Friday, November 23, 2012

Decertification for Dummies (and I'm one of them)

Ok lets talk about decertification.
I will start by telling you I know nothing about decertification.
Everything I am about to tell you comes from a conversation I had with a lawyer friend of mine.
He does not deal in sports law,  but rather international trade law, anti-trust law and a good portion of his practice deals with free trade law.
All the comments, and assertions below are a result of the questions I asked him and none are my own interpretation.  I would not want to pretend in any way that I understand any of this.

The end result of union decertification in North American Pro Sports is still completely unknown because no case has even been taken to its full conclusion.  Any time in the past,  decertification in baseball, football or basketball has been threatened or the process begun,  a collectively bargained deal has been reached before true and final decertification took place.

Perils for the owners.  Union decertification for lack of a better term,  makes every single player in the NHL a free agent all at once.  The rules are,  there are no rules.  No CBA, no draft, no salary cap, no union to deal with.  Each player and his lawyer would have to represent themselves.  Decertification would also likely force owners to lift the lockout and allow the independent contractors to earn a living.  It also means the owners may be subject damages the players incurred during the lockout.  Those damages can be subject to "treble" association which apparently means triple the amount of the damages.

Perils for the players.  Each player must now negotiate every single protection into his own contract.  There is no singular body to argue and lobby on your behalf.  There would be no salary cap anymore but there would also be no guaranteed contracts or minimum salaries anymore either.  The rich players would likely become a great deal richer and more protected while the other half of the players would be subject to what ever scraps and security they could negotiate for themselves.

Apparently in the NFL dispute,  the 2 major court challenges during their decertification process were both lost in court by the players and specifically in the Brady vs. NFL case.

It also appears that where the case is filed and adjudicated is a major issue.  New York is the NHL’s American head office,  so that is where any filing would have to happen and New York is very owner friendly when it comes to decertification and anti-trust issues,  or so I am led to believe.

The scary part of decertification as it relates to pro sports is the fact that there is next to no track record of knowing how a case would turn out for either side if it were ever pushed to the very end.  Owners fear that kind of mayhem and only players who perceive they have no other choice,  would ever choose decertification because it means blowing up the industry.

One thing is certain.  If this is the route the players choose to follow,  it will be a painful learning experience for all of us to watch and any reporter in the NHL without a law degree might just as well start looking for a new job now.

You could not get a more remedial explanation of the basics of union decertification than this,  but it’s the best a play-by-play broadcaster without a law degree can come up with on a Friday.

See you at the rink

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Mother Nature is NHL players best friend.

Who is this new CBA for?
Players say they are fighting for the next generation.
Very admirable and very misguided.

The players concerns should be reversed.
Take care of the players before you who built the union that you have benefited from.  The number of former players who are currently destitute, living below the poverty line and struggling just to live,  is shameful.  A simple deduction of 0.5% each year from every NHL player and a matching amount from the NHL would solve the problem but they both refuse.  Its not even a discussion topic in CBA talks.

Look at the NFL’s Legacy Fund where both sides contribute to ensure players who were union members prior to 1993 are properly taken care of.  The current emergency care program the NHL has is a way of easing their conscience making them believe they are doing something important to help.  The fact is the current NHL program falls woefully short.

The future players are the ones to be taken care of?   The ones who can not be paid less than half a million dollars per season by rule of the CBA?   The ones who inherit the highest average salary of any NHL generation?   The ones who will gladly take your job (and if current habits continue) he will forget anything you may have done to improve the game or his place in it?

After the last CBA dispute caused the cancellation of an entire season 240 players didn't play another NHL game.  The season lost ended their careers.  Each year about a thousand players play in the league.  At any given time there are about 750 members of the NHLPA.  Currently 667 of them have contracts.  After this year only 398 will have guaranteed jobs.  After 2014/15 only 198 have jobs and after 15/16 only 124 have jobs.  Everyone else is rolling the dice.

A few things we know for sure.  No matter what the financial system is in the NHL,  the best players will get paid about the same amount regardless of the system.  The Cap System proved that.  Another thing we know for a fact,  owners and GM’s can not control themselves.  Give the new system a year or two and owners and GM’s will find all the loopholes to circumvent their own system just like they did last time.  That is the inadvertent bonus the players can always count on.

In the last CBA players had to give back 24% of their salaries and submit to a cap.  Appears to be a complete loss in the negotiations world.  Turns out 7 years later, revenues grow by a billion dollars a year and the average player salary rises by a million dollars a season simply because owners cant control themselves.

Players lamenting having to give up 24% back then,  ended up getting raises over the course of the last 7 years of 300%, 400%, 500% and some,  thousands of percent within a Cap system.  In other words,  while it is not written in the CBA, the most important thing for the players is Mother Nature.  The “nature” of owners that is,  and their complete inability to control themselves.  That’s what makes players wealthy, not the printed words within the CBA.

Players should not hate the owners who have made them millionaires.  They should instead prey that as a group they don’t ever change their “nature”.

See you at the rink.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

The End is Near

Is this the signal we have all been waiting for?  After all the body language interpretation and pressure point guessing could it be simple, juvenile tantrums that signal the end of the CBA negotiations and the start of the season?

If you remember back in 1994,  Chris Chelios threatened the life of the Commissioner and his family and then a deal was signed.  Maybe Versteeg and White are the outward expression of the players breaking point?  Early in this process Zach Parise and Ryan Suter both slimed the owners as each considered the possibility that their 98 million dollar deals might be clawed back and lets not forget Krys Barch’s boozy twitter rants.

Now Kris Versteeg says Bill Daley and Gary Bettman are both “cancers” in this process.  Ian White says Bettman is an “idiot” and the reason for all the bad things that have happened in the NHL including having teams in markets Ian doesn’t believe should have NHL hockey.

