30 Thoughts: Silence is golden for NHL, players | Hockey | CBC Sports

Hockey Night in Canada30 Thoughts: Silence is golden for NHL, players

Posted: Tuesday, November 6, 2012 | 02:40 PM

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Sidney Crosby, front, and his fellow players have been warned about ill-timed quotes that could weaken bargaining power. (Chris Young/Canadian Press) Sidney Crosby, front, and his fellow players have been warned about ill-timed quotes that could weaken bargaining power. (Chris Young/Canadian Press)

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The NHL is setting a serious tone for this week's talks - preparing for several days of discussions and warning media that its leaders are not going to be talking. It's a complete turnaround from the last time we hopped on the labour rollercoaster, when the league posted details of an offer on its website.

The players, meanwhile, are much more careful with their optimism. There are two reasons for this: the botched Oct. 18 meeting in Toronto and Donald Fehr's paranoia about ill-timed quotes.

Over the last few days, you've heard the keywords: Bill Daly. Steve Fehr. Lengthy discussions. Secret location. Conference call. Cautious optimism. More negotiation (finally).

Sounds like a DJ Steve Porter remix.

The NHL is setting a serious tone for Tuesday's talks - preparing for several days of discussions and warning media that its leaders are not going to be talking. As of Monday afternoon, updates provided to member clubs were very limited.

It's a complete turnaround from the last time we hopped on the labour rollercoaster, when the league posted details of a CBA offer on its website.

"I take the fact they're not saying much as a positive," one team executive said, an opinion shared by others.

The players held back-to-back conference calls Sunday and Monday. They are much more careful with their optimism. There are two reasons for this: the botched Oct. 18 meeting in Toronto and Donald Fehr's paranoia about ill-timed quotes.

Before a charity game Monday night, Daniel Alfredsson warned: "I just feel that where we are at this stage [is] that there's still just a feeling-out process. There hasn't really been anything going on and until we get something substantial to work on I'm not too optimistic. I'm hoping this is going to happen now, but I'm not putting any hopes into it."

Alfredsson isn't the only player with this attitude. A lot of that stems from the most recent face-to-face, where the league rejected three NHLPA proposals in minutes. It wasn't the first time.

"We're prepared for serious negotiations," one said, "if the league is serious about negotiating."

The NHL shares some of that skepticism. It feels Donald Fehr has been a significant impediment to the process and gets too free a ride despite that. The league has also accused the players' association head of being tone-deaf to the players' true wishes to make a deal.

It is a serious accusation to make. And, after speaking to those actually willing to listen to me, here's what I believe: The players want to play. But the NHL hasn't given the majority of NHLPA membership anywhere near enough reason - yet - to tell Fehr to end this.

There have been points where certain players spoke up and said, "Let's really try to get this done," only to have others react negatively. The last offer was a good example. Some players were intrigued by what they read on NHL.com, only to back off once they realized the "make whole" provision was going to come out of their own pockets.

The players feel they are being asked to give up too much, too quickly, without any legitimate compromise.

This won't be a quick solution. And there are bound to be low moments with the injection of Don Fehr and Gary Bettman. But here's what it comes down to: if the NHL really wants to put the pressure on the players' leader, an iron-clad "make whole" provision would be a very good start.

30 Thoughts

1. This is going to be a bit out of order, but wanted to give equal time and thought it was important to do so at the top of the 30. There was a lot of reaction to the list of hardliners I wrote about last week. One owner reached out to say I was "conservative" and "it wasn't just the small markets" who were taking a hard-line stand. Another governor said "you wouldn't believe what some of the big-market teams are saying."

2. I would absolutely agree with one thing the owner said: I was conservative. Since so many people are worried about getting fined for speaking (even anonymously), it was difficult to nail down every team's position. I am confident in the accuracy of the teams I named, but am willing to concede there are others I may have missed.

3. One of the biggest complaints was over my not naming Carolina. Several people relayed that, at the September Board of Governors meeting, Hurricanes owner Peter Karmanos stood up and said, "If the players are not willing to go 50/50 now, we shouldn't give them any more than 45." The Hurricanes wouldn't talk when asked for comment, but word is he's softened that stance. All I was told was, "He likes his team - a lot. And he wants to see it play."

4. There were also complaints that this Hockey Night in Canada reporter didn't name any Canadian teams. Wasn't intending to be a homer, but it was hard to find a club from this country seriously willing to cancel the season. A few people from Calgary tweeted, "Are you so clueless that you don't know Murray Edwards is a hard-liner?"

5. This, to me, was the difference between the teams that were named and those who weren't: If we get to 50/50 in a couple of years, some of the tough talkers will be satisfied. Others won't. They'll still want concessions on the contract issues and revenue sharing. Could be wrong, but I'd put Calgary in the first group.

6. Ottawa owner Eugene Melnyk made headlines for this interview with Bob McCown. Sure makes him sound moderate, since he actually was rumoured to be the most hard-line Canadian owner.

7. Finally, several Blues and Stars fans tweeted they didn't believe those teams were hard-liners because they are gaining momentum in their markets. Why fool with that? "Short-term thinking," I was told. Even with those successes, they are losing money.

