Commentary, opinion and news on the world of hockey.

Monday, January 31, 2005

Owens closer to playing



Terrell Owens is that much closer to playing in the NFL's main event next Sunday. He practised with the team, and while he only participated in a minimal amount of drills, reports say that he looked pretty good.
"We limited what he did and he did it well and he did it with the team," said Eagles coach Andy Reid. "He moved around pretty well. We'll see how he continues, see how he feels tomorrow and the rest of the week."
The question that remains is, even with a healthy Owens, can the Phillies beat the powerhouse Patriots? Freddy Mitchell - you know, the other Eagles receiver - thinks so.
"We got there without T.O.," Mitchell said. "He's going to be a great addition if he comes, but we're going to stick with our guns. When he comes back, he'll be a huge help for us because he's one of the best receivers in the game. Until then, let's talk about Greg Lewis, Todd Pinkston and Freddie Mitchell, the receivers who are here and won the NFC championship."
Mitchell was critical of the Patriots secondary last week, basically inferring that they were a no-name bunch, and his comments didn't go un-noticed by the New England crew.

My question is, why would you bother to sling insults at the opposing team - especially when they are the defending Super Bowl champions, who by the way, utterly dismantled the Colts and Steelers en route to the big dance? Just keep quiet and prove that you can beat them on the field. The last thing you want to give the Patriots is another headline to sport on the locker room wall.

At the very least, hopefully we see a highly competitive game and the Eagles can keep up to the favoured Pats. With or without Ownes, the Eagles have a chance to bring the first major championship to Philly since the 76'ers won an NBA title in 1983.

Daly smoking the good stuff


Bill Daly is either high on the best crack the lockout warchest can provide, or he needs an immediate MRI.
"I'm not sure there is any difference of opinion," Daly told the Globe and Mail. "I like to remain hopeful, but if the concepts we discussed with the NHLPA on Thursday night are not something that forms a basis for serious negotiations, I have to admit that I don't have much optimism that there will be hockey this year...I don't want to put odds on the likelihood this can get resolved. We'll just keep working on it and hope we can come to an agreement."
My God, Bill. No difference of opinion? You couldn't get more polarized opinions on the subject of a salary cap if you tried. And if you cannot work out the cap issue, then what's there left to really talk about?

If the salary cap concept can ever be worked out, everything else would most likely fall into place. But if the NHL seriously continues to believe "I'm not sure there is any difference of opinion", then I can understand the players' notion that there remains nothing else to talk about.

Saturday, January 29, 2005

Department of redundancy department....


Te·di·ous adj.
Pronunciation of "tedious" (td-s)

1. Tiresome by reason of length, slowness, or dullness; boring.
2. Obsolete. Moving or progressing very slowly.

Driven by my unbridled anticpation of Gary Bettman's comments on the recent "negotiations", I felt obligated to post this as soon as humanly possible:
"They (NHLPA representatives) went back to Toronto," said Bettman, "But we left it open (for more talks)...If this is going to be an ideological question over the cap, then it is not going to be," he told msgnetwork.com. It's his (NHLPA Executive Director Bob Goodenow) call...We won't compromise on the cap."
Wait a second, that sounds vaguely familiar. Oh that's right, it's on the NHL's 'Greatest Hits and Expressions of Love' album, which is now available in most living rooms. The lyrics quoted above are from the wildly overplayed tune, "The Stance of Doom (screw you non-conformers)". Oddly enough, the same song appears - with the same title - on the recent NHLPA's release of the "Best of Bob and His Idiotic Friends" album.

Proceeds from each organization's albums are reportedly headed directly into the "Owner's for saving us from ourselves" and the "Poor players need to eat too" funds. So please, don't hold back. Donate generously.

Friday, January 28, 2005

Owners Standing Firm


It's clear now, more than ever, that NHL solidarity is not going to waiver under any circumstances. In fact, one could argue that the stance of the owners has grown significantly stronger during the 'negotiation process' - a term that I use loosely.

The proposals from the NHL have always had a salary cap and linkage between salaries and revenues. And the latest proposal, which has obviously been scoffed at by the players, as my cousin and exhaulted sports columnist James explains, is no different. However, not only does the latest proposal contain salary restrictions, it contains three levels of them. That's right, three different thresholds with which the braintrust of the owners suggests will secure the future of every single existing NHL team.

Arbitration has been capped, i.e. a limit has been placed on the amount of an arbitration award, proposed revenue sharing continues to be at laughable levels, and published reports point to sources that say there is an individual team salary cap of $42 million, with a payroll basement of $32 million. On top of that, the players' contend that there is also an overall league cap of 54 per cent of revenues. This is also reportedly in addition to an initial salary rollback.

In my humble opinion, the fact that the league has shown so little room for movement, and in some cases, their offers have regressed from a player's perspective, it appears clear that the league mandate is to dismantle the NHLPA as it currently exists and construct a league based entirely on the NHL's vision. It was highly speculated previously that this was the case, however, I was reluctant to buy into the concept that the NHL had no intentions of seriously negotiating. But the last two weeks of meetings and bantering have shown me that the NHL will have an entirely new landscape when - or even if - it returns, and in no way are they prepared to give up any ground to the players.

As Ken Dryden puts it this way:
"Restraint will never come from individuals restraining themselves. The only way in which restraint happens is when the structure dictates it. I think that's at least part of the solution."
The key part of that statement is that it must be at least part of the solution. The playing field must be made more suitable for the teams that continue to lack the resources to compete.

It is widely mused that even in October, you can officially eliminate 15 teams from Stanly Cup contention. And in reality, that's not that far off base. If a league has members who cannot compete because of an uneven playing field, then why bother having them in the league at all? For this very reason, the boys at the top must be restrained and the bottom feeders must be helped in order to make the league stronger as a whole.

That's where revenue sharing comes in. It's vital, and I find it deplorable that the NHL has continually preached the viability of all 30 franchises yet somehow has the audacity to leave meaningfull revenue sharing off the table. The owners have shifted all of the weight onto the shoulders of the players and that is completely haywire.

The player stance is equally unmoving. They may have to face reality a bit here and accept the fact that the economic landscape must be cleaned up and that involves some form of effective salary restraints. They have had a highly lucrative run over the last ten years and it's crystal clear that the run is now over. However, I do understand some of their concerns. For example, I don't believe the owners any more than the NHLPA does on what the actual revenues are. How can they be trusted? The players also must continue to hammer away the concept of revenue sharing. I'm almost shocked that this card hasn't been played with a much higher profile by Bob Goodenow.

However you want to look at this and from whichever side of the pendulum you align yourself with, one fact cannot be argued: The NHL is in serious trouble if this lockout continues any longer. In fact, there may never be an NHL as we know it again. The damage may be that substantial. And what boggles my mind even more than the idiocy with which each side has conducted themselves, is the fact that the fans and the overall welfare of the game itself seems to be pushed off into the background of each party's pea-brains.

I have a message for both the NHL and the NHLPA: Wake up. In six more months there will be nothing left to fight about because the only ones who will care about the NHL at that point will be you.

Thursday, January 27, 2005

NHL to proposal deal


Sportsnet is reporting that the NHL is about to pitch a deal to the players, no later than tomorrow. The web site provided little detail, and given their track record with "insider information", I won't hold my breath.

So, because we have no idea about how far the NHL will bend - if they do - what will be inlcuded in the latest offer? Well, here's the Red Line take on what the new proposal may include:

- A hybrid salary cap; The cap will remain soft until adequately stimulated. At that point, the cap becomes hard until the applied stimulation forces it to reach a pre-determined threshold, more commonly known as 'the point of no return', where it will once again become soft, and thus out of commission for at least half an hour.

- The players must offer an official apology, preferably via a Hallmark card signed by each and every player, that accurately conveys the sorrow that each player feels for continually taking financial advantage of the innocent owners over the last ten years. After all, the owners didn't really know that they were dishing out all that money, did they?

- Absolutely no revenue sharing; Because why on Earth would they do that?

- Future CBA meetings must continue to be held in 'secret' locations and must never be in the same place for more than 6 hours at one time. The NHLPA and NHL representatives must carry black briefcases and can only speak in Klingon. Word of the secret meetings must not be leaked to the media any earlier than 36 hours prior to said meeting taking place and any owner or player caught stating his opinions publically will now be flogged.

- The players must roll back their salaries 96%. The owners offer this because they know full well that the hybrid salay cap mentioned above will only remain hard for a very short period of time, and as such, inflation rates in the NHL will rise to never before seen heights.