Lets deal with the obvious first.  If Versteeg considers Bettman and Daly to be the “cancers” in this process because they wont give him what he wants,  he may want to consider the opposite possibility.  Maybe the NHLPA executive director is again the problem.  I say again because every single executive director in NHLPA history from Allan Eagleson on,  has left the job and either been charged with a crime, accused of security violations and/or ethical violations within the NHLPA.  There are plenty of things I disagree with Gary Bettman about,  but this type of comment is simply juvenile.

Now Ian White.  After you stop laughing, lets deal with the obvious again.  Bettman is still the commissioner because NHL revenues have risen every year of his tenure.  Franchise values have risen steadily as has the players average salary.  Ian believes Bettman is responsible for franchises being misplaced in markets which Ian doesn’t believe can support NHL hockey.  That certainly has legs as a debate but lets be honest.  If there weren’t 30 teams in the NHL would Ian White be in the NHL?  Ian has made 9 million dollars playing in the NHL.  That type of money is generally not available in other leagues for players like Ian White.  Again his comments are simply juvenile.

I am not saying I don’t agree with many of the NHLPA’s assertions and proposals in this negotiation, but the name calling by frustrated players makes all players appear spoiled, out of touch and childish.  I can assure you all players are not.

What current players are right now though is stubborn in their contention that they don’t want to hear from ex-players.  They are traitors to the union cause.  Maybe just maybe they are very loyal to the union cause and simply want to urge current players to avoid mistakes they have made in the past.  240 players never played again after the last lockout.  The loss of a full season meant that 240 players lost their careers.

So far Recchi, Guerin, Hull, Lafleur, York, Therien, Donovan, O’Neill, JR, Mowers, Modano have all made comments which are not considered by current players to be complimentary or supportive of the NHLPA at this stage of negotiations.  Chris Phillips specifically believes Mark Recchi’s comments don’t hold water because he is ignorant of the day to day goings on with the NHLPA.

I have not seen any quotes from any of the former players who believe the owners offers are either good or fair but simply contend that common sense dictates that the deal isn’t going to get better the more paycheques current players lose.  That is not siding with the owners but rather the common sense that comes from the experience of going through lockouts and the perspective a former player gets after he leaves the bubble pro athletes live in while they are in the midst of their careers.

If I were a player three things would bother me greatly right now.  The former players who have been willing to speak publicly have all said basically the same thing.  Can they all be wrong?  Can they all be turn coats?  Secondly as Chris Therien has said, “If I were still playing I’d want to know what Fehr’s Plan B is”.  What is Plan B?  Just keep saying “NO” until the entire season is lost?  Thirdly I would want to know about the true motivation of Donald Fehr.  Former Major Leaguer and Blue Jay Greg Zaun when asked about his former MLBPA boss said “He did not come out of retirement to lose”.

For Donald Fehr;  is protecting the players, their careers and their incomes the top priority or is it protecting his personal legacy?  Players have always tried to insult Bettman by saying he knows nothing about hockey and then the NHLPA hires someone who knows less.   There are some who contend the only reason he came out of retirement to work for hockey players is not because of any particular love of hockey or its players, but rather the love of his brother Steve.  Some believe when this ends and Donald goes back to retirement,  it will play out that Steve will be portrayed as the one who brokered the deal and not Donald.  Steve Fehr being the hero for the players means a guaranteed offer to be the permanent Executive Director of the NHLPA when all this is over.  Only time will tell if this is true,  but if securing a job for his brother is even a part of the motivation for Donald then the players will have been betrayed by their leader again.

Versteeg and White would be very happy to be sure,  but I can also see Gary Bettman leaving his post after this is over.  Those who defend him point to all the growth for both players and owners during his reign.  Those not in Bettmans corner will point to the damage to the game with all the labor strife during his tenure with him as a central figure.

I am in favor of what ever changes need to be made to bring stability to our game.  You can only abuse the patience of fans and sponsors for so long before they decide they just don’t want to dance with you anymore.

See you at the rink.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Shame on both sides.

There are no major reasons for this NHL lockout. As Ken Dryden says in the Globe and Mail, this is fighting for the sake of fighting.

Who doesn’t believe this will ultimately end with the players and owners getting a 50/50 (or close to it) split of revenues with increased revenue sharing amongst the owners?

Do Bettman and Fehr believe the end result will be different? No they don’t. So why is the NHL about to lock out its players? It’s the ridiculous dance this league does every 5 to 7 years. Garry Bettman looks for the cost certainty his owners need to protect them from themselves. Donald Fehr is looking to put up a fight to make players feel like they are partners and not employees. Make them feel like they actually have a say in how 29 billionaires run their hockey teams. It has never been a partnership and it never will be. No owner is ever going to allow the employee to tell him how to run the business.

If players want to have a say in how ownership works, then buy a team. There are many, many ownership opportunities currently available in the NHL. Full ownership, partnership, equity investor, all these opportunities exist. If the NHL is such a great investment why haven’t any active players bought in? Because players know how many teams lose money and that’s ok as long as its not their money.

If owners ignore common sense in the name of stubbornness it only drags this on longer. When only a third of the teams in your league make money, it is obvious that increased revenue sharing is needed to end the cycle of franchise bankruptcy stories which seem to come out during the same week the NHL is bragging about league revenues going up. If 10 teams make a lot more money it doesn’t mean the bottom 10 teams are any better off. Just because changes to revenue sharing was the players idea and not yours doesn’t make it a bad idea.

The last lockout was about fundamentally changing the economic model for this entire industry with the implementation of a salary cap system. A massive legal and philosophical battle. This battle is nothing like that. It is simply about percentages and balancing the financial playing field between the big money making teams and the big money losing teams.