8. OK, enough of that. I mentioned Fehr's hatred of "ill-timed quotes." He tells a story about one baseball work stoppage where they were getting to a deal, only to have the league pull an offer very late in the process. He realized that one player told a reporter his group was excited about the possibility of returning, and the owners thought this was evidence of "cracking." That moment stuck with him - he's repeated the story a few times since taking the NHLPA job. There is no doubt he warned his constituency over the past 48 hours to be careful.

9. Ryan Suter may have backtracked on his Craig Leipold comments, but he manned up to them. Never blamed the reporter for misquoting him or taking his quotes out of context. Good on you, Ryan.

10. Very interesting question: If Fehr walked into today's meeting and said, "We want you to guarantee the make-whole and play 82 games," would the NHL say no?

11. Sure, there'd be some work to do on other issues - very quickly. But it would guarantee players their full salaries and owners wouldn't need to refund anything to sponsors and ticket holders. You're going to counter with building availability, but how many nights have been given away since the cancellation of all November games? A lot of events are booked well in advance.

12. The one hang-up is that you might have to play the Stanley Cup final in July and, apparently, some in the league absolutely despise the idea. Admittedly, that sounds as tasty as a sandwich of month-old meat. But will the fans in markets that make it that far really be bothered by a late finish? And how different would the TV ratings be? For one year, would everyone put up with that?

13. Great point made by one source: How much pressure does the NHL feel to make traction and avoid negativity overshadowing the Hall of Fame ceremony next week?

14. Second great point from the same source: Will the NHL demand this deal be long enough so it doesn't interfere with the league's 100th anniversary, scheduled for 2016-17? Should speak to this guy more often.

15. There've been complaints about retired players speaking out, saying the current guys should make a deal. I personally tended to agree this wasn't their business, but a conversation between Kelly Hrudey and Pat Conacher on Monday's edition of Hockey Night in Canada Radio changed my thinking. Both, at one time, were willing to risk years of their career to fight for what they believed in - which benefited today's players. That gives them the right to comment. And if Ted Lindsay was to say anything, should anyone tell him to be quiet?

16. The New York Post's Larry Brooks had a good idea for the salary-floor problem. The NHL's last offer actually annoyed some owners by proposing the floor be reached by actual salary instead of artificial inflation due to bonuses. You can see these two thoughts being the solution: make the floor a percentage, but actual cash if it's important enough to the players.

17. An article that went under the radar was this one from The Toronto Star's Kevin McGran. Mathieu Schneider's comment about a cap on escrow - and Daly's reaction - are telling.

18. One of the arguments made against the players' stance is that their contracts aren't really guaranteed for full value because of escrow. Over the length of the most recent CBA, they lost slightly more than three per cent of their cash. My problem with that debate is this: escrow is intended to be a "corrector" on revenue, not an artificial rollback. If the league was willing to say that current contracts would have an "escrow cap" on them (say, seven per cent) for two years, then that could go somewhere.

19. Some other things to look out for: teams can only insure contracts for seven years. Is that a length the league and players would be comfortable with?

20. Wouldn't be surprised if salary arbitration continues in its current form. Under the NHL's proposal, you're almost encouraging more contract stalemates like the one between Drew Doughty and the Kings. No one needs that.

21. All-Star Game: probably going to be cancelled, with one caveat. How much money does it contribute to hockey-related revenue? If it's a moneymaker, will the players want it to be played, especially since the Winter Classic is a goner?

22. A few of you have asked about realignment. Not going to happen this year. But  there will be discussions about doing it next season.

23. Best guess: if the season starts December 1 (or a few days sooner), the number of games will start with a 7. And the regular season is extended a week or two beyond what was originally scheduled.

24. Alright, let's do some hockey. You can tell people believe we're getting closer to a resolution because trade-rumour insanity is hitting the internet. A lot of this is Oilers broadcaster Bob Stauffer's fault, because he suggested Edmonton is prepared to make a big move. But Jordan Eberle for Roberto Luongo? Nail Yakupov for PK Subban? Get real.

25. Don't forget, though, out of the last lockout, Kevin Lowe snared Chris Pronger and Michael Peca, so there is historical precedent. Personally, I think the Oilers like Luongo a lot, but I'm not so sure the Canucks would want to send him to a rival - assuming the goalie even wanted to go there.

26. You know who'd make a lot of sense? Jay Bouwmeester. He also has a no-trade clause, but could you imagine Calgary and Edmonton making that deal?

27. Was really impressed with Gustav Nyquist when his Grand Rapids Griffins played in Toronto, and wondered about his chances of making the Red Wings. Would Detroit really want him on the big club if he wasn't playing a "top six" role?

28. Of all the craziness that came out last week in the CHL/CHLPA battle, this is what struck me most: That people were coming up to teenagers at hotels, not giving their full (or real) names and trying to arrange meetings. I'm a parent now. If that happened to my teenage son, I'd want to know everything about this. Whether you like David Branch or not, that's the bottom line to me. He found out who was behind it.

29. As for the NCAA debate, I've been told one of the major reasons it holds firm on the CHL issue is that it doesn't want its leagues flooded by Canadians. I'm OK with that. It's an American developmental system.

30. Not as much "on-ice" stuff this week. But we're at a huge moment in the CBA discussion, so felt you might want as much information as I could squeeze in. Will give you more "hockey" next week. Promise.

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