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.

Bruins go for size, defensive presence at center with Koppanen

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Bruins go for size, defensive presence at center with Koppanen

While the Bruins fourth round pick might sound eerily like Finnish fourth line center Joonas Kemppainen, the Black and Gold are hoping for much more from fifth round pick (135th overall) Joona Koppanen. The 6-foot-5, 194-pound Finnish center is obviously a big body in the middle of the ice, and already plays a responsible, smart game on the defensive side of the ice.

In keeping with the parallels to Kemppainen, Koppanen is a bit less developed on the offensive side of the game at this point in his young career as an 18-year-old.  

“I think that the draft was awesome and I’m really excited for the draft to Boston,” said Koppanen, who added “Tuukka Rask plays there” when asked what he knows about the Bruins. “My strength is to skating and I’m a good two-way forward.”

The Big Finn had nine goals and 26 points in 40 games for the junior team in Finland last season, and was shut out in seven games for Team Finland at the World Junior U-18 Championships. So he’s got some work to do developing his offensive game and getting both bigger and stronger, but the Bruins see size, strength and the work ethic to improve in Koppanen.

“He’s a big guy, and for a big guy he can really move around. He’s very good defensively and smart with his positioning. He plays hard,” said Bruins head scout Keith Gretzky. “The skill is the one area that needs to develop, and we think it’s going to do that. He was a guy that we targeted because he’s a big guy that can skate, and is good in his own end.”

One thing the Bruins focused on heading into the draft was acquiring some size at the center position, and they’ve clearly done that with 6-foot-2, 200-pound Trent Frederic and the 6-foot-5, 198-pound Koppanen.

It just remains to be seen what kind of offensive upside these gritty, tough competitors will have once they reach the pro ranks a few years from now, and that will go a long way to determining how good these picks end up being.

One thing is for sure: they must be projecting that Koppanen is better than Kemppainen, who was an absolute bust in the offensive zone. 

OFFSEASON

Tanguay: Celtics should steer clear of Al Horford

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Tanguay: Celtics should steer clear of Al Horford

The Celtics reportedly are taking a look at free agent Al Horford.

Ah, why?

Wait. Make that WHY?

If you're going with someone like Jaylen Brown, you don't pursue a Grade B free agent like Horford. Or even think about making a deal for Kevin Love. When the Celtics decided not to deal the third pick for an Okafor, Noel or Butler, and instead went for a player who'll need several years to fully develop, the course for this offseason was set.

Now, if the Celtics wow the daylights out of Kevin Durant and land him, Horford would be a nice addition for a less-than-max deal. But, despite my fanboy optimism in regard to a Durant signing, the chances are slim that KD will land in Boston.

I really liked Al Horford. Notice the use of the past tense. He's 30 years old and will get a max deal from somebody stupid enough to give him one. The guy averaged 15.2 points, 7.3 rebounds and 3.2 assists per game last season and went MIA for Games 3, 4 and 5 in the playoffs against Boston. He's on the downside of his career, and I'd rather the Celtics enter next season with the roster they have now than add Horford.

I feel the same way about Love. If your top draft pick has one year of college experience and needs to greatly improve his basketball skills -- hello there, Jaylen Brown -- why bother with Love?

Horford and Love would be pieces to add if Durant comes here. Period. And please don't tell me that adding both, or either, would make the Celtics more attractive to KD. Nope.

I feel the Celtics have made their bed. It's Kevin Durant or nothing at all.

Amendola forced Brady to break a ping pong paddle in first week with Patriots

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Amendola forced Brady to break a ping pong paddle in first week with Patriots

Tom Brady has never been one to hide his emotions when he's on the field, and it sounds like he's not much different at the ping pong table.

When asked about Brady during an interview on ESPN's NFL Insiders show, Patriots receiver Danny Amendola recalled one story from his first few days at Gillette Stadium back in 2013.

"He's the best teammate," Amendola said. "He's so competitive . . . I remember one story, it was my first week in the building and he wanted to play some ping pong. I didn't know how to go about it. I knew I was better than him, [but] I didn't want to beat him too bad because I wanted him to throw me the ball.

"I knew I was better. Needless to say, his competitive nature unleashed a broken paddle by the end of it. It's the reason we love him, and the reason why he's the best quarterback."

That first encounter at the ping pong table didn't seem to hinder Amendola's relationship with Brady in the least. In their first game together, Amendola fought a groin injury and still ended up with 10 catches for 104 yards in a win over the Bills. Since then, when healthy -- and particularly since New England's most recent run to a Super Bowl title -- Amendola has established himself as one of Brady's most trusted targets.

Amendola and the rest of the Patriots are facing a start to the regular season without their No. 1 quarterback as Brady awaits a decision from the Second Circuit on whether or not it will rehear his case against the NFL. Should backup Jimmy Garoppolo take the reins in Brady's place, however, Amendola said he'll be confident. 

"He's a great player," Amendola explained. "He's been in the system a couple of years now and he's learned a lot. He's picked up everything that Tom has taught him and then also what coach [Bill] Belichick has to offer him. So we're all excited to see where he goes and see what the future holds for him."