There is no good reason for this work stoppage.
Both sides should be ashamed for their role in this.
Neither side is innocent its only different degrees of guilt.

See you are the rink (some day).

As the NHL CBA talks continue toward the September 15th deadline, I would like to add a clause to what ever deal is finally reached. The “Time” clause. Time is at the centre of every debate. Is there enough “time” to get a deal done?

A hard deadline is a bargaining tool both sides use to pressure each other. I would like a clause in the CBA which benefits neither side but may benefit fans, who are the forgotten partners in this negotiation.

The clause would be a simple one. The two parties would be bound by the CBA to begin negotiations one year before the expiration of the current CBA. The leaders, in this case Bettman and Fehr would be required to meet face-to-face for a minimum of 2 hours every 5 working days until the expiration of the current CBA. This would prevent either side from simply sending lawyers and emissaries to discuss each others stall tactics. Within the first 30 days of these meetings the NHL must present a legitimate proposal and the NHLPA must make a legitimate counter proposal within 15 days of receiving it.

There is no guarantee this clause would eliminate the possibility of a work stoppage, but if the 2 leaders are forced to talk to each other about only CBA issues, it is more likely the CBA won’t be an issue when the deadline arrives and hockey is threatened.

The owners knew exactly what their first proposal would be months before it was actually presented. After it was presented the NHLPA took over 3 weeks to respond to it. During that 3 week period union head Donald Fehr went to Russia and Spain to “update players”. While he was there he also worked out the basic guidelines for an exhibition series with KHL All-Stars in case NHL players were locked out. Should his emphasis not been on the task of getting a deal done instead of planning for the eventuality of it not getting done?

The deadline is now exactly 1 month away and the NHLPA has just now made their first response to the owners opening proposal.

The time crunch is only a factor because both sides made it a factor with their foot dragging and complete lack of consideration for the fans who are being pushed to the edge of this cliff unwillingly.

My idea will never see the light of day for 2 reasons. Neither side wants to relinquish the bargaining power that a deadline holds and secondly despite claims to the contrary, neither side truly considers the fans in this CBA process.

See you at the rink.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

A clause for the fans in the new CBA.

As the NHL CBA talks continue toward the September 15th deadline, I would like to add a clause to what ever deal is finally reached. The “Time” clause. Time is at the centre of every debate. Is there enough “time” to get a deal done?

A hard deadline is a bargaining tool both sides use to pressure each other. I would like a clause in the CBA which benefits neither side but may benefit fans, who are the forgotten partners in this negotiation.

The clause would be a simple one. The two parties would be bound by the CBA to begin negotiations one year before the expiration of the current CBA. The leaders, in this case Bettman and Fehr would be required to meet face-to-face for a minimum of 2 hours every 5 working days until the expiration of the current CBA. This would prevent either side from simply sending lawyers and emissaries to discuss each others stall tactics. Within the first 30 days of these meetings the NHL must present a legitimate proposal and the NHLPA must make a legitimate counter proposal within 15 days of receiving it.

There is no guarantee this clause would eliminate the possibility of a work stoppage, but if the 2 leaders are forced to talk to each other about only CBA issues, it is more likely the CBA won’t be an issue when the deadline arrives and hockey is threatened.

The owners knew exactly what their first proposal would be months before it was actually presented. After it was presented the NHLPA took over 3 weeks to respond to it. During that 3 week period union head Donald Fehr went to Russia and Spain to “update players”. While he was there he also worked out the basic guidelines for an exhibition series with KHL All-Stars in case NHL players were locked out. Should his emphasis not have been on the task of getting a deal done instead of planning for the eventuality of it not getting done?

The deadline is now exactly 1 month away and the NHLPA has just now made their first response to the owners opening proposal.

The time crunch is only a factor because both sides made it a factor with their foot dragging and complete lack of consideration for the fans who are being pushed to the edge of this cliff unwillingly.

My idea will never see the light of day for 2 reasons. Neither side wants to relinquish the bargaining power that a deadline holds and secondly despite claims to the contrary, neither side truly considers the fans in this CBA process.

See you at the rink.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

PR lessons Goodenow never learned

With NHL CBA talks about to begin between the NHL and the NHLPA, new union head Don Fehr has already proven to have more PR moxy than former head Bon Goodenow. Millionaire players rarely have the public on their side in these types of negotiations. Its one of the few times where the much wealthier owners actually have the fans on their side. Players often come across as petulant, greedy and out of touch with the average wage earning fan. That is a PR hurdle the NHLPA in its modern incarnation has never been able to scale.

New boss Don Fehr has already started laying some very subtle PR land mines for the owners to step on. Rejecting the leagues plan to restructure the divisions and revamp the schedule. The NHLPA claims it wasn’t properly consulted. Odd since the former union boss Paul Kelly said publicly that the plan the league came out with was almost exactly the plan the players wanted and asked the league for during his tenure.

Fehr claiming the league could easily start on time without a new CBA but simply operate under the old system until a new deal is reached thus guaranteeing fans their hockey fix. Smart play since if a lockout did occur in October the NHLPA could claim the owners are the villains who shutdown the game and not the benevolent players who offered to endure under the old system which pays them 57% of league revenues.  The projected floor for the cap this coming season is 54.2 million.  As many as 10 teams will lose millions just getting to the floor of the cap.

Fehr is very smart to have over 30 active players on the negotiating team. That will go a long way in alleviating player fears of the past, that a small pack of insiders within their group controlled everyone’s fate while having their own personal and secret agendas. Players are wise of to be skeptical of their own leaders since the NHLPA is 100% perfect in having both corruption and/or controversy at the top. Since the onset of the NHLPA, every single executive director has departed amid controversy. Some went to jail, some dismissed for contravention of internal bylaws and procedures and others simply because there was a rift amongst members because of the actions of the executive director.

