Ference lauds "real leadership" in NHLPA

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Ference lauds "real leadership" in NHLPA

With the new NHL CBA expected to pass with flying colors on Saturday morning after all of the votes are tabulated, a signed memorandum of understanding should be quick to follow. That will usher in the opening of NHL training camps all across North America to be followed by the beginning of the 2013 NHL regular season a week later.

Apologies have flooded in from NHL owners and players alike along with the rare personal message of regret from NHL commissioner Gary Bettman, but there is much less regret coming from the players side of the aisle.

The NHL players were locked out from playing, after all, and received the best deal possible in January after listening to exactly what NHLPA Executive Director Donald Fehr predicted would happen. Thats why Bettman made several references to the strength of the union in announcing that the Board of Governors had passed a unanimous vote approving the CBA.

Without a strong union and involvement from the players youre not going to have guaranteed contracts, youre not going to have pensions and youre not going to have any of the benefits they currently have. Its essential for the players to have all those things, said Ference.

Ive been involved with the union for a number of years and every conference call seeing the ins and outs. Its one thing to give your opinions on calls and its something else to being there in the room when its being discussed.

Its perhaps a little extra justification for a guy like Ference, who was part of an influential group of NHLPA members that pushed Paul Kelly out of the door as Executive Director. The players basically begged Fehr to then come take over the players union as they sensed a battle would be on their hands, and Ference joined the player chorus shuddering at what might have happened over the last six months without their NHLPA leader.

I think there are a couple of writers here in Boston that were in love with our last director in Kelly and think that I am the devil, admitted Ference. But I think that is so far from the truth. We are in so far better a position now as a union. The strength Fehr, his brother and everybody from the lawyers to the economist, the unity and belief that all of the guys had in them was unbelievable.

It was really impressive to see the transformation all the way from the last lockout with different people taking over the helm and constantly being disappointed, and issues arising with each and every one of them. They were issues that really yanked the union apart. To finally have some stability and some real leadership in a guy that could come in and do a really time-crunched job of getting to know everybody and unifying everybody in a tough situation is awesome. Everybody in the locker room and everybody in the meetings will tell you the exact same thing.

What would happen if the old NHLPA leadership was still in charge?

Im sure wed already have been playing, said Ference. Im sure we wouldnt have missed as much hockey and Im sure the league would have been salivating about it. Thats the blunt answer, for sure.

Instead the players held for their best deal possible while still handing the owners many of the things they coveted in a new CBA, and they did it while still leaving room for a 48-game schedule that should win back those on-the-fence hockey fans.

That is also called the best possible resolution of the hot mess that the NHL CBA had devolved into.

Haggerty: Bruins motto is don't just do something, stand there!

Haggerty: Bruins motto is don't just do something, stand there!

After back-to-back, soul-crushing losses earlier this week, the Bruins responded by doing pretty much what they've done over the last couple of seasons:

Nothing.

Claude Julien was not relieved of his duties -- as many expected after the Bruins blew a couple of three-goal leads in a shootout loss in Detroit on Wednesday night -- and there was no big shakeup for a reeling hockey club that certainly feels like it needs it.

Instead the Bruins will host the Chicago Blackhawks on Friday night after going through a “nothing-to-see-here, everything-is-fine” morning skate at Warrior Ice Arena, then go to Pittsburgh for a Sunday afternoon matinee against a Penguins team that’s playing some pretty good hockey.

Maybe the Bruins will play better than they did in taking one out of a possible four points against two of the worst teams in the East -- the Islanders and Red Wings -- and perhaps that will tamp down some of the unrest among those that closely follow this organization.

But the fact is, the Bruins front office doing nothing in the face of stunning underperformance from its hockey club is the furthest thing from courage, bravery or doing the right thing.

This is the third straight year we've seen no-shows and a startling lack of emotional engagement from a team that collapsed down the stretch and missed the postseason in each of the last two seasons, and is now in a position where it may not even be in the playoff hunt at the end of this one. To sit still as it happens again feels, to this humble hockey writer, like willful indifference in the face of the obvious: Something is broken with the Bruins.

There's no single big trade that can fix it, not with the Coyotes and Avalanche as the only true sellers. And a Bruins management group with the true best interests of the hockey club in mind would look at the 'seller' option, dealing away some of the core pieces and starting a true rebuild around Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand and the young players under team control that are beginning to filter into the NHL level.