Of course I jest, but my point is that the NHLPA will turn their nose up at the new offer just as much as they would at the above Red Line proposal. So really, why bother? Just cancel the season already.

Comments? Opinons?

Damien Cox


Damien Cox has a good read on a subject that we all know well. The season is obviously toast, but if they do manage to play 28 games starting in February, how tainted would the season really be? Well, Cox puts it this way:
Even if it were to begin in a week or two, it has already been irreparably disfigured, reduced to an embarrassing, shrunken head of an athletic competition....Anything that starts this late is essentially worthless, even more shorn of significant meaning than the forgettable and already forgotten World Cup of Hockey. The TV networks will hype a shortened season and pretend it is not the sham it is, but hey, the CBC is running out of movies.
Cox goes on to say that both Bettman and Goodenow should be axed and I can't say that I disagree with him.
The second clause is that a new CBA would be accompanied by resignation letters from NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and union chief Bob Goodenow. As joint custodians of this league and this sport, these two men have failed dramatically. For more than a decade, they've had the chance to work together for the betterment of the game. Now, it's somebody else's turn. Losing these two leaders would be a helpful part of the rebuilding process that will be so very necessary at the conclusion of this already disastrous labour fight.

By any reasonable evaluation, neither is any closer to induction into the Hall of Fame than they were when they started. Neither can be accurately described as "builder.
Cox is a decent writer, even if it is for the Toronto Star, and he has some good points to make. But now it's time for me to put on my Hazmat suit as I click the link to Al Strachan.....

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Is no news good news?


The representatives of the NHL and NHLPA are still in meetings in Toronto. As of 3:00pm Pacific Time, not one word has been squeaked out about the progress of said meeting. I know the lockout has been beaten to death, but one more little post with only a hint of anticipation won't hurt anyone, right?

Hopefully the silence is a positive sign and these hammerheads are finally starting to figure out that no one wins in a lenghty dispute such as this. It's been one hairy fit after another, posturing galore and general analysis overkill on the subject. So hopefully, after the meeting is over, the season is either cancelled or gets the green light. Either way, let us speak no more about it until next year.

**UPDATE**

The meeting has apparently concluded and each side had no comments for the media other than they have agreed to meet again this week. It may be notable that New Jersey Devils' owner Lou Lamorello was at the meeting at the request of the NHLPA.

Owens may try to play


Terrell Owens may try to play in the Super Bowl, against his doctor's wishes.

Philadelphia Eagles head trainer Rick Burkholder has this to say:

"We understand Dr. Myerson's point of view. It's just that our risk-reward is different than his risk-reward," Burkholder said. "He has great risk in clearing Terrell to play and no reward. We think there's some risk and we think there's great reward, so right now we're going to progress with his rehab."
I'd love to see Ownes suit up, but many questions have surfaced in my mind. For one thing, if the doctor does not clear him to play, what are the legal implications in regards to insurance for the Eagles? What I mean is, if he does in fact play and manages to completely wreck his ankle in the process to the point where his career lies in doubt, do the Eagles receive compensation for this or are they on their own? I don't know the answer to this question - or if it even applies - so if anyone has some insight, please let me know.

Also, how effective will he really be upon returning at less than 100% and will this have negative implications on the team should he be unable to perform? For example, if he does play and the Eagles attack has him as the central focus, he may lack the ability to make key plays which could hurt the team, no?

I know that the coaching staff will likely be prepared for any such scenario, but these questions still nag quietly in the back of my mind. Anyways, here's to a good, hard fought game. Go Eagles!

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Finally, something progressive..


OK, I promise that this isn't about the NHL lockout. It is, however, about the improvement of the game. You may have noticed that in the past, say 6-7 years, the game of hockey has regressed into something resembling soccer on ice with just a twist of chess thrown in for added marketability (tee hee). And after stagnating (or diminishing) attendance levels and regressive TV contracts, the NHL and those directly involved in the sport may have finally noticed that hey, the game kinda sucks.

Coming on the heels of the Brendan Shanahan summits on the game, the NHL and several coaches are going to meet to examine some possible rule changes that may benefit the on-ice product. It's rather alarming that the on-ice issues have been allowed to fall by the wayside and it took a player, namely Shanahan, to shine some light on the issues. It's about bloody time that the league took a long and meaningfull look into ways to improve the product and then, God forbid, maybe try to implement them!

Delgado lands in Florida


I must admit that I'm a little bit surprised. I would have laid some money down on the Mets snagging him, but apparently, Carlos Delgado, the much sought after 1st baseman, is headed to Florida to grace the Marlin's cap and bask in the sun. The deal is reportedly worth $52 million over 4 years. Meh, pocket change.

The griping continues


Randy Sportak has a nice perspective on the NHL landscape in his latest column.
Let's recap. Both sides get together for what's supposed to be a private meeting in an unknown locale, yet announce it so all the media can find it.

Hopes are high because they seem civil to each other.

However, the "negotiations" take an ugly turn because neither side will capitulate and the players immediately stomp out, bluster a bunch of the same-old, same-old about it's for sure a lost season.

A couple of days later, after what is supposedly a cooling off period, it all happens again -- like shampooing your hair: Lather, rinse, repeat.
That's spot on. Get a deal done, or don't get it done. Either way, shut up and bother us when it's all over. Hopefully, for the sake of the NHL, people won't be too busy getting on with their lives when that finally happens.

And here's another amusing read by Robert Tychkowski. Of course the article is mostly tongue in cheek, but the message is clear - fans are getting dumped on and both sides in the dispute are, well, basically morons. Oh wait, that's my message.

Monday, January 24, 2005

Super Bowl set


The highlight of the day for me yesterday was watching the Eagles finally make it to the Super Bowl. But, can the stiffling Philly defense stop the raging New England Pats? It's a hard task, no doubt, and hopefully the big game results in much less of a snoozefest than previous championship games have proven to be.

The Patriots are already 6 point favorites, and my head is telling me that they will walk off the field in Jacksonville as Super Bowl champs for the third time in four years. But the rest of me will be cheering for the Eagles to upset the mighty team from New England, much like the Pats did to the Rams when they claimed their first title.

As much as I'd like to see McNabb & Co. take it to the Patriots, I don't think that has any chance of being the outcome. New England is just too strong as they have shown by systematically dismantling both the Colts and the Steelers with ease. The six point spread given by Las Vegas oddsmakers may be generous to the Eagles.

So, as much as it pains me to say so, for what it's worth, and for those who care, my official prediction is the New England Patriots to run roughshod over Philadelphia.



NHL wants to talk


So says Bill Daly. The league has apparently requested a meeting with the NHLPA for sometime this week.
"What we'd like to do is take back what was discussed last week, including some of the things we heard from the union," Daly told the Globe and Mail. "(We want to) incorporate them into our thinking and come up with ideas that might lead to more productive discussions this week."
The hockey media breathes a collective sigh of relief, the hockey fans are too busy watching football and basketball, and oh yea, not giving a crap.

Sunday, January 23, 2005

Lewis to come back..oh wait, no he's not


Lennox Lewis, arguably one of the most accomplished heavyweight champions of all time, first implied on Sunday that he was about to return to the ring against current WBC champ Vitali Klitschko. However, later in the day, TSN has reported that this is not the case.
"I want to reiterate what I said when I retired in February 2004 that I was fortunate to leave the sport on my own terms and that I will be one of the few heavyweight champions in history to retire on top and stay retired," Lewis said.
I'm a Lennox Lewis fan, but whether he admits it or not, he probably did not deserve to be the victor in his last heavyweight bought, even though he may have been starting to rebound from a rather poor performance - by his standards - in the early going. I believe that if Lewis does return to the ring, it will be to vindicate himself from any doubt caused by his last bout as opposed to "listening to a lot of rubbish from Klitschko."

Hopefully, if he returns, he will take this fight seriously, as it seemd to me that he had a history of taking certain opponents lightly.

Saturday, January 22, 2005

It's Burke time


Brian Burke made his regular weekly appearance on Sportstalk Friday night. What did he have to say? Well, nothing that we haven't heard before. You know you've hit the absolute bottom when you catch yourself yawing while in the midst of listening to a speaker who radiates prescence.

It's no secret that I'm a huge fan of Burke - I still don't understand why he isn't the Canuck's GM - and even though I may not always agree with what he says, I'm always engrossed in the conversation. That changed a bit last night. No, it had nothing to do with Burke, it had everything to do with the fact that the NHL lockout banter is beyond ridiculous now. I'm starting to completely tune out all of the regourgitated psycho babble. I know I've said this before, but now a point has been reached and things may never be the same again.