In this CBA negotiation the players have some great points. They made major concessions in the last CBA and the owners inability to control themselves has again put many franchises in financial trouble. The lack of true revenue sharing means that despite a business model which has seen revenues grow from roughly 2.1 billion seven years ago, to the estimated 3.3 billion per year now, we still see too many franchises in financial trouble. The players can rightly point out that revenue generation is not the problem but rather the leagues wealthier teams unwilling to truly share the profits with the weaker teams.

What does not work in the players favor is comparables. In arbitration, free agency and almost every facet of NHL life, comparables are used to decide everything. Yet players will try to deny they compare to football or basketball. Players in both those sports receive roughly 50% of the leagues revenues in sports which generate far higher total revenues than the NHL does. It is still difficult to convince any working person that an employee deserves to make more than his employer who has to take all the risks and provide the entire infrastructure for the athletes to perform their magic.

What has been proven true in almost every sports labor dispute in the last 25 years will ultimately occur here too. The only question is how much will the players lose and the fans suffer to get to that reality. In the NHL up to half of the teams owners will lose less if there are no games than they would if there are games. Until the owners are facing true financial hardship across the board, why would they stop until they get the deal they want?

Sadly my guess is there will be another NHL lockout in October and my guess is the player (just like last time) will end up agreeing to something extremely close to what they were offered at the beginning of the process. We will again all be left wondering why the game had to stop and the players will be left wondering how they will ever recoup the money and (for some) the careers they lost.

See you at the rink.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Nobody wants the Russians.

With the NHL entry draft just hours away,  the biggest question is, will Russian Nail Yakupov be taken first overall?  The real question is, how many Russian players will even be chosen.  The rarely spoken about drought of Russian born players is not accidental.  Many NHL teams simply don't want the headaches which often come with having Russian players on their team or in their system.

Each season roughly a thousand players dress for at least one NHL game.  Last season 22 Russian skaters and 5 Russian goalies played regularly in the NHL (more than 10 NHL games).  Even if you add all the former Russian satellite countries which are now independent (Russia, Kazakhstan, Belarus, Latvia, Uzbekistan, Ukraine ) the number isn't much higher.  Just 30 skaters and 5 goalies.

The old line thinking that Russian players just don't care enough is both untrue and unfair.  There are just as many or more floaters from other countries.  The KHL does however play a major part.  If a player from Russia is not going to be a highly paid star here why would he stay?  For example why would a player offered six hundred thousand dollars to play in the NHL stay when he can make two million tax free in the KHL.  It means often their allegiance to their NHL team isn't as strong as their desire to make as much money as they can during the short working life of a pro hockey player.

For most North American born players, playing in the KHL is their last choice.  For most Russian players its their 2nd choice and becomes their 1rst choice if they don't get the kind of money they want and/or a guarantee they will play in the NHL and not the AHL.

With this very real possibility of losing a drafted player to the KHL, many NHL teams are choosing to simply not draft many Russian players and avoid the possible soap opera.

Pro hockey is a business and what we here in North American simply can't get over is the thought that a player would choose money over a chance to have an NHL career.  Many Russian players can't understand why anyone wouldn't go where the pay is the highest. 

Its a difference in perspective which is not going to change and as long as the KHL exists, this situation won't change.  That means we are likely to see fewer Russians in the NHL in the future and not more of them.

See you at the rink.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

The good and the bad of the LA Cup win

Congratulations to the LA Kings for their Stanley Cup win.  An 8th seed winning the Cup gives every playoff team in the future the example they need to realize its anyones championship to win if you get in.  There is such a small difference now between the best teams and the teams which just barely make the playoffs.  It also shows you how close this league is and how close it will continue to be.  Montreal was last in the East and missed the playoffs by 14 points.  That amounts to just 1 win in each month of the regular season.  That's the tiny difference between making it and finishing last.

Now the bad.  I fear that the Kings will now suffer through exactly what Tampa did when they won the cup.  If you remember back, the Lightning won the cup and hoped to ride their success to a repeat the following year.  They had hoped to capitalize on the excitement in their market to sell more season tickets and sponsorships.  Tampa never got the bang they were hoping for because the following year the NHL locked out the players and the entire season was lost.

The LA Kings may well end up in the same boat.  Their first Cup win in 44 years and they may not get the bang they deserve.  No ability to carry over the buzz on the LA sports scene.  No ability to convert the excitement into seat and sponsorship sales for next season if the NHL and the NHLPA again go to war over the CBA.  That agreement expires in September and many are predicting a long delay to the start of the season or possibly the cancellation of another season.  Either would kill the Kings chance to take full advantage of their Cup Victory.

Congratulations to the Kings and I hope to you get all the rewards a franchise is supposed to receive from winning the Cup.

See you at the rink.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

A Newspaper-less world is a bad world.

Here in Ottawa this week it was announced that the Ottawa Citizen will discontinue its Sunday Edition and layoffs were announced.  The Parent company is also making similar adjustments to other newspapers across Canada.  This scares me.

We all in the Radio and TV business have undergone massive change in the last ten years because of technology and mass ownership with the pain of layoffs and mergers which have changed the business completely and changed the lives of both the group still in the business and those sadly who were forced out of the business.

The Newspaper business has been slowing going through the same process and now it seems to be speeding up.  That is expected but the larger problem is the journalistic side of this process.  Newspapers are hugely important to a democratic society whether the average person perceives it or not.  The type of journalism newspapers have historically engaged in is the spade work.  The tough, long and important work.  The investigative reporting that sometimes requires years to get to the bottom of a story.  That is very expensive work and the kind of work which has never been matched by the electronic media.  In fact the electronic media reads multiple newspapers each day to find stories they want to chase and expand upon.  You may get the story first on TV or Radio, but its origin may have been a newspaper story.

