If there is actual progress this week between the league and the NHLPA, Gary Bettman doesn’t take a chainsaw to the November schedule. Should both sides continue to steer towards “The Titanic Award for Disaster at Sea” (credit: Sports Illustrated, circa 1985), the commissioner will probably cancel the Winter Classic and a month’s worth of games.
This is a huge week. If there is actual progress between the league and the NHLPA, Gary Bettman doesn’t take a chainsaw to the November schedule. Should both sides continue to steer towards “The Titanic Award for Disaster at Sea” (credit: Sports Illustrated, circa 1985), the commissioner will probably cancel the Winter Classic and a month’s worth of games.
The NHL badly wants an 82-game season starting on November 2. That would mean agreeing on the hockey-related revenue split, a formula for paying players what they are owed on their current contracts, and all the contract/salary arbitration/free agency issues. Both sides ratify the deal (unless they somehow decide to play while working on it), everyone overseas returns for a quick training camp, and teams make whatever moves they’ve been waiting on.
Do you see all that getting done in 11 days? Me neither. The only way it happens is if Bettman and Donald Fehr prove they’ve been wasting everyone’s time by “suddenly” pulling proposals from their briefcases the other side might agree on.
So, how much time do they really have to play 82 games?
The now-vapourized NHL schedule ran from October 11 until April 13. That’s 185 days. If you cancel the All-Star Game (and you have to believe that’s likely), the league only needs 180 days, because that’s a five-day break.
A full season means the Stanley Cup final finishes as late as June 30. Don’t shoot the messenger, but that’s where we are – unless the players, teams and television partners are willing to play Games 1-4 of every series over five days.
Then we work backwards. Go back about 20-25 years, when seven-game series ended in exactly two weeks. If everyone agreed to that, you need at least 56 days for the playoffs. So, 180 days for the regular season plus 56 for the playoffs (ending June 30) means puck-drop would have to be November 6.
You could also go by Saturdays, which I’ve learned to do the last decade (No idea why). There are 26 in an NHL regular season and May 4 would be the last one. You could fit all of them in by starting on November 10. That’s a 176-day season.
Of course, all of this means a later start to free agency with both the draft and the NHL Awards moved into July (Who doesn’t want to go to Vegas in the middle of July?). And we haven’t even discussed arena availability or the players’ interest in compressing the schedule.
1. Let’s get rid of the lockout stuff first. The other concern about getting a deal done quickly is the NHL’s “systemic” issues – contract length/structure and free agency, among other things. In 2005, the league was doing its happy dance at getting the cap and got hammered on these details. It will pay more attention this time.
2. One thing about 2012 that is different than 2004: there’s not as much of a desire in the NHL or NHLPA to blow up the season (with one caveat to come). While there are hardliners, it’s nowhere near as widespread – including in the league office. The players were also more militant eight years ago. They don’t like what’s going on now, but they want to play.
3. That said, there is some talk Bettman will cancel the entire schedule if things don’t go well this week. A month’s worth of games? Yes. Garroting everything while we’re still in the 2012 calendar year, without any lengthy bargaining sessions? I just don’t see it. He’s much more concerned about P.R. than I’ve ever seen him.
4. Here’s the caveat mentioned in Thought 2: the commissioner is under the most pressure of his NHL tenure. You can see it on his face. The hardliners are serious about the givebacks they expect. There are a few teams who would rather cancel the season than get a bad deal. There are others who don’t want a season cancelled at all. It’s a delicate balancing act, and if a month does get cancelled, a lot of them will be extremely emotional.
5. Fehr doesn’t care what anyone outside his constituency thinks, but he’ll face similar challenges in the weeks to come. During the next two weeks, his players will be tempted.
6. This is not the message the NHLPA should want to send: “Let’s put it this way – it would be better [for the players] if the lockout continues… Players want a definite answer. If the NHL season is lost, let it be that way. I would then play in Russia for the whole season.” That’s Sergei Kostitsyn via Russia’s Sport-Express and The Globe and Mail.
7. The emotions on both sides are as raw as I’ve experienced in 20 years. Some of that is social media. But the number of people (on both sides) who have fought with me or sworn they’d never talk to me again over something I’ve written/said is by far the most ever. Unfortunate, but not surprising. Shows how much anger is out there.
8. Here are two questions the owners should think about this week: How much is your franchise worth if another year is gutted? And, if you really are interested in winning the Stanley Cup, what will decreasing the players’ existing contracts do in your dressing room?
9. Here is the question the players should think about this week: Your concerns are about escrow being used to artificially lower salaries. But, if any more (or all) of the season gets cancelled, will your escrow payments be even worse?
10. Was talking to a retired player on the weekend, and I said I thought the players should have started the process sooner. His reply: “If [the players] started sooner, they wouldn’t have received $ 200 million [in new contracts] in the 48 hours before the lockout.” I didn’t have an answer for that one.