Anyways, as all of us know, the NHL season is caput, but Burke still clings to hope that a 30 game season can be squeezed between February and April.
“Assuming you have agreement, it’s all drafting (documents). If our lawyers can’t draft a document in 4 days, we need new lawyers.”
That may be true, but the fact remains that the sides are so far apart that even if you had the law firm of Speedy Gonzales and Company filling in the blanks, a season won't be happening.

So who does Burke blame for the lenghty work stoppage? Well, both sides. But he's much less restrained when expressing views on the NHLPA stance.
“The players offered a wage reduction, they didn’t offer any system changes and they know it...They’ve offered an interesting wage rollback but the luxury tax will not deter spending in anyway. It was never designed to make a deal in my opinion...I can say truthfully that the NHLPA has been equally as stubborn as the NHL. They both have to move, they’ve taken global positions, and they will both have to move to get a deal done...The union has taken the position that is unattainable, for employees to say that they are entitled to more (percentage of revenues) than what is reasonable in this business, is unforgivable, and this is why we’re stuck”
On the other hand, Burke believes the owners must have some movement as well.
"I do believe, and I’ve said this only today publicly, that what the owners are seeking is more than needed to fix the business...The owner’s have asked the players to fix this problem and have not shown any interest in trying to fix it themselves.”
So, ho-hum, nothing new. No Hockey for at least this season, and probably much longer than that. When both sides have such a polarized view of the future economic state of the NHL, an agreement cannot be made without intervention - or the courts.

Friday, January 21, 2005

Season done....


Despite the best efforts of Trevor Linden, the season is toast. Most of us have known this since December when the NHLPA and the NHL outright rejected each other's proposals. And again today, more banter is being offered as proof.

Jimmy Devellano, the Red Wings senior vice-president, has this to say:
"The season's done," he told the Detroit Free Press. "There's no chance that the right deal can remotely be done in the next little while. There's too much work to be done. There's too many i's to dot and t's to cross. You are not going to get this collective bargaining agreement done in two days, three days, one week or two weeks. It's over."
No kidding. For those very reasons, almost everyone, with the exception of Gary Bettman and his cronies have accepted this as the truth. Well, Bettman has yet to admit it publically, anyways.

Regardless of the meetings of thie past week, even if the philisophical differences could be compromised and the wide valleys of opinion could be bridged, there's simply no time left. So really, at this point, it matters not that the philiosophical demons and differences of opinion are in no danger of becoming miraculously excorsized.

With that in mind, Trevor Linden had more to say today.
"Their pursuit of a team-by-team hard cap, NFL-style model, is crystal-clear," Linden said.

Linden believes the players want to find a solution and are willing to examine new ways of getting there. But to his mind the league road map is fixed, always leading to a salary cap.

"If we can't sit in a room and have a mutual discussion and work around each other's problems to get to an agreement, then what are we looking at?" he asked. "I think players really get their back up when they understand what's going on here."
Again, nothing new here fellas. The league mandate has been crystal clear since September, even earlier to some, so why would it change now? The players can get their back up all they want because in the end, it won't mean squat.

The owners, at least the majority of them, are intent on one thing - taking back control of the league. In their eyes, this is their baby, and the extremely prosperous run the players have had has to be reigned in, much like an out of control thoroughbread. So, when the league proposes a new deal, which many sources have suggested will happen early next week, expect the same unerlying concepts of cost certainty to dominate.

Neither side is willing to move on the key issue of this dispute. Call it whatever you want, cost certainty, linkage, salary cap - the bottom line is that the owners want this and the players are outraged by it. So where do they go from here? Well, it looks like this runaway train is headed straight into a court-room. How else can a resolution come from the mess that has each side dug in like an Alabama tick? There will be no compromise at the present time, so why would the respective stances suddenly change within the next 6 months, one year, two years, or ever?

Maybe in the future, if the process does follow the Yellow Brick Road to an impasse, and hence, a court-room, maybe the proceedings will be featured on a pay-per-view basis. Basketball, here I come.

Thursday, January 20, 2005

Meeting adjourned


Both sides in the NHL labour dispute met for several hours again today, and when it was all said and done, there wasn't really much new to report.
"We've had two good days of communication," Bill Daly, the NHL's executive vice-president and chief legal officer, told reporters. "But we still have very strong philosophical differences."

Daly said the two sides would talk again but did not say when. A source said the meetings would not resume Friday because of the death of the mother of Ted Saskin, senior director of the NHL Players' Association.

Asked what the two sides would talk about, given their polar position on a salary cap, Daly replied: "We just continue to work very hard at trying to satisfy both parties."

The two day-session, initiated by NHLPA president Trevor Linden, was described by Daly as "the best dynamic to date in this process."

"I give Trevor Linden a lot of credit for bringing us together again," Daly added.
Well, I think that if there were any genuine hope for a season, a deal, or at least a framework for a deal, would have had to have been in place by this weekend. In order to hammer out a CBA, host training camps, define a schedule, and tie up any lose ends, more than a few days are likely required. Given the late-January date of these meetings, there's too little time left unless something is agreed upon immediately.

I find it remarkably hilarious that the most progress that we have seen comes despite - or because of - the absense of Bob Goodenow and Gary Bettman. Even though there may be philisophical deiffernces remaining, at least some bona fide conversations are in place. That, more than anything, is reason for hope.

Coyotes deny reports


TSN is reporting that the Phoenix Coyotes are denying previous reports that the team is gearing up for an end to the lockout.

Earlier internet reports suggested that the Coyotes coaches had instructed their players to be ready to practice within the next week. But these reports have been quickly denied by the team:
."Coach (Rick) Bowness may have contacted some players from time to time on a social basis," said Phoenix spokesman Richard Nairn. "But at no time did he tell players to be ready to report, and certainly not within the next week. The report is simply not true."

The denial was strongly echoed by Coyotes' general manager Michael Barnett.

"That's completely erroneous," he said. "I have not spoken to any members of our roster in two months. I don't even know where one-third of our roster is. Some of them are spread all over the globe. No one in our management group has contacted our players since November."
Too bad, although I had trouble swallowing the information in the first place. I think that the encouraging news of the day is that the executive committee of the NHLPA was called in to Toronto in light of on-going negotiations between the NHLPA and the NHL. Maybe it's an indication of some sort of a breakthrough.




Deal Imminent?


According to Sportsnet sources, the NHLPA executive committee has been flown in to Toronto for added weight in the negotiations taking place between a small group of representatives from both sides.

It also looks as though some players have been notified to be ready for action.
Sources tell Sportsnet the Phoenix Coyotes coaching staff has informed its players they need to be on standby, prepared to practice within the next seven days.
Overblown hype or legitimate information? I guess the next few hours will tell the tale.

11th Hour scrambling


Is there really hope? Slam! Sports is reporting that a hybrid type of CBA deal could be in the works. Apparently, negotiations that took place yesterday in Chicago made some progress in this area. From Bruce Garrioch of the Ottawa Sun:
A league source told the Sun last night that talks to get a new collective bargaining agreement in place took a major turn yesterday in Chicago when the NHL Players' Association introduced the possibility of a six-year agreement, which would include a salary cap under certain circumstances.

Under the deal being discussed by the two sides, the NHLPA has asked the league to accept an agreement without a salary cap for the first three seasons. If it doesn't work, the source said, the league would be allowed to implement a cap in the final three years.

But if the NHLPA's proposal allows each team to have cost certainty and make money, the source said there would be no cap. The source added that the league was willing to discuss the idea, but wasn't sure if it was going to be enough to allow NHL hockey to be played this season.
Interesting news, but my optimism is guarded. I'm curious to know the platform of the first three years. In other words, would the initial phase be based entirely upon the last NHLPA proposal, and if so, would the numbers be tweakable? For example, would the luxury tax threshold be negotioable as well as the penalties for corssing it?

In any event, it sounds like some constructive bargaining is finally taking place. But why did this have to wait until mid-January for someone to take the initiative? Dialogue such as this should have been planned from the start, instead we had to suffer through countless bouts of posturing and inflamatory rhetoric.

Nonetheless, hopefully this latest news can be a launching pad for some further talks, and maybe, just maybe, some NHL hockey.