Newspaper reporting is what has often kept politics in check.  Prime Ministers in check.  Big business in check. On a less important scale, it has kept sports in check.  Without newspaper reporting would we know about Watergate, Abscam, and in the sports world, Graham James?

The younger generation has become accustomed to getting their news online.  Sometimes from online newspapers but too often from other sources.  Those other sources often have no journalistic ethics, integrity or accuracy.  Too many Internet only users mistake blogs and twitter as actual, true and accurate news.

The decline of the newspaper industry puts all of us at risk of having fewer checks and balances to protect all of us.  Without the light the newspaper industry shines on both the good and bad we have less opportunity to cheer hero's and expose villains.

As the newspaper industry transitions more and more to the online world, we all have to hope that the journalistic bar does not drop or we all suffer.

Read a newspaper today.  Please.

See you at the rink.

Friday, May 25, 2012

You want the dirty words too?

There is a debate about the broadcast position between the benches during NHL games. Some believe that Pierre McGuire from NBC and Glenn Healy from HNIC should have told viewers what was being said between the two head coaches in the NYR/N.J series. Really? Does anyone really believe the journalistic integrity of either broadcast was cheapened by not repeating the insults and swearing between the two coaches?

The short sighted nature of this request is the fact that, the position between the benches is not one the teams have to allow. If commentators start relating exact verbiage of coaches or players exchanges it would not be long before teams refused to allow access to that area and then the viewer’s get nothing from that perspective. The other reality is families watch these broadcasts. You don't want kids hearing those words.

The print journalists who are up in arms over this are hypocrites. I don't know any print journalists who don't keep off the record conversations private; knowing that burning a source means they will never trust you again. You might be a star for one day, but then never get another piece of important information from that source. The perspective of keeping some information private to allow you to have a relationship with a source which will get you the big story later is not new and in fact happens every day. The print journalists who claim "viewers have a right to know" make me laugh. Print journalists withhold juicy information every day but somehow they are journalists and the men between the benches are shills?

If you want the between the bench perspective live, you have to accept that they will tell you about what they are yelling about but not the words they use. They will tell you a player is injured but not what the injury is. They will tell you about the general theme of a coach's speech to his players, but not the exact script. More than that means the privilege of being between the benches will be revoked.

The contention that a separate audio feed could be provided for a fee so fans who want to hear every word is also not realistic. The cost of a separate feed could never be recouped and how many fans really want to hear coaches and players swearing? Is it really that big a thrill? Players and coaches also have to be able to vent emotion within the field of play without being embarrassed in the media for it. They have to be allowed to have some parts of the game which remain theirs alone.

See you at the rink.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Time for the Media to walk out on Tortorella

Today's mandatory media briefing with Rangers head coach John Tortorella lasted all of 68 seconds.  These daily NHL mandated get togethers  were a joke during the Ottawa/NYR series.  They were no better in the 2nd round and now in the Conference Final they continue to be a complete waste of every one's time.

Here is the transcript of today's epic exchange.

Q. The guys you brought up, how do you use them, not in the series, but what is the thought behind having them up here?

COACH TORTORELLA: Just have players ready to play in case we run into injuries.

Q. What has been the key do you think of your strong recent third periods?

COACH TORTORELLA: Staying with it.

Q. Being aggressive?

COACH TORTORELLA: Staying with it.

Q. John, if you've got a guy who is not going offensively that you know can. What has historically been your tactic? Do you talk to him? Do you just ride it out?

COACH TORTORELLA: Depends on the player. Depends on the player, depends on the situation. It's a question that I can't answer because it all depends on the situation.

Q. So if I asked you about Ryan Callahan?

COACH TORTORELLA: I won't answer.

John Tortorella is behaving in a completely childish and unprofessional manor.  It is just that simple.  I know and admire John as a coach but this is an embarrassment to both him personally, the Rangers and the NHL.

Like it or not, the media is the conduit to the fans.  If you treat the media this way you are snubbing and disrespecting the fans of the game.  That is unacceptable.

Tortorella is clearly still angry over the fines he was forced to pay this season for his public opinions and the words he used to express himself, many of them of the four letter variety.  He always tells his players to let things go and be professional.  To have restraint and skate away from situations which could hurt the team.  The coach needs to listen to his own advice.

Every question from the media is not going to be an award winner.  There will be some dumb ones.  Show some professionalism and answer as politely as you can and move on to the next questions.  Refusing to answer any questions about players, their health, systems, situations and general tactics is out of line.  Those questions are legitimate and are top of mind with the fans.  That's who you are really answering to.  The fans.

John's boss Glen Sather needs to step in and help his coach here.  If Glen can't impart his experiences and more help is needed then dip into the massive Ranger budget and get him some anger management help.

Below is a link to a USA today story about how the Yankees handle their media training with the players and coaches.  It is enlightened and realistic.  The Yankees face far more scrutiny every day than the Ranger coach faces in an entire season.  If they can find a way to professionally deal with the media I'm sure John Tortorella can too.

Or he can continue the angry child routine which has been soooo worth while for everyone involved.
It might be time for the media to get up and walk out when he takes the podium.  He is under the impression they are wasting his time while the fact is he is wasting all of ours and thumbing his nose at the fans in the process.

See you at the rink.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Who is the NHLPA protecting?

The NHLPA is appealing the 25 game suspension of Raffi Torres for his illegal hit on Marian Hossa.  Understandable that the union wants to give a dues paying member the representation he pays them for but who is the association really protecting?  Is Hossa OK with this?  Was Hossa asked if he disagrees with the union (he also pays massive dues to), asking the league to reduce the punishment for the man who devastated him?

