Haggerty: Keep the deal-makers, get rid of everybody else

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Haggerty: Keep the deal-makers, get rid of everybody else

The mood was both hopeful and wary in the dressing room after the local NHL players skated at a Boston rink on Thursday morning.

Once again Shawn Thornton, Brad Marchand, Milan Lucic and Tuukka Rask were there from the Bruins organization, and they were joined by Jay Pandalfo, Keith Yandle, Ryan Whitney and Brandon Yip among other skaters.

But all the NHL group wanted to know following the skate was just how close the NHL and NHLPA had moved after the second marathon negotiating session at the Westin Hotel in New York City. Clearly the two parties have inched closer together with the NHL bumping up the make whole money to 300 million and seeking a 10-year CBA while also relenting to previous player contract rules for free agency (27 years old and seven years of service) and arbitration.

Perhaps unsurprisingly many of the players didnt have a big issue with the 10-year commitment because it guarantees labor peace.

But the two sides are still at odds over the five-year term limits for contracts or seven years if a player signs with their current team and has been in that organization for at least four years and the 5 percent variance limit on year-to-year earnings within the contract. Perhaps even bumping it up to the six-year limit with potential eight year deals for players re-signing with their own would be enough to close the deal.

The players pension plan has also now entered the discussion where it wasnt even a talking point in previous discussions.

With all of that in mind the general sense from the players on Thursday was they better not mess this up. Hockey players are getting antsy with starting dates being thrown around and with the financial gap now under 100 million over the course of a long-term deal.

But they also know theyve previously thought these negotiations had turned the corner, and were sorely disappointed.

So theyre not making the same mistake this time.

Ill believe the season is starting when I see it, said one player.

Pandalfo joked that he needs to know if theres going to be a season or not, so the 37-year-old can decide whether hes going to retire or keep playing.

Lucic was hopeful after hearing some of the fine details, but also concerned after hearing that tempers had flared for both Sabres goalie Ryan Miller and Bruins owner Jeremy Jacobs during the late night session. The militant Miller lost his cool during the negotiating session and Jacobs reportedly threatened to leave the table thereby ending the discussion.

The Bruins owner was reportedly talked into remaining at the table by his fellow owners in the negotiation session, and thats nothing but good news. But the rancor thats built up on both sides needs to disappear, and most of the parties involved seem to understand that.

We all have to remember not to bring emotion into it, and to simply treat it like a business negotiation. Thats what the owners are going to do, and were best served doing the same thing, said Lucic. Were definitely more encouraged and theres more optimism. They seem headed in the right direction.

But until a deal is done you have to be a little bit cautious. Its definitely a positive thing that it seems to be moving in the right direction. The anxiousness and the excitement are definitely there. Its tough to stay cautious because youre thinking about the what if questions if we do start the season. But you cant get too far ahead because weve already been let down in that sense.

The latest wrinkle: both NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and NHLPA Executive Director Donald Fehr will be back involved in the process, and the players union has once again requested that federal mediators get involved in the discussion. Perhaps that could be a good thing now that the two sides have inched closer together, but the mediation discussion wont be broached until after both sides hold their Thursday afternoon meeting.

Perhaps they will find some sort of breakthrough common ground, and the NHL will be able to carry through with a plan to finalize a new CBA by the end of this week. The alternative should be frightening enough to anybody that loves the NHL or worships the game of hockey.

If things fall apart now the clock will truly start ticking loudly on cancelling the entire NHL season, more games will certainly be cancelled by the end of the week and the players will potentially risk losing moderate owners like Tampa Bays Jeff Vinik, Winnipegs Mark Chipman and Pittsburghs Ron Burkle.

That cant happen.

So hows this for a suggestion? Keep the hard-line, militant personalities on both sides out of the negotiating room. Keep Bettman and Fehr who have built tremendous ill will with the opposing group during these negotiations away from the talks until both sides have agreed in principle on every major topic. Theyre polarizing figures, and it seems that the mission of each side is to keep the others lead executive from getting any credit when a deal is completed. Keep the moderates together speaking until the two sides have finalized a deal and do it quickly as key voices on both sides start leaving New York City while a CBA crawls to completion.