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Strachan, as in Al


Those of you who are regular visitors to my humble little sports blog have probably figured out my impressions of Al Strachan's columns. Usually, the anti-NHL/Bettman rhetoric that he churns out burns my eyes. It's not hard to determine which side of the dispute he aligns himself with, and the completely biased manner in which he expresses his disdain for the NHL and the owners is my main reason for complaint.

But, on the rare occasion, heavy emphasis on the rare, he comes up with some material that actually makes some sense and is surprisingly gentle on the eyes and blood pressure. At the very least, his latest effort offers an interesting perspective on the state of the game.
It's easy to assume that because there are 30 teams, the talent pool is diluted. But that assumption fails to take into account that in recent years, the talent pool has grown at a level far greater than that of previous years -- and far greater than the rate of expansion.

It might not be easy to see it on a year-to-year basis, but if you think of the game 10 years ago and compare it to today's, you'll find that the players are much bigger, yet they're faster, stronger and in far better condition.

If you think the talent is diluted, name a player who doesn't skate well. Name a player who doesn't have a good shot. Or can't pass. Even the enforcers can do all those things. If they can't, they don't stay in the NHL. The talent level is simply too high.
To be quite honest, I'd never really thought of things in the manner that he has suggested, and I actually agree that he has some valid points there. So, this is me officially giving Al some credit. If he consistently targeted such topics, rather than his favorite past-time, Bettman Bashing, perhaps myself, and many others, would be much more receptive to his insight.

Until we meet again...


The meeting between Trevor Linden and Harley Hotchkiss, among others, is over. They met for about 5 hours at O'Hare Airport in Chicago. The word is that they are scheduled to meet again in the near future.

Not much was said by either side after the meeting concluded, and hopefully this can jumpstart negotiations. I get a kick out of the fact that if some real progress is made as a result of these meetings, Goodenow and Bettman were purposely absent from the proceedings.

More fodder for the masses


According to the Sportsnet website, there may be a CBA deal in the works.
According to industry sources, the NHL and NHLPA have been in talks for the past couple of weeks and are very close to agreeing on an eight-year deal. The first four years of the deal would include a salary rollback and the following four years would see a soft cap with luxury tax in place. The season would get under way February 14.
I don't buy it. Not with the NHL's stance on cost certainty and flat-out refusal to entertain a luxury tax. Besides, if the league was interested in accepting a deal like this one, why wouldn't they have done it back in December?

**UPDATE**

It seems that Sportsnet has removed the rumor from their website. Gee, can't imagine why....

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Esposito not on players' side


Yet another opinion comes trickling in about the NHL standoff. Hall of Famer Phil Esposito chimes in with his two cents:
"Well, for the first time in my lifetime, I don't agree with the players," Esposito said Tuesday. "I think they're wrong this time. It's the first time, ever, that I ever thought the players were wrong. And this time I just do not understand what the big deal is with a salary cap. I just don't understand it....(It's) not going to affect anybody, but it might take away the 10-11 million dollar player which, there is no room for it anyway in the National Hockey League, because the revenues just don't justify it."
You know, I may not agree that a hard salary cap is a necessity, however, I don't think that I've heard a satisfactory response from the NHLPA as to whay a salary cap is such a dirty concept. I'm with you Phil, an explanation is required.

Why pro sports isn't as fun


It's a funy thing, the evolution of sports. I remember back fondly to a day when hockey and baseball were all about excitement, the cheering of the crowd, the crack of the bat, the flashing red light signaling a goal. But when I turn on the television these days, whether it's to catch a Raptors game or last year's NHL action, I can't help but think back to the time where things like player salaries, revenues, the CBA, TV contracts, pay-per-view, salary caps and luxury taxes were basically unknown to the average sports fan. Times were better, the games were more exciting, and sports was much more than a business to all involved.

Now, sports is all about the mighty buck. That's reality. I accept that, but that doesn't mean I have to like it.

Take, for example, Eric Gagne and his brand new $19.5 million dollar contract. Or how about Roger Clemens and the fact that he filed for a record $22 million US in salary arbitration. Let that ring off the tongue a few times. Twenty-two million dollars. Twenty-two mill...........sigh. I have a hard time watching a hockey or baseball game without being consciously aware of the amounts of money required to field these athletes. And the more I think about that, the less attractive the games become.

Now, I realize that pro sports have evolved into much more of a business and entertainment entity than anything else. Gone are the days where sports was merely a game. And as revenues rise, so will the expenses (i.e. player salaries). Like I said before, I can accept that, but I do not like it and I will continue to struggle with what I interperet as the diminishing entertainment value of pro sports.

Crosby on defensive


Sidney Crosby is defending his decision about not playing in the CHL's top prospects game.
"It's easy to say some of that stuff," Crosby told The Canadian Press. "Anyone who knows me, and I don't think that a lot of the people who are making some of those comments know me that well, but the people who know me know I'd be there if I could...It's not an easy decision not to go, but I'm not going to have an injury that's going to last me a while here at that cost. I'll take the heat and try and move on."
He was interviewed earlier today on the Team1040 radio in Vancouver, where he disclosed that he does not have a back injury, but is injured. He explained that he was hurt in the gold medal game in the recent World Junior Championships, but will not disclose the nature of the injury.

Well, if he truly is hurt, then I can't fault him for not playing in what amounts to a completely meaningless game. He has nothing left to prove and his draft stock won't likely diminish.

On the other hand, he may have scored some points for at least showing up and maybe signing some autographs or making himself available for a public appearance.

Lanny McDonald disappointed


Lanny McDonald, former Calgary Flame and 500 goal scorer, says that both sides are to blame for the economic situation in the NHL. In his mind, the players knew the backlash for their prolific monetary gains would be met with harsh resolve yet they have done little to rectify the situation. On the other hand, the NHL owners created the problem in the first place.
"I blame both sides. I blame ownership for letting it get out of hand and I blame the players because they knew the new collective bargaining agreement had to be worse than the last one," he said in an interview. "Why would you ever sit out one day and not find common ground? This is ludicrous. Not only have they lost momentum for cities like Calgary and Tampa Bay (Stanley Cup finalists) but for every NHL city."

"They've gone from a $2-billion business to what might be $800 million or, if they're lucky, a $1-billion business when they get back. Not only that, look at the number of lives besides the players and owners that have been affected."
Hard to argue with McDonald. At the same time, everyone knows this and the people with the power to change anything are too stubborn to lock themselves in a room in an effort to find at least some common ground. Maybe tomorrow's meeting between the NHL and NHLPA will be a start.

In my view, if both sides could have even the slightest room for movement, things can be solved. The owners could still ask for 'cost certainty', however I do not believe that a hard salary cap is necessary to achieve that goal. On the other side, the players may have to accept the coveted linkage between salaries and revenues. That may include a soft cap, or a much more punitive luxury tax than has been tabled thus far. The tax may include dollar for dollar penalties at a much lower threshold than previously proposed, as well as the forfeiture of draft picks.

In any event, this is not a case that hinges on one side or the other completely caving that will lead to a workable solution for this labour dispute. Rather, each side will have to accept some form of sacrifice.

Monday, January 17, 2005

Crosby Update


Sidney Crosby has been taking some heat in the Vancouver media for his failure to show up for the CHL Top Prospects game. The talk this afternoon on the David Pratt and Don Taylor show featured on the Team1040 AM radio, is that many people bought their tickets hoping for a chance to see him play and now they are irked at the notion that Crosby will be a no-show.

For me, if Crosby is truly injured, why on Earth would he travel across the country to play in an exhibition game? He has nothing to prove in this scenario. His focus has to be with his health and his junior team as they gear up for their playoff run. It makes no sense to me. But I guess the contention from some of the local Vancouver media is that his injury may not be all that serious and the least Crosby could do would be to show up in Vancouver to sign some autographs and make a personal appearance.

Just for the record, Pratt and Taylor were defending Crosby's decision to remain at home.

**Update**

Ron Toigo, the the organizer of the CHL prospects game, has some choice words about Crosby's decision to stay home on Wednesday. From TSN:
"For the guy who wants to be the next Wayne Gretzky ... the history of Wayne Gretzky is that he would be here with one leg if that's what it took because it's good for the game," Toigo, the game's promoter says..."Somewhere this has lost focus...It's all about the game and the fans who want to see this guy...The direction from the GM (Doris Labonte, GM of the Oceanic) is unfortunate, very small-market-minded and a real disappointment to all of us here."
Hmmm. Can we say bitter?

Labour talks to continue....


