious look in Columbus. He was taken 37th in the 2011 NHL draft.

25. Come to think of it, the Blue Jackets could really screw with Team Canada because they've also got Ryan Murray. Again, it may come down to NHL contracts. They've got five defenceman on one-way deals, all of whom can play, and their AHL team has just one regulation loss in 11 games with John Moore, David Savard and Tim Erixon on the roster.

26. Scouting report on Erixon: moves the puck, keeps his head up, makes smart plays. Still needs to improve on puck battles along the boards, though. That's his challenge, but he sure wants to prove the Rangers wrong. In two games against Connecticut, he's got three goals, six points and is plus-6.

27. Nathan Mackinnon impressed a lot of people with his second-game bounceback against Russia in the Super Series. Game 1: zero points, minus-4. Game 2: four points, plus-3. It was the adjustments he committed to. In the opener, the feeling was he was making the kinds of plays you can get away with in junior yet get eaten up against better competition. In the next game, he got rid of that. That's the sign of a really smart player.

28. Jonathan Drouin only played that second game (an injury kept him out of the first) and also had four points. He's rising up the draft rankings, but whichever team takes him may need to be patient. Jonathan Huberdeau made the Panthers last season, but they didn't want him in the NHL at 173 pounds because he'd get killed. Drouin might have to wait a year for the same reason.

29. I really liked watching Dallas pick Brett Ritchie. He dropped in his draft year to 44th because of mono, but the Stars really thought his potential showed when he did play. Physical presence. One concern is he took a terrible penalty with Canada down 2-1 late in Game 3 of this series. Can't do that.

30. It was good to see Joe Sakic's agent, Don Baizley, make the trip to Toronto for the induction. Continued good health, Don.

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