This association too often sides with the offenders and forgets about the victims.  Has the NHLPA ever considered applying its own internal sanctions against players who intentionally injure other dues paying members?  If you walked up to someone in your office and tried to take their head off you would likely be fired and the victim would have the right to file both criminal and civil charges with the full backing of his/her union.  Does Hossa have any of these rights?

The other bothersome part of this is the utter uselessness of it.  With Commissioner Garry Bettman being the sole adjudicator, he has never overturned or lessened a suspension.  This one will not be the first. 

The situation only points out again, that third party arbitration is required.  The league already does this with salary arbitration where independently hired judges handle all arbitration cases.  Why not third party arbitrators to handle suspension and supplementary discipline appeals?

The answer is a simple one.  The NHL never wants to allow an outside voice to judge the type and severity of discipline it hands out.  Salary arbitration is a simple dollars and cents procedure based on publicly available salary and statistical comparables. 

Using the NHL's past history of suspensions and fines measured against the actions which caused the discipline, would only point out and embarrass the NHL.  An independent adjudicator would have to try and make heads or tails of the jumble of mixed messages, star weighted decisions and inconsistent rulings and non-rulings over the years.  In other words the NHL would never want a third party to shine a light on how badly they have managed this area of their business over the years.

See you at the rink.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Ovechkin Debate

Dale Hunter's use of Alex Ovechkin in these playoffs has become a daily story.  I'm not sure how much of a story it really is.  Ovie is a superstar who has been used to playing much more on average than he is playing in this post season.  Its not a "benching" its simply coaching.  Ovechkin is a one dimensional player.  Very dangerous when he has the puck and a train wreck defensively when he doesn't. 

In the past his coach's have been leery of cutting back his ice time when the team is defending a lead fearing his reaction or that of the teams ownership and management.  Dale Hunter doesn't fear either because he doesn't need this job and thus does not have job security as a motivation.

There is a contention that Hunter uses exactly the opposite method with his junior team in London by over playing his stars.  The flaw in this argument is that Hunter and his brother Mark select all the players in London and they would not have any one dimensional players on their team.  Their best players with the Knights are also their best defensive players so the comparison is not valid.

The microscopic camera work by the TV networks, close ups of every shift, both Ovechkin and Semin play only reinforces Hunter's decision.  No back checking, no forechecking, and not only no commitment to defence but an apparent complete lack of understanding in what to do and how to do it.

Looking at his total ice time per game and comparing it to other games is also a flawed comparison.  The game situation is the important key.  How much does he play when the game is tied or the Caps are trailing? How much does he play when they are defending a lead?  The answers are a lot and very little.

This is nothing new.  When the dynasty Montreal Canadians were leading a game Cournoyer and Lafleur didn't play as much as Gainey and Jarvis.  The biggest difference from then to now is media analysis.  Then it was good coaching.  Now its insulting a superstar.  Then it was trying to win and now it is not getting full value from your highest paid player.

This is nothing new.  Its simply called coaching.

See you at the rink.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Making the Karlsson Norris case.

There is some debate about the validity of Erik Karlsson as this years Norris Trophy winner.  Many believe it is not even worth the debate.  He is so clearly the winner why debate.  I am in that category.

Karlsson is in the tail end of an historic season.  In the entire history of the NHL only 3 players have done what Karlsson is doing.  He currently has a 27 point lead over the next best defenceman in point production (Brian Campbell in Florida).  Only 3 other players have had a gap this large over their next closest peer.  Bobby Orr, Denis Potvin and Paul Coffey.  The massive gap more than outweighs the debate about his comparative defensive play when measure against some of the other considered candidates like Chara, Weber, Keith and Lidstrom.

Karlsson is also not a power play monger.  He leads all defencemen in even strength points and is tied for the league lead in power play points.

He is (today) a +19 which puts him 13th among defencemen.  That leaves him tied with Weber and ahead of Keith.  He is just 8 behind Chara and Lidstrom,  so relatively similar.

One of the historic problems with the voting procedures by the hockey writers is reputation.  Too often this award is considered with a players entire career factoring into the equation.  This is supposed to be a single season, individual achievement award.  There is no question at 21 years of age, Karlsson has not had the same kind of career as Chara or Lidstrom but again, this is supposed to be an award for single season achievement.

And what of the "if you had to start a franchise today,  which guy would you pick" debate.  Well again it is not a "franchise" or "career" award.  In today's game where few teams now score 300 goals a season, I would argue that many or most GM's now would put a higher premium on a defenceman who may score 100 points at some point in his career over a good offensive defenceman who is a great shut-down guy.

I know it is difficult to get some writers to consider a skinny, 21 year old Swedish kid over a future hall of famer or a giant,  but Karlsson's performance this season has dwarfed both of their achievements and he should be the Norris Trophy winner in a walk.

See you at the rink.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Give the kid his due.

The Hockey Writers in the NHL are the ones who vote on many of the most important individual awards in the NHL.  They are now starting to compile their lists of candidates for each award.  The good writers are starting to talk to players, coaches and managers around the league to get their opinions to help form their own opinions.

I am not an expert, but only a play-by-play guy,  but I have a hard time believing Erik Karlsson wont get real consideration for the Norris Trophy.  Reputation is a huge part of the selection process and Karlsson hasn't been in the league long enough to have one,  but his numbers have to get him some true consideration.

Karlsson is the best offensive defenceman in the NHL and it isn't a close race.  On this day (Feb 23) he is 20 points ahead of Brian Campbell who is 2nd in the defenceman's points race.  Its a huge margin against the best blue liners in the world.  He is 22 points ahead of Shea Weber, 26 points ahead of Duncan Keith, 28 points ahead of Chara, and 29 points ahead of Nick Lidstrom.  These are the players most often mentioned as Norris candidates. 