Both sides are to meet on Wednesday, January 19th. So says TSN.
''The union has requested a 'smaller group' meeting at the suggestion of Trevor Linden,'' says Bill Daly, the NHL's executive vice-president. ''We agreed to meet on that basis. We remain still hopeful that progress can be made toward a resolution.''
It should be noted that both frontment, Gary Bettman and Bob Goodenow will not be present at the meeting and a proposal is not likely to be tabled
."We think it is appropriate and hopefully useful to engage in these discussions at this time. We are not meeting to present a new proposal and remain committed to reaching a fair deal that does not include a salary cap," said NHLPA senior director Ted Saskin.
Well, I guess this will light the lamps of the optimistic fans, but I'm not going to start mortgaging the farm on this meeting leading to anything constructive. I suppose at the very least this stokes the fires of hockey journalists and bloggers alike, at least for the next two days. On the other hand, I guess that means we will have to endure another Bettman-bashing column from Al Strachan. Sigh.

Nash to sit out again


Steve Nash, star point guard of the Phoenix Suns will not play in tonight's game against Detroit. The pint sized guard, by NBA standards anyways, has averaged 15.3 points and 10.9 assists per game thus far, and has proven to be an integral piece of the Suns attack.

Most baketball observers have known of Nash's talent, yet he has glided under the radar for most of his NBA career. So far this season Nash ranks:

Ranks #1 in the NBA in Assists Per Game(10.9)
Ranks #1 in the NBA in Assists(402.0)
Ranks #3 in the NBA in Free-Throw Percentage(0.91)
Ranks #6 in the NBA in Double-doubles(21.0)
Ranks #1 in the NBA in Assists Per 48 Minutes(15.4)

He's finally getting the attention that he deserves. I believe that had the Vancouver Grizzlies drafted Nash, the Grizzlies would still be located in Canada. Can anyone say Nash for MVP?

Souray: Players are united, season lost


Montreal Canadien's defenseman Sheldon Souray was quoted on the official website for Farjestad, Souray's European team. On the site, Souray got his message out in the format of a 'postcard'. Here he responds to a range of topics from Bob Goodenow's most recent message to the players to find employment, to the NHLPA's stance on a salary cap:
"Bob pretty much said in his message, 'OK, we said this might take two years, and that's what it might take. If you guys want to go find a job this year, we encourage that. And hopefully, you'll play well enough that they'll sign you for next year,'...It certainly seems the owners are steadfast on having the salary cap, and that's something the players will never accept. It seems the owners' will is to have the season cancelled and guys are going to have to make plans at least for the last month and a half. It looks like a formality about the cancellation now...We're not going to accept a salary cap, whether it's two years from now or five years."
Nothing new there. It does sound like the players resolve is high and unwaivering at this point. So, is the NHL headed for an impasse? Maybe that was Bettman's plan from the start.

However, Souray alluded to the fact that some of the lesser paid players could start to feel the pinch in the future. Could that lead to cracks in the ranks?

"I signed a contract last summer that was great for me and my family, set us up for the future. So I don't make the money this year, which is fine. But if I don't next year, that's a total of $6 million down the tubes, and then I'll be 30. I'll have one year left on the contract, and if there are salary rollbacks. ...

A guy you think is secure enough is hurting, and it trickles down. There's the guy who's earning much less, trying to make car payments."
Well, all I can say is welcome to the real world. I find it hard to feel sorry for the players when they make references to financial hardships, but indeed, there may come a time when the players really start to feel the pinch. I think that's what the league has counted on, and it showed when they restructured the NHLPA's rollback solution in their latest proposal.

One thing is for sure, my appetite for NHL hockey has slowly diminished. Rhetoric here and there, posturing everywhere, I'm sick of it now. Hopefully the NBA and NFL can tide me over until baseball gets fired up again.

Crosby to miss Top Prospects game


Sidney Crosby is not going to play in the CHL propsects game. Too bad, I was looking forward to seeing him and Gilbert Brule go head-to-head. Crosby sites a back injury and overall fatigue from the recent World Junior Championships. At the very least, with Crosby on the sidelines, maybe we can focus in on some of the lesser known players who could becomne future NHL stars.

**Update**

Crosby has been taking some heat in the Vancouver media for his failure to show up for the prospects game. The talk this afternoon on the Team 1040 AM radio is that many people bought their tickets hoping for a chance to see him play and now they are irked at the notion that Crosby will be a no-show. Apparently Gilbert Brule is nursing a shoulder injury, but will suit up for the game.

In other hockey related news, I had to laugh when I saw this picture. Sportsnet's Hockeycentral will feature a special on NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman and NHLPA Executive Director Bob Goodenow in a two-part special. To see it, tune in Monday, January 17 at 5:00 p.m. (ET - Sportsnet Ontario/MT/PT)/ 5:30 p.m. (ET - Sportsnet East)

NFL conference finals set


The New England Patriots were thought to be ripe for the picking. All of the talk previous to the weekend was about how the Colts were primed to unseat the Pats from their perch, and I must admit, I believed it could be done. However, when it came to the actual game, none of the hype came to fruition. The Colts were dominated. Colour me impressed by the Pats performance.

The Pats defense dominated the Colts offense. Perhaps more accurately, the fact that New England had the possession of the ball for almost double of what the Colts did, tells the tale. The Indianapolis offense - the NFL's best, apaprently - could only muster one field goal.

As much as that game failed to live up to the hype, fans on Saturday were treated to an intense finish in Pittsburgh. In my view, this game was the treat of the weekend. The Jets should have won that game - twice - but failed to kick home the winning field goal. The Steelers can thank their lucky stars, as they in no way deserved to win. They had better get their game together for next week, or else the Patriots will run them out of Steeltown.

The Falcons/Rams game was sort of ho-hum for me, and the outcome was no surprise. In Philly, the Eagles showed me that they have plenty of fight left in them, despite missing their superstar, Terrell Owens. He's a huge loss, no doubt, but they may have enough to overcome the Falcons next week.

My picks for next week:

I take New England to overcome the Steelers, and Philadelphia Eagles to get by the Atlanta Falcons.

Friday, January 14, 2005

Fleury deemed ineligible


Hockey Alberta ruled that Theoren Fleury was under contract with the Chicago Blackhawks last season and thus he cannot play for the Horse Lake Thunder. While the decision may be technically accurate because he was under contract last season, why on Earth would they ban Fleury from playing this year. Policy or not, have some common sense.

The debate centers around, surprise surprise, the current NHL lockout and the policy of Hockey Alberta to disallow players who they deem to be currently locked-out by the NHL.
"I've never backed down from a fight in my life," he told Sportsnet. "They dropped the gloves, so we'll see where it goes from here...This is ridiculous," Fleury said to radio station CFGP in Grand Prairie, Alta. "This is borderline human rights stuff. We're going to do all we can to make a point to Alberta hockey that they can't push us around anymore."
I don't see the problem here. It's pretty plain in my eyes. Under contract or not, Fleury did not play a single game last season. His solid NHL career is all but officially over. And top that off with the fact that the 2005 NHL official guide and record book has Fleury listed as a "retired player" and the fact that he is not receiving lockout pay from the NHLPA. Hockey Alberta should be shamed and seriously reconsider the decision.

Geez, this kind of idiocy makes me cringe. I'm glad to see that Fleury has already appealed the decision.

Thursday, January 13, 2005

Weekly Burke update


Brian Burke made his weekly sportstalk appearance on thursday night. The conversation produced little in the way of new information, but Burke is always articulate and informed on the issues which makes it anything but dull to listen to. Some highlights from the segment:
"I dont care who's ball the court is in. I think the first side that steps up now will score massive PR points in the eyes of the public. I think the side that grabs the ball here will be seen as the ones who care about the industry and want to get something solved. I think the players feel ther last offer was a massive concession, and it's up to the league to make an offer. I know for a fact, the league is not contemplating making an offer right now."

Nothing new here, but the only people who don't seem to get it are the only ones who can actually do anything about it.
"Somehow there has to be a link between the salaries and the revenues. That exists in almost every industry. The players I speak with usually respond with 'Why on Earth do the owners expect us to solve this problem ourselves when the big market teams wont help the small market teams?'...."I think the owners should do it (revenue sharing) and I would challenge them to do that."

The players do have a solid point here. Revenue sharing is imperative, the owners have to help dig themselves out of this hole, a point upon which Burke agrees and goes out of his way to emphasize. Burke has always been a stalwart advocate of revenue sharing and that isn't about to change now.

Although nothing new really came out of the discussion, one cannot deny that although Burke may not always be correct in his assertions, he articulates his opinion very well and provides great insight into the issues of the NHL.