Burkle reportedly said to those close to him hes not leaving New York City until hes got a CBA in place that saves the NHL season for fellow owners, the players, the fans and anybody else that has a stake in hockey.

Those are the kinds of personalities that are going to get this deal done. They need to fully take over the process before others can ruin it with the same old dysfunctional NHL attitude, or with a fit of selfish pique that will force everyone to walk away.

OFFSEASON

Durant leads U.S. to second exhibition rout, 106-57 over China

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Durant leads U.S. to second exhibition rout, 106-57 over China

LOS ANGELES - Just two games into the U.S. basketball team's pre-Olympic tour, coach Mike Krzyzewski already sees the start of something big.

Kevin Durant scored 19 points, Klay Thompson added 17 and the Americans rolled to a second straight blowout exhibition victory, 106-57 over China on Sunday night.

DeMar DeRozan scored 13 points in his hometown, and DeMarcus Cousins had 12 points and seven rebounds in the second stop on the five-city tour leading the Americans to Rio de Janeiro. The victory over an overmatched opponent was impressive, but Krzyzewski liked it more for the composed, cohesive manner in which the new teammates worked together.

"We should have won, but the way we won was excellent," Krzyzewski said. "We're really growing together as a group."

After opening their showcase tour by trouncing Argentina in Las Vegas on Friday night, the U.S. team posted another rout at a packed Staples Center. Krzyzewski is finding it difficult to disguise his early optimism, praising his team's work in their brief practice time together.

And while they're still learning their teammates' tendencies and solidifying player rotations, the U.S. team looked remarkably connected for long stretches against China, which has no current NBA players.

Durant noticed it, as did Los Angeles Clippers center DeAndre Jordan, who kicked off the festivities by blocking a shot on China's first possession and throwing down an alley-oop dunk on the Americans' first possession.

"We've only been together a week, but it seems like we've been teammates for years," Jordan said.

Jordan scored 12 points and led a strong defensive effort with three blocks for the Americans, who held the Chinese to 30.9 percent shooting. Krzyzewski believes the American team will excel at defensive switching because of its abundance of versatile players.

"I think we're learning more about one another, and our defense was there pretty much the whole game," Krzyzewski said.

The Americans haven't lost a game since the 2006 world championships, winning 65 straight games. They're 47-1 in exhibitions since NBA stars took over the roster in 1992, going undefeated since 2004.

While LeBron James, Stephen Curry and Kawhi Leonard all declined the chance to play in Rio, the Americans who accepted the opportunity appear to be serious about winning without some of the nation's top stars.

"We're young, but we've got a bunch of seasoned pros," said Kyrie Irving, who had 10 points and four assists. "We've been on a lot of journeys, and we've crossed paths before, but now we're all coming together at the right time."

Anthony was the only holdover in the Americans' starting lineup from Las Vegas while Krzyzewski works on chemistry and coordination. He put Paul George in with the starters alongside Anthony, Jordan, Kyle Lowry and DeRozan, whose family watched from courtside.

Both teams had early shooting struggles, but the Americans took charge with impressive speed late in the first quarter.

Durant, one of the two returning American gold medalists from London, heard boos from the LA crowd during pregame introductions. He quickly found his outside stroke with 14 points and four assists in the first half, and Cousins overpowered the Chinese down low for 12 first-half points on the way to a 55-29 halftime lead.

The Chinese team's most recognizable name to North Americans is Yi Jianlian, the Milwaukee Bucks' choice with the No. 6 overall pick in the 2007 draft. He spent five seasons with four NBA teams before heading back to the Guangdong Southern Tigers.

Yi led the Chinese with 18 points. Zhou Qi, the 7-foot-2 center drafted by the Houston Rockets in the second round last month, scored two points on 1-for-6 shooting. Exciting guard Zhao Jiwei scored 14 points.

The teams meet again Tuesday in Oakland, where Durant will play in front of his new home fans for the first time since defecting from Oklahoma City to the Golden State Warriors earlier this month.

They'll also meet Aug. 6 in the opening game of Olympic competition in Brazil.