Plus/Minus is also a major stat used in the selection process I am told.  Karlsson isn't close to the +26 of Lidstrom,  but now in the ballpark with his +15 after being a -33 last season.  Clearly Karlsson has become a much better defender.  He is close to Chara's +21 or Weber's +18.  My counter point is,  that if Karlsson played on one of the more mature teams with more experience and a better grasp of team defence,  what would Karlsson's plus/minus be?

In a league where there is constant importance put on generating offence Karlsson's numbers should be given added weight especially considering how far ahead of his peers he is.

I don't know if the writers will vote a 21 year old into the winners position, but if Karlsson continues on his current pace and isn't in the top 3 after the final votes are tallied,  then there is something wrong with this process.

See you at the rink.

Monday, February 13, 2012

A fathers pride is a wonderful thing.

The Ottawa Senators are on the road for a 2 game trip to Florida.  The player's fathers are along for the trip.  This is not the first fathers trip for Ottawa and in fact almost every team now does this each year.  It never gets old. 

When you watch the fathers in the stands watching practice it still seems like they are watching their boys the same way they did when they were 10.  Little groups of different fathers together, sipping coffee, and talking about drills, games, the league and life.

Hockey rinks are meeting places as the kids grow up.  They are still meeting places when they are all grown up and playing in the NHL.  The only difference is the coffee is better and you need a pass to get into practice.

How proud these men must be to continue to watch their sons.  They spent so much time in cold rinks watching them chase their dreams and now they sit in warmer rinks watching them live their dreams.

The feeling is the same for every father.  Watching the pursuit is what draws the pride not the capturing of it.  Could Daniel Alfredsson's father be any prouder of his son than Matt Carkner's father be of his?  Not a chance.  Both chased it and caught it.  In very different ways and from very different paths but both have made their fathers very proud because of the pursuit.

When I watch my son play I feel the same way.  I don't care if he ever earns a paycheck playing hockey.  I love watching him pursue it.  He plays on a minor midget team of 15 and 16 year olds even though my son has just turned 13.  Watching him compete and fit in with young men older than he is makes me very proud on many levels.  It makes me thankful for the parenting done with all of his team mates who have welcomed him and made him part of their team.  He has learned lessons about life which can only make him a better man as he grows.

The Senators fathers trip is a gushing of pride you can't help but feel and it reminds us that the pursuit is the most important lesson for all of us.

See you at the rink.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

No Power Plays, Impossible.

There has been a great deal of conversation about the recent Senators/Boston game in which the Bruins were awarded 4 power plays in the game and the Senators received none.  Since there has never been an NHL game played in the history of hockey where one team didn't commit at least one foul, there can be only 3 reasons for this. 

The officials had or have a personal axe to grind with the Senators or its GM or its coach or one, some or all of its players.  The officials are not competent enough to call a game correctly or fairly.  The third possibility is that the Boston Bruins are the cleanest team in the history of hockey and actually did not commit a single foul in that game.  That seems completely unlikely since they do average more penalty minutes per game than any other team in the NHL.  It also seems completely unlikely since there are TV cameras at the game.  Those cameras caught Lucic hitting Condra from behind, Marchand chopping the stick out of Kuba's hand,  Kelly hitting Neil in the neutral zone 40 feet away from the puck and Alfredsson being tripped 15 feet away from an official.  Any one of the four were easy calls for any official to make.

Debating the reasons is a waste of time.  What should be automatic from the NHL standpoint is, an automatic review of the officials performance on any night when one or both teams do not receive a penalty.  As we all know there is no chance any team has or will ever play a foul free NHL game,  so when no penalties are called, the officials should have to answer why they either did not see the infractions or chose not to call the infractions.

Ottawa fans are all churned up right now about this,  but they are not alone.  The New York Islanders have far more reason to be angry.  In back to back games with the Leafs,  the Islanders didn't receive a power play in either game.  That's right,  the Leafs played over 120 consecutive minutes of NHL hockey (one game went to overtime) without giving up a single power play.  How is that possible?  Its possible because of one of the 3 reasons stated at the top of the blog.

Recently former NHL ref Kerry Fraser wrote in his column on the TSN website that after reviewing the game he thought Boston in fact should be more upset than Ottawa since he spotted many more Senator's fouls which went uncalled.  I am sure that is absolutely true, but that is a debate about quantity.  My debate is about absence.  The complete absence of the officials ability to see or willingness to call penalties on one team over another.  I will not challenge Kerry on matters of officiating since his resume is long and mine is non-existent in this area,  but I contend we have different arguments.

Refs are human and not robots.  The are subject to anger, empathy, bias, contempt and vengeance just like any other human.  I believe if you look at the way the Ottawa games have been officiated since coach Paul McLean publicly called out Dan O'Rourke after he called Erik Karlsson a "diver",  you will see a pattern.  Insult and dis-respect one ref, you disrespect and insult all of them and the brotherhood will make you pay for that.  The NHL and every single ref will tell you they carry complete neutrality into every game.  That is not possible nor reasonable to expect from any human.

The NHL should be very concerned each and every time any team in any game does not receive a single minor penalty.  That is a clear indication there is something seriously wrong with the officiating job done that night.

See you at the rink.

(Note-before I get all the nit-picking comments, yes I am aware the Bruins did receive 2 fighting majors in the game.  Neither produced a power play for either team.)

Thursday, January 26, 2012

The Great Thomas Divide

There is a great divide right now in opinions about the actions of Boston's Tim Thomas in deciding to boycott the team's visit to the White House.

I have not heard anyone say they don't respect his right to have an opinion and to act or abstain based on his belief's.  But if he thought other Americans would agree with him he was mistaken.

I am not an American citizen, so my opinion is meaningless but none the less , here it is.