Thanks to the readers


Thank-you to all of the readers who make it worth my time to keep up the commentary. I'd do it even if no one ever read it, but it makes the effort that much more rewarding to know that people continue to come back and check in with what I have to say.

Thanks to James, my relocated cousin, and to Eric at Off Wing Opinion for the reciprocal links. Keep it up guys.

As the NHL world continues to slide into nothingness, I may venture into other sports. I've always been an NBA and NFL fan, but they always took a backseat to the world of hockey. I may dive into those sports at some point in the near futre as my excitement for the NBA grows. With no hockey on the tube, I've been immersing myself into some great hoops action, and I will say this - basketball can be downright entertaining.

Anyways, thanks to all for reading, keep coming back. Comments are always welcome.

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Daly says NHL willing to talk


In case you missed it, Mike Gartner had some thoughts on the CBA 'negotiations' yesterday. Today, Bill Daly responded:
"We have repeatedly expressed to the union that, once we are able to reach agreement on the players' "fair share" of the hockey business, we are fully prepared to discuss and negotiate over all other items of the collective bargaining agreement regarding the manner in which those monies will be fairly and sensibly distributed among the players," Daly told Sportsnet. "If there are particular aspects of our December 14 proposal that are problematic to the players, let's identify them and get back to the bargaining table to talk about them. That's how we approached and responded to the Union's December 9 proposal. That is not how the Union has chosen to deal with any of our proposals to date."

Well, I find it funny that Daly plays it a little dumb here. He should know that the main things that the players' will find problematic are a) the hard salary cap, and b) the linkage between revenues and salaries. Everyone interested in the NHL knows this, unless they've been living under a heap of dung for the last 5 months. So if the NHLPA wants nothing to do with a salary cap or linkage, and the NHL wants to base the new system upon it, there's absolutely no starting point for negotiations, that I can see, in either side's view.

Modano retracts


Mike Modano said earlier today that many players may have waivering unity and would want to get back to hockey should the lockout drag on into next season. However, later in the day, he back-tracked somewhat, saying that he was 'misquoted'.

In an interview with TSN, he says:
"I believe very much that what we're doing, we are unfied, very strong....I really didn't say that (his earlier comments as they appeared in print), it was twisted around....I really believe that once you get ahold of the print issue, it gets all tiwsted."

Interesting. I know that Al Strachan picks on the NHL when owners speak their minds. He berates the league because they fine owners for their negative comments. But I find it equally funny that when a player speaks out and casts an unfavourable light on the Players' Association, the statement is either immediately retracted or that player is deemed to need 'further education' by the NHLPA.

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Strachan puts blinders back on


Wow, it only took a day. Yesterday I agreed with Mr. Strachan, yet today, his anti Gary Bettman rhetoric has spewed over and is poisoning my eyes.

Can he ever lay off the Bettman bashing? We all know how you feel, Al. And yes, Bettman has made serious blunders navigating the NHL over the last decade or so. But nonetheless, how can one deny that the economic climate of the league must be re-vamped? With countless time for analysis and opinion, how can you not now see that both sides have valid arguments here.

For example:
It stands to reason that if these people could make money under the old system, they could be rolling in cash under a new deal with the players earning 24% less and all the inflationary pressure points removed.

It takes no great leap of logic, therefore, to believe that there must be some cracks in the league's resolve. Why wouldn't there be? Impartial sources everywhere say that the players' offer was not only a very good one, it was an excellent starting point for negotiations that never came.

But to get negotiations rolling, Bettman would have to be over-ruled. No wonder he cancelled the meeting.

Apparently Strachan has been taken in by the great illusion that Bob Goodenow unleashed on the hockey world. The 24% rollback was a great move on his part and it has more than accomplished his goal. But anyone who thinks that simply rolling back the clock will suffice has the blinders on. History has shown - not just in hockey - that teams will stop at nothing to get the players they want and proper spending needs to be policed otherwise the teams with deep pockets will always pummel those who do not. Managers have not, do not, and simply will never manage responsibly enough to keep the current economic framework intact. They need a fool-proof system.

Al may be right that some owners would like to accept the latest offer. But I would love to hear the sources, because everything I've heard or read points to the exact opposite. Brian Burke, Peter Karmanos, Jeremy Jacobs and Detroit Red Wings president Jimmy Devellano have all publically stated that the owner's solidarity is unwaivering in regards to 'cost certainty'.

That's not to say that there are not some teams who would love nothing more than to accept the NHLPA's latest offer. Of course there are. But that works both ways. Does anyone really believe that not one single player would play under a cap system? I bet there would be a large number who would.

And let's think about this for a second. Those owners who would accept the latest NHLPA proposal would likely not be doing it in an attempt to fix the game. They are not concerned about resetting the clock and comitting to the prospect of responsible management. Heck, no. It's because that deal would give them a 24% bonus to budget towards a free agent shopping spree. Plain and simple. History has shown - and not only in hockey - that the have teams will always win out over the have not teams - regardless of a luxury tax. An even playing field is required.

So really, Al, we have to forget about how the problem was created and focus on how to fix things. Both sides have valid points to make. Both sides are being greedy and childish. Both sides need a kick in the ass. And in the end, like it or not, agree or disagree, the players are the employees. This is the owners league. In the end, the owners will win.

David Ling says sucker punch uncalled for


As I originally posted here, Edmonton Roadrunner's pugilist Rocky Thompson threw a cheap shot to the head of top flight player David Ling of the St. John's Maple Leafs in a game last night. Late in the third period, Thompson reacted to a completely clean hip-check by tossing a right hand into the head of an unsuspecting Ling.

Today, Thompson says that the punch was not like what Todd Bertuzzi did to Steve Moore last May. However, David Ling and Maple Leaf's head coach Doug Shedden, have a different opinion.

"I would be shocked if Thompson is not suspended," Shedden said Tuesday. "Really shocked."

"It's the same type of hit, from behind, where I couldn't see it coming," Ling said. "It's a dirty play. I respect tough guys, I respect fighters, but when someone does that you lose a lot of respect for a guy."

View the CP version of the story here.

Monday, January 10, 2005

Strachan gets it right?


Just for the record, I am not an Al Strachan fan. His hate-on for Gary Bettman and the owners shines through in most of his commentary and it drives me insane (there's two sides to the story, Al). Still, despite the fact that when he wrote his latest column, his nostrils were probably wildly flaring as he chucked flaming darts at his 'Down with Bettman' poster, I can admit when he gets it right.

Basically, he responds to the NHL's placing of blame entirely at the feet of the players. More specifically, he retorts the comments of Bill Daly:

So, is Daly suggesting that because the players used the system that was in place in a competent fashion, they are responsible for the league's ills?

If the system was that bad, why did the league renew it twice? Is that the union's fault?

I agree Al. As I stated here, blaming the players entirely is
an asinine suggestion. But I'm glad it was said because the hockey fodder was getting pretty thin. It's too bad that we can't have a national debate on the CBA. Put Bettman and Goodenow on the podium and just let 'em fly. I might even be inclined to order that on pay per view.

Fight Fest in Edmonton


AHL hockey is under-rated. It really is good, entertaining hockey. Tonight, for example, the St. John's Maple Leafs pounded the Edmonton Road Runners 3-0 in Edmonton. And despite the fact that it was a well played game by two tired teams, it wasn't the score or the gameplay that excited me in the end, however. It was the countless brawls that were instigated in the third period by a rather viscious sucker punch thrown to the head of the Maple Leaf's leading scorer David Ling by Edmonton pugilist Rocky Thompson. The sucker punch started a chain reaction of fights as the teams combined for 38 penalties and 193 minutes in the third period alone.

The sucker punch reminded me of the infamous Bertuzzi/Moore debacle of last year. Now, it isn't fair to group tonight's incident with the 'cheap shot heard round the world', it's not even close to the same realm, but in the same breath, it was a punch to the head from behind on an unsuspecting player.

I don't want to make a big deal out of it, but it just goes to show the imbalance of media attention on plays such as this. Because Ling got up immediately, there will be little said of this.

Saturday, January 08, 2005

NHL & NHLPA trade shots

Now that the warm-up has concluded, let's get down to business. The NHL and the NHLPA took turns slinging insults at each other yesterday. It's rather funny that I find myself glued to the screen when this kind of thing takes place. There may be no NHL games, but man, this is entertainment!

The teeter-totter goes up and down, and as such, the NHL has placed the blame fully on the players and their 'union'.