But it doesn’t feel like this current B’s front office, or the ownership group, has the appetite for that, and instead wants to retool on the fly while also attempting to compete for the playoffs. That’s a delicate balance and it’s one that has caused the Red Wings to go sideways this season, putting them in danger of missing the Stanley Cup playoffs for the first time since 1990-91.

That’s the same Red Wings team, incidentally, that somehow came back from deficits of 3-0 and 4-1 against the Bruins on Wednesday.

With a trade unlikely, the easiest way to a short-term spark continues to be a change with the head coach. Everybody knows Claude Julien has been the best coach in the modern Bruins era, and he’ll forever be loved and cherished in the Boston area for helping win the Stanley Cup in 2011. But the jarring comments from Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand about the team not being ready to play, and collectively taking the Isles too lightly, can’t be ignored.

It feels like things are altogether too comfortable in the Bruins dressing room, and that can be a byproduct of the same coach with the same core group of players for the last 10 years. The sense here is that the Bruins need a short term butt-kicker who'd come in and challenge some Bruins veterans who haven’t been challenged enough in recent years, and will bring an edge to a group that’s look satisfied and happy lately while insulated with big-money contracts and no-movement clauses.

That kind of move could give the Bruins enough of a nudge to get them into the playoffs this season, and help ease the rebuilding pain until Charlie McAvoy, Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson, Zach Senyshyn and the next wave of Bruins prospects are ready to blossom.  

Instead the fancy-stats brigade will tell you that the Bruins are automatically going to turn things around because of the incredibly slim premise that it’s all based on shooting percentage, and Bruin apologists will tell you that the roster simply isn’t good enough right now. So riding it out with Julien is the right move because he's the MacGyver-like chewing gum that’s holding it all together right now.

Sorry, but many are not buying this Bruins-approved message.

They have two-thirds of the best forward line from the World Cup of Hockey in Bergeron and Marchand. They have a legitimate No. 1 goalie in Tuukka Rask. They have experienced, proven winners in David Krejci, David Backes and Zdeno Chara. They have bright, young talents in David Pastrnak and Brandon Carlo. And they're about to get passed by the Senators and Maple Leafs in the playoff race once those other teams catch up to Boston in games played. Nobody can make the straight-faced claim that Toronto or Ottawa is superior to the Bruins in the overall talent department.

The Bruins are underachieving this season, and some players have been truly disappointing in big spots.

The simple truth is that Julien isn’t getting the most out of them. They settle for perimeter shots far too much in the offensive zone, which plays into the poor team shooting percentage, and they take opponents lightly far too often for a hockey club in the NHL’s middle class.

Those kinds of traits fall back on the coach, and, unfortunately, replacing Julien is the most readily available card for Bruins management to play when they finally begin feeling the desperation and urgency that’s been missing too much this season.

Perhaps some of it is a fear of removing a popular, accomplished figure like Julien, and then watching him have success somewhere else. Perhaps some of it is a hesitancy to turn things over to assistants Joe Sacco and Bruce Cassidy at such a delicate point in time this season. Perhaps some of it is that one of the few real alternatives the Bruins are facing would be general manager Don Sweeney or team president Cam Neely actually manning the bench as Julien’s replacement if they fired the head coach, a maneuver that hasn’t been seen with the Bruins since the Harry Sinden days when Mike O’Connell went to the bench in 2002-03 after firing Robbie Ftorek.

Whatever the reason, the Bruins still haven’t seen enough to decide that something needs to change with this group sputtering along to another playoff DNQ. The fans are decrying it while holding their hefty season-ticket package bills in their hands, the clear-eyed observer sees it without question, and there’s no doubt some hard-working Bruins players are hoping for it behind the scenes on a ship that’s taking on water.

But nothing of significance is going to change with this Bruins team until they make a change, and that’s something they continue to avoid.

Pro Football Talk: Ex-Patriot Jamie Collins close to re-signing with Browns

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Pro Football Talk: Ex-Patriot Jamie Collins close to re-signing with Browns

The Browns are close to finalizing a multi-year contract with former Patriots linebacker Jamie Collins, CBS Sports reported Thursday.

The report said “significant progress” has been made between the sides and that the deal will be done by the weekend.

Click here for the complete story.