He should have gone.
You don't like the president, you don't like what government in your country has become, this was not the place to make that statement.  This was a team event and you are a member of the team.  If Tim wanted to make his statement to the media about his feelings its easy.  They are the people with mics and note pads gathered around your locker each day.  Just speak and they will communicate that to the world.

If you can't step into a government building because of your belief's, then try the hypocrisy hat on for size.  There are many, many government buildings you have already been in I am sure.  Ever renewed a drivers license?

Tim Thomas is an outstanding goaltender and from all accounts a great guy.  But admitting that his favorite TV show was Fox's now fired right wing nutbar Glenn Beck made people raise an eyebrow and now this snub of the President and the White House makes people wonder even more.

See you at the rink.

Great 8 is 8 years old.

Alexander Ovechkin is known as the "Great 8" for his work on the ice.  Right now he is behaving like he is 8 years old.

Alexander gets suspended for 3 games for an illegal check.  Its long overdue because he has committed many suspendable offences in the past,  but was always given a pass because he is one of the stars of the game.  The NHL can argue that no player gets preferential treatment,  but we all know that part of the game has, is not and will never be changing.

But Alex obviously doesn't see it that way.  If they want to suspend me of all people, a star, then don't expect me to come to the All Star game and help the league promote itself.  Its classic pouting like you would see from an 8 year old.

The "I don't want to be a distraction" reason is a sad and failed attempt to turn himself into a martyr.  The league's willingness to allow him to do it,  is even more sad.  Players in the past like Nicklaus Lidstrom have been suspended for refusing to go to the All Star game when healthy enough to play.  Crosby went to the game even when he was injured and wasn't playing,  only because the NHL asked him to for the good of the league and he did it.  One superstar behaves like a man the other like a child.

Only Tim Thomas has damaged his own reputation more this week than the 8 year old Ovechkin.

See you at the rink.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Ban fighting? Ban the word Ban first.

The debate continues about "banning" fighting in the NHL.  New words are needed here.  There is only one way to "ban" fighting in the NHL.  If you fight you never play another game in the league.  That will never happen.

The only thing that can change is stiffer penalties.  If you fight you are gone for the rest of the game or gone for the rest of the game and suspended or whatever.  There will always be fighting in hockey to some degree.

If you look at the leagues which don't allow fighting you may notice there are still fights.  Baseball, Football, Basketball, NASCAR.  They all have fighting "bans" but yet there are still fights.

Lets at least start using the correct verbiage in this debate and ban the use of the word ban when talking about fighting in the NHL. 

See you at the rink.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Burke weeps for Orr

Leaf GM Brian Burke was both enraged and sorrowful that he was "forced" to send fighter Colton Orr to the minors.  His claim was that the NHL has moved too far away from on ice player enforcement, thus making Orr an un-playable player.

I agree with Brian on many of his points about the NHL becoming a league where weasels prosper (a term I prefer over "rats").  But I think Brian may have used the wrong example in Orr to make his point.  Colton Orr is with the Marlies now because he isn't a good enough hockey player to play in the NHL and his worth is nowhere close to the 1 million dollars a year that Burke pays him.

Now if there comes a time in the NHL when there is no place for guys like Chris Neil, Shawn Thornton, Travis Moen, Matt Bradley, Brandon Prust, Tim Jackman, Ben Eager, Aron Asham, Chris Thorburn, David Clarkson and many many others....then we have a problem.

The NHL will not be a lesser league without Colton Orr or Jody Shelly or Steve MacIntyre or any of the other players who simply cant play and only wear a jersey to fight.

I agree with Burke's point, just disagree with his example.  There are too many weasels in the NHL now,  who don't have to adequately answer for for the dangerous and sneaky things they do.  Matt Cooke has proven that a weasel can change his ways,  but right now why would the likes of Brad Marchand, Patrick Kalleta or Alex Burrows consider changing?  The penalties against those who seek to control their weaselery on the ice are far greater than the penalties for being a weasel,  thus sadly, the weasel method works.

The NHL needs some new anti-weasel rules to control this type of scourge or at the very least a more stringent use of the unsportsmanlike rule and the intent to injure rule.

see you at the rink.

Fight for the sake of fighting.

The NHLPA's recent rejection of the NHL's new realignment and playoff structure is nothing more than posturing by the Association.  With the current CBA set to expire on September 15th, 2012, the players union simply wants the league to know,  they are not going to easily agree to anything, including things they actually want.

That is the great irony here.  The past executive director of the players association Paul Kelly has admitted that what the owners had proposed is pretty much what the players had asked for during his tenure as the union boss.

The players purported concerns of increased travel, playoff inequities and the league's inability to provide a mock schedule for them to inspect, are nothing more than obstructionist dithering.

Everyone knew that any system which involved every team playing every other team at least twice a year would involve more travel for some and less for others.  But its what the players had asked for.

Everyone knows that playoff inequities will be solved once one or two troubled franchises are eventually moved (insert Phoenix, Florida, Columbus or anyone of 5 or 6 teams here) and a wildcard system is installed after the system is up and running.

Everyone knows, that unlike baseball Mr. Fehr, NHL teams do not have total control of their buildings and most NHL buildings are multi-purpose with shows and concerts to contend with and many have another tenant such as basketball, indoor lacrosse, football or indoor soccer to schedule around.  Providing an iron clad mock schedule is simply impossible and everyone knows it.

The Players Association could have started this march towards a new CBA with a positive, collaborative gesture, but instead they erected the first road block.

Is it any wonder that public opinion during pro sports labour disputes never favors the players.  They too often appear to be greedy, delusional and seemingly oblivious to current market and worldwide economic conditions.

In a league where you have some players making 8, 10 or 12 million dollars a season,  its tough to get the average working man to feel their pain.

See you at the rink.