"Let's be clear on where the responsibility lies for where we find ourselves today: it lies exclusively at the feet of union leadership who, despite numerous and repeated approaches by the league over many years, utterly ignored - and, in some cases, knowingly exacerbated - the financial distress the league was experiencing," Bill Daly, the NHL's executive vice-president and chief legal officer said Friday in New York. "Then, as if to suggest it is the league who must agree to negotiate only on its terms, the union proceeds to hold the game and its fans hostage over its complete and absolute refusal to negotiate any system that is premised on a negotiated - not arbitrary, but negotiated - and rational relationship between player costs and league-wide revenues."


The only part of that statement I disagree with is the blame that is placed exclusively at the feet of the union. In an overall view, that's ridiculous. If a specific number of GM's could have shown some form of fiscal restraint, the uncomprehensible rate of inflation would be nowhere near where it is presently.

Of course, there are several factors in the most recent CBA that are inflationary and must be addressed - things such as arbitration and automatic raises through qualifying offers. That aside, keep in mind that the owners did agree to extend the CBA more than once. And besides, in the end, it is the owners who ultimately agree to dish out the insane salaries in the first place. How can you fault a player(s) for turning down a mega-million dollar contract because it is way too high and fiscally irresponsible? That's not the players' responsibility. So, to fully place the blame at the feet of the players is an asinine suggestion.

However, he does make a semi-good point that the players have been, shall we say, less than dilligent in trying to mend the sport. But you can hardly blame the NHLPA for trying to hang onto what they have for as long as they can.

On the other side, you only knew that Ted Saskin has to get his licks in. Am I the only one who cannot stand this guy?

"After the NHL's failure to explore our proposal of Dec. 9, the players made it crystal clear that we are not working on a new one and the onus remains on the NHL to come back with a proposal that could be the basis for an agreement," Saskin said. "Three weeks ago, the league decided on its own to announce a board of governors meeting with no publicly stated agenda. During the ensuing three weeks, no one from the league spoke with anyone from the PA....Yesterday, the league decided to cancel its meeting, citing a lack of 'progress' in CBA discussions. The basis for Bill Daly's frustration is obvious - the league adopted the misguided strategy of using an early, vague announcement of a board meeting as some sort of pressure tactic against the players and it did not work."


Well, as irritating as I find Saskin, I can't argue there. I find it hilarious that the man that actually gets it right, turns out to be a player agent:

"It doesn't seem to make sense," said one agent who requested anonymity. "They're outwaiting each other while the patient expires on the operating table."

Amen to that. Bicker and banter, whine and comlpain. Does anyone even care about the game anymore? It would seem not.

Thursday, January 06, 2005

Brian Burke on Sportstalk

CKNW radio in Vancouver has a great nightly sports talk-show, aptly titled 'Sportstalk' with respected Vancouver media man and host Dan Russell. The show has a weekly feature called 'It's your quarter' with guest commentator Brian Burke. He may have an abrasive personality, but he's a treat to listen to.

Topics on the weekly feature range from the lockout to Burke's past experiences as the GM of the Vancouver Canucks. One thing is always constant, however - NHL hockey is always in the spotlight.

When asked if the NHLPA's claims that the NHL only intends to extinguish the NHLPA and end up in front of a labour judge have any merrit, Burke had this to say:

"No one can disagree with the (NHLPA) without someone from the Player's Association saying that they are out to bust the union...The NHL case for implementation is a good one, however, I haven't heard anyone talk about it and I don't think I'm going to."

Basically, Burke's sentiments were that it's a ridiculous notion that all the NHL is out to do is crush the NHLPA. The owners realize that the current crop of NHL players are the best in the world and they have little desire to simply toss them to the side. Simply, the NHL needs the coveted 'linkage' between salaries and revenues, and they will get it.

Burke goes on to say about the solidarity of the owners:

"(From the NHL's standpoint) the 24% rollback - everyone saw through that immediately...There is going to be no deal without linkage. Bettman is not a raving lunatic leading the masses, he's linked arm in arm with them (owners)...there are some owners who want a much stiffer deal than Gary has offered."

Interesting indeed. I figured that it was obvious that the owners were unwaivering and much more united this time around. But having it confirmed such as it was really drives the reality of their stance home. The conversation continued from there and there was some focus on the NHL's stance:

"There are some hard feelings towards the union because the NHLPA were given an opportunity to help fix the system two years ago - the owners said to the players that they can keep everything that they had up to this point, but the system must be fixed - and the NHLPA simply laughed at them. This is a union that has not allowed any type of mutual co-operation to develop. The players are employees, and that somehow gets lost in the mix here. They are employees and no (future) deal is ever going to be possible without linkage (to their salaries)."

As I said before, Burke may be abrasive and he has just a smidge of a bias to the owners side, nonetheless, when he speaks, most listen. His comments are very intelligent and well articulated and I only wish that he was on every night (although I suppose that would ruin much of the excitement).

On a final note, Burke basically conveyed that the season is all but officially down the drain. That's not going to take anyone I know by surprise - this season was probably unofficially lost about two or three years ago. Sigh.

NHL nixes Januray meeting

The scheduled meeting of the NHL board of governors was cancelled today. Wow, I'm supremely shocked.....not.

"After canvassing each of the 30 clubs, and in light of the lack of developments or a new offer from the union, the clubs were unanimously of the view that there is no need for a meeting at this point in time," Bill Daly told The Canadian Press today.

Rack this one up in the "Oh God, who cares" category. I don't know about most of you, but my eyes are sore from constantly rolling them every time a spokesman from either side of the NHL labour dispute makes a public statement.

Here's Lou Lamoriello, the New Jersey Devils GM:

"It's obvious that the reason it's been cancelled is that there's just nothing for us to talk about," Lamoriello said. "There's just no reason to have a meeting."

Well no kidding!! If there is no point now, was there really a point to it back when it was initially scheduled? This meeting was obviously a ploy by the league to focus some pressure on the NHLPA.

Now that the attempt has had absolutely zero effect on the stance of the NHLPA, what can we expect now? Well, in a word, nothing. Expect the same nothing that we have been seeing. Expect the same nothing that we have all been predicting for the last several weeks. Expect both sides to stand proud atop their unwaivering perches for a long while yet.

Wednesday, January 05, 2005

The Best Goalie....

One day after the World Junior Championships have wrapped up, I find myself returning to a cold winter with no NHL hockey. Surprisingly enough, I don't really miss it all that much. Nonetheless, I still get a little crabby when I don't get my hockey fix. My comfort has come in the form of the WHL.

So, with a small amount of time on my hands and no NHL news to snipe about, I shall continue with my opinions on the game's best players of all time. In case you missed the first installment - The Best Skater can be found here. This week - the goalies.

The best goalie of the modern area really came down to two choices for me: Patrick Roy and Dominik Hasek. I found it very hard to actually pick a winner in this category.

Here's the case for Hasek:

It's the Dominator. Love him or hate him (an overwhelming vote for hate, I'm sure) he has the tools, awards and talent to back it all up.

Hasek won a mind boggling 6 Vezina trophies (Best goaltender) - with a Buffalo team that was mostly mediocre - 2 Lester B. Pearson awards (NHL's outstanding player as selected by the members of the NHLPA), and 2 Hart trophies (League MVP).

Compared to Patrick Roy, who has 0 Hart's, 0 Pearson's, and 3 Vezina's, Hasek wins. Hasek also has 63 career shutouts. That's only 3 less than Roy in 435 fewer games played.

Granted that Roy has won 4 Stanley Cups and Hasek has just the 1, but keep in mind that Hasek was not a starter in the NHL until he was 28 years old. If Hasek would have had 6 or 7 more years overall (and a few more in his prime), there's no telling what he could have accomplished. Combined with his International resume and his unmatched natural ability and reflexes, Hasek was just as dominating as his nickname suggests.

The case for Patrick Roy:

You don't really have to convince many that Patrick Roy should be crowned as the best of all time. After all, he won 3 Conn Smythe Trophies as the best player in the playoffs (one came in his rookie season), holds the NHL record for most wins (551), most regular season games played for a goaltender (1,029), most playoff games played for a goaltender (247), most playoff wins (151), most playoff shutouts (23), and boasts 4 Stanley Cup rings.

During the 1993 Cup run in Montreal, Roy won an amazing 11 straight playoff games. If you pro-rate Hasek's stats over the length of Roy's career, Hasek wins in several categories. However, Roy's longevity and all time records must weigh heavily over Hasek's unfortunately abbreviated career.