13. Non-lockout stuff: CBC producer Josh Wilder sold his downtown Toronto condo during the summer. A university student and her father were looking at the property. Wilder asked where they were from and was told “Edmonton.” Josh proceeded to explain how, as a Winnipegger, he hated Edmonton because the Oilers always used to beat the Jets in the Smythe Division playoffs. The man smiled and said, “Nice to meet you. Kevin Lowe.”
14. Roberto Luongo: Really believe the Canucks want to do right by him. He showed up at their golf tournament after all of the trade stuff got out and they appreciated it. To me, the biggest question is: does the new CBA include that rule where the cap hit reverts to the Canucks if he retires? Because, if it does happen, does Luongo’s value go up?
15. Think about it: there’s extra risk for Vancouver in making that deal and extra reward for whoever gets him, especially if you are cash-rich (cough, Toronto, cough). Don’t know if it would help Florida (Luongo’s preferred destination) since his new team will owe Luongo $ 44 million over the next seven years, depending on any rollback. But, would another cash-rich team considering goalie help (say, Chicago) re-visit the situation?
16. I do believe the Maple Leafs and Canucks are far down the road in these conversations. But nothing is done until it’s done. And, if the Blackhawks (or someone else) like the look of that new rule, it creates a market for Mike Gillis to ask for more for Luongo. Would certainly be ironic if the legislation Brian Burke wanted costs him a player he’s interested in.
17. One of the reasons Vancouver and Florida had trouble making a deal is the Panthers don’t want to include Nick Bjugstad or Quinton Howden. Who is the prospect the Canucks would want from Toronto? (And don’t say Jake Gardiner. It’s not going to be him.)
19. More AHL praise, for Flames prospect Sven Baertschi. “[He] is a stud who will be an NHL first-liner.”
20. Then there’s Justin Schultz. Oklahoma City tracks individual player plus/minus for scoring chances. “After Friday night’s game [a 5-2 win over San Antonio], assistant coaches Gerry Fleming and Rocky Thompson said Justin was a plus-10,” head coach Todd Nelson said. “Then they said, ‘We’ve never seen that before.’ I haven’t either.”
21. Nelson (who is not the source of any anonymous quotes in this blog) explained that it’s extremely hard for a defenceman to hit that number because “You’re always defending. A skilled forward creating chances will be a plus-4 or plus-5… He’s a quick learner. In our exhibition games he got caught up ice a couple of times. I only had to explain to him once that if he does that he has to be the first guy to get back. He adjusted… Very high hockey IQ.”
22. The Avalanche gave up first- and second-round picks to get Semyon Varlamov from Washington. Now, they have four young goalies in the AHL and ECHL receiving attention and praise. Going to be tough to find playing time for all these guys, but Sami Aittokallio is the one most often mentioned. He’s beaten Oklahoma City twice already.
23. Last Saturday, Aitokallio had his mask up during warmups and was hit in the face with a puck. He wasn’t supposed to play in that game, but was scheduled to start 24 hours later in Toronto. His face swelled up and he couldn’t see. Calvin Pickard stepped in and put up a 40-save shutout. Pickard added another one Sunday in Texas. The Avalanche are going to have some decisions to make.
24. One of the toughest things about AHL life is playing three games in three days. Not easy to play and not always fair to judge in those situations. But, if you’re watching, NHL teams really look to see who consistently competes in those games.
25. From Robin Lehner’s twitter account (@RobinLehner) on August 10: “My BMW drives on gas, the Audi on diesel and My fuel is haters! Thanks for pushing me forward!:)” Lehner fought Riku Helenius in a game Binghamton blew a 5-0 lead. This guy is a gold mine for media.
26. Will be interesting to see what NHL teams do with juniors who are off to great starts. Do the Jets take Mark Scheifele (tied for the OHL lead with 20 points) to an abbreviated training camp? Same goes for the Islanders and Ryan Strome, among others.
28. I think Daryl Katz would do himself a lot of good if he held one media conference per year. He can’t operate in the shadows anymore; he’s lost the trust of the city. That doesn’t mean he can’t get it back, but he’s got to do things differently from now on. Apparently, he feels he’s being undercut behind the scenes, but if he doesn’t clumsily publicize his Seattle visit, this doesn’t go off the rails. A new P.R. company would be a good idea, too.
29. If there’s one thing that drives me insane about the NCAA, it’s this: I can go online right now and buy a customized University of Wisconsin jersey with “Kerdiles” and the number 17 on the back for $ 135. Nic Kerdiles sees none of that. But a photo of him holding a “BioSteel” supplement leads to an investigation that costs him 10 games. It’s outrageous and, when it comes to the NCAA, it happens in every sport.
30. It’s not easy to come up with all 30 Thoughts during the lockout. But I do want to do this every week, so I’m going to offer audience participation. If you have something or someone you’d like to see addressed, just tweet me @FriedgeHNIC. Depending on demand, I’ll try to answer. Thank you in advance.
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