White Sox suspend Chris Sale over uniform flap

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White Sox suspend Chris Sale over uniform flap

CHICAGO - The Chicago White Sox were set to wear throwback uniforms. Chris Sale had other ideas.

The White Sox suspended their ace five days without pay for destroying collared throwback uniforms the team was scheduled to wear.

The team announced the punishment on Sunday after Sale was scratched from his scheduled start and sent home the previous night.

The suspension comes to $250,000 of his $9.15 million salary. He was also fined about $12,700 - the cost of the destroyed jerseys - according to a person familiar with the penalty. The person spoke on the condition of anonymity because no statements were authorized.

"Obviously we're all extremely disappointed that we have to deal with this issue at this time both from the standpoint of the club as well as Chris' perspective," general manager Rick Hahn said. "It's unfortunate that it has become this level of an issue and potential distraction taking away from what we're trying to accomplish on the field."

Sale was not expected at the ballpark on Sunday. He is eligible to return Thursday against the crosstown Cubs at Wrigley Field, though Hahn would not say if the left-hander would start that game.

The Major League Baseball Players Association declined comment, spokesman Greg Bouris said. Sale could ask the union to file a grievance.

FanRag Sports first reported Sale was protesting the 1976-style jerseys, which were navy and sported unusual collars on a hot and humid night.

Sale then cut up an unknown number of jerseys before the game and was told to leave the stadium. With not enough usable 1976 jerseys available, the White Sox wore white throwback uniforms from the 1983 season.

The incident comes with the White Sox in a tailspin after a 23-10 start and Sale's name circulating in trade rumors.

"The actions or behaviors of the last 24 hours does not change in any aspect, any respect, our belief that Chris Sale can help this club win a championship and win multiple championships," Hahn said. "It does not move the needle one iota in terms of his value to this club, his value to any other club that may be interested in his services or the likelihood of him being moved or kept whatsoever. None of that stuff is impacted at all by these events."

The incident does raise some questions in general about throwback uniforms, how players feel about them and whether they should be forced to wear jerseys that aren't comfortable - particularly starting pitchers.

"If I'm playing with Chris Sale I want him to pitch," Colorado Rockies outfielder Carlos Gonzalez said. "If he wants to play with no shirt, we play with no shirt. I just want him to pitch."

New York Yankees pitcher Chasen Shreve said: "Pitchers like their stuff. Me, it doesn't bother me, but for him, obviously it does. It's crazy. I don't think I'm that bad."

White Sox pitcher James Shields wouldn't comment on whether players should be made to wear throwback jerseys. But he did say: "I don't really mind the throwbacks. I haven't had any issues with that."

Manager Robin Ventura said players occasionally wearing uniforms they don't like comes with the job.

"But you wear it," he said. "If you want to rip it after, you can rip it up after. I've seen guys rip it up after."

Hahn said throwback uniforms the White Sox wore last season were a bit baggy so the team took measurements in spring training so they would fit the players better. He also mentioned the money the uniforms generate.

"Part of the element of being in position to win a championship is the revenue side of the operation and respect for their reasonable requests to increase revenue," Hahn said.

This wasn't the first flare-up involving the 27-year-old Sale, who is known for his competitive streak and strict training regimen.

He was openly critical of team executive Ken Williams during spring training when he said Drake LaRoche, the son of teammate Adam LaRoche, would no longer be allowed in the clubhouse. Adam LaRoche retired as a result, and Sale hung the LaRoches' jerseys in his locker.

He was also suspended five games by Major League Baseball last season for his role in a brawl at Kansas City that started with a flare-up between teammate Adam Eaton and the Royals' Yordano Ventura. Sale went to the Royals clubhouse after he got tossed and was seen pounding on the door.

Hahn said the punishment was unrelated to previous incidents. He also said the two had a "very candid" meeting in his office with Sale after the pitcher had some exchanges with staff members in the clubhouse and that both "expressed remorse." They spoke again on Sunday.

"At that point last night Chris stood by his actions," Hahn said. "Part of what makes Chris great, part of what makes him elite, is his passion and commitment. We've seen that sometimes spill out from between the white lines. Yesterday was one of those instances and it unfortunately led to events that required discipline."