So who wins? Well, for me it comes down to the clutch playoff performances by Roy. His playoff stats and all time records speak for themselves. Both goaltenders possess impressive records and skill, but I asked myself one question: "If you ran an NHL franchise and had to pick one of these goalies in their prime to be your netminder, who would it be?"

The answer is Patrick Roy.

Tuesday, January 04, 2005

Canada wins Gold

Team Canada won the gold medal tonight after comfortable handling the Russian squad. After the final buzzer sounded, a huge collective sigh of relief was heard throughout the nation. Nevermind that Canada pretty much dominated the Russians throughout the game, despite relaxing considerably in the third period, no one was going to celebrate this win until the final horn squaked the last gasp. All Canadians were well aware of the ghosts of tournaments past, and now they can be laid to a peaceful rest after the satisfying results of tuesday.

Right out of the starting gate on Christmas day, Team Canada dominated their opposition in almost every category. Patrice Bergeron walked away with the tournament scoring title and the MVP award, however the gold medal showing was the direct result of a superb collective effort. The roster was saturated with talent. Many argued that this is the best National Junior Team ever to shoulder the Canadian jersey, and they may have been right, it definitely showed.

Canada outscored opposing teams 41-7 during the tournament. If you think about that for a second you will realize how ridiculous that really is.

Many thought that the Russian squad, the team that has won the most gold and overall medals in the tournament's history, should not be taken lightly and would put up the toughest opposition to Team Canada thus far. But as it turned out, Canada stuck to their game plan, played with physical authority, and was never in any danger of bowing to the Russian team.

It has been 7 years since the team has been placed on the top pedestal, a span in which the junior 'Nats claimed 4 silver and 2 bronze medals. If it were any other nation, that would be considered a very respectable record. But not in Canada, no way. I guess that's the way things are in Canada - if you don't win the gold, it's a disapointment. But, now the nation can sleep easy, the task is done, Oh Canada.

NBA Players to pitch in

TSN reports that several NBA players are making a sizeable donation to aid the victims of the tsunami disaster. Not only is this the classy thing to do, in my opinion it's the right and only thing to do. No donation is too little - it all helps and is gravely needed.

From TSN:
Toronto Raptors guard Jalen Rose, Houston Rockets star Tracy McGrady, Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant and four other NBA players have promised to donate $1,000 US for every point they score in a game later this week to help victims of the Indian Ocean tsunami. Jermaine O'Neal of the Indiana Pacers, Bob Sura of the Rockets, and Pau Gasol and Mike Miller of the Memphis Grizzlies also are taking part in the $1,000-per-point donations, which will be made to UNICEF.

Also, in another classy move, Formula One driver Michael Schumacher will reportedly donate $10 million US to aid efforts. There are many such stories of generous donations from athletes, entertainment celebrities, and private citizens, which is great to see, so keep it up everyone.

Monday, January 03, 2005

NHL and the U.S. - will it work?

Tom Knott gives a good read on the over-zealous NHL expansion into the United States. It echoes my earlier sentiments that certain U.S. markets will never be considered hockey friendly. I agree that hockey can, and will continue to, work in markets such as Minnesota, Philadelphia, New York, and Detroit - teams that consistently produce high attendance figures and have a solid connection between the fans and NHL hockey.

On the other hand, does Florida really need two teams. And furthermore, does the NHL really need teams in Anaheim, Carolina, Nashville, Atlanta, Columbus and even attendance challenged Phoenix?

Now, before I upset everyone from the specified U.S. markets, I don't mean to say that attendance should be the only mitigating factor in determining whether or not a team belongs somewhere. After all, almost every team has gone through attendance woes at one time or another. And I certainly do not mean to say that the U.S. does not deserve their share of teams - certain U.S. markets have hockey fans that are just as ravenous and passionate as the Canadian fans.

But a consistently poor showing at the gate coupled with a weak connection and history with the sport of hockey will be the ultimate reason why the NHL will never succeed in certain markets. The league expanded much too quickly into way too many markets. Some locations are just not currently, nor will they ever be, considered receptive to the NHL - no matter how hard Gary Bettman tries to convince us otherwise.

Knott has this to say on the topic:
History, in part, drove the baseball process in D.C. It was a history that added to the passion in the debate. The NHL has no such history or sway in all too many of its U.S. cities. The league has expanded well beyond its roots, and worse, to second-tier localities of questionable staying power. Its vision has not comported with the elementary facts.....If the Caps were never to return to Fun Street, most of Washington would yawn.
Well put.

To continue on with my rant, the latest television deal accepted by the NHL just goes to show how weak hockey really is in south of the border:
"The NHL is barely clinging to the notion of being one of the 'four major sports'. The reality is, when it comes to television, the NFL, NBA, Major League Baseball, NCAA football and basketball, NASCAR and golf all are more popular than the NHL (in the U.S.)," John Dolezar, a Sports Illustrated NHL columnist, once said.
I would add several other sports to the list that are ahead of the NHL when it comes to TV ratings. Even during the playoffs, the NHL had less U.S. viewers watching it than wrestling, arena football, bowling, poker, and yes, tractor pull.

I don't think that I've really said anything new or profound here. One contributing factor in all of this is that the NHL has morphed into a game that is sometimes very painful to watch. Defensive play has become the norm and the trap is a household phrase in hockey hotbeds. High skill players have been pulled from their place and now play beside armies of grinders and checkers. The skill game has been smothered in favour of results and the game has regressed to resembling soccer on ice. Perhaps these factors are the real reason hockey will never succeed in the U.S. At the very least, they contribute a lot more than was perhaps once thought.

In the near future, I will take a look at the arguments for and against contraction. Is it necessary for the game to thrive or would it just further a runaway train that is the NHL? Stay tuned for my take on those issues.

Gretzky worried about the game

The Great One believe that there may not be NHL hockey for the next two years if a deal is not reached quickly.
"If this is not decided in the next few days, I'm scared we could be looking at a year, a year and a half, two years, not just three months like a lot of people thought in September," Gretzky said Sunday during a news conference at the world junior hockey championship. "From April to October, the players don't get paid, so I can't see us coming to an agreement in August or September. If we don't find a way to make everyone who is part of this sort of happy and get a deal done, we could be looking at a long, long time before hockey is played in the NHL and that's very alarming too. I hope in the next couple weeks we can come to an agreement."
Can't say that I disagree with his statements. I don't think the next two weeks will bring any labour peace, however. The two sides are so tightly wound and stubborn that you'd have better luck playing pick up sticks with your butt cheeks than you would seeing an NHL game this year.

If you haven't noticed, I'm not an optimist when it comes to a new NHL CBA. I frimly believe that the season is lost. But, if that's what it takes to fix things from a fan perspective, then I'm just as prepared as the owners or the NHLPA are. My heels are dug into the sand and I'm in for the long haul because when you really get down to it, this is nothing more than a game. Instead of two teams going at it, it's the players and the owners duking it out. And instead of playing for the Stanley Cup, they are fighting for nothing other than money - and who will ultimately be in charge of the NHL.

Pull up a chair, grab a beer and have a slice of pizza. This game isn't going to end anytime soon.

Canada, Russia to battle for Gold

Here we go again. Canada and Russia will square off tomorrow for the gold medal. I think we may have seen this somewhere before. The difference, in my opinion, is that the outcome will be completely different this time around. The Candian squad is too deep and has too much overall balance to not overcome the ghosts of the past.

However, that doesn't mean that it will be a cakewalk.
"They are a highly skilled team and a puck-possession type team and yet we can't get too caught up in what they do," Canadian head coach Brent Sutter said. "We've got to make sure we've got to continue to focus on our strengths and continue to play the type of game we want to play because if we don't do that, we don't give ourselves a chance."

As dominant as Canada was against the Czechs in their 3-1 victory - a game where the scoreboard did not accurately portray the one-sidedness of the play - the Russians will give them all they can handle.

As for the Russian squad, they defeated the U.S. team 7-2 (two empty net goals) on Sunday night. The thing that stands out in that contest was not who won or lost, it was the taunting by the two Russian stars - Alexander Ovechkin and Evgeni Malkin - at the end of the game. These guys are supposed to be future NHL greats? In my books, players who are NHL ready don't show a complete lack of class as these two did. What a show of complete disrespect.

I always hoped that it would come down to Canada and Russia in the gold medal final, but now, considering the complete lack of common sense by the two Russian "stars", I really want the Russians to get blasted. And if Canada and the U.S. win their respective games on Tuesday, my predictions will have been spot on for the top four finishers.