Haggerty: The NHL lockout winner may just surprise you

963579.jpg

Haggerty: The NHL lockout winner may just surprise you

Inevitably any lockout or labor situation in pro sports comes down to winners and losers.

The term winner or loser can be a relative term, of course. In the NHL lockout that mercifully came to an end at 4:40 a.m. on Sunday morning at a hotel ballroom in New York City, the league was always going to be the overwhelming victor.

The NHL players accepted the fact their share of Hockey Related Revenue was always going to get slashed from 57 percent to a more fair-sounding 5050 split in the new CBA just as had gone down in NBA and NFL negotiations before them. The NHL owners saw what stone cold lockouts had accomplished in the other major pro sports, and they were determined to do the same in their league.

Amazingly the players understood this and essentially engaged in concession bargaining where they knew conditions would get worse in the new CBA.

Im pretty proud of the resolve that we showed as players, said Shawn Thornton. There were no cracks within the NHLPA union.

They went from having no term limits for personal contracts and no limits to variances on year-to-year salaries to seven-year contract limits and a 35 percent variance maximum on year-to-year salary figures.

The only victories the players ended hanging their collective hats on were a pension plan funded by the owners and individual hotel rooms for all NHL veterans that have graduated past their entry-level contract. The players also have an appeal process when theyre suspended for six or more games, but thats a benefit most players will never utilize.

Thats it.

Everything else in the deal was either holding steady or giving back to the league after the NHL already achieved bloody triumph eight years ago by slapping the salary cap down on the battered NHLPA. Even worse, the CBA framework accepted on Jan. 6 wasnt very different from the NHLPA counter-offer on Dec. 6 that was summarily rejected by NHL commissioner Gary Bettman, and sparked a 30-minute fire and brimstone speech trumpeting hills to die on.

If you look at this CBA it looks a lot like the deal we proposed on Dec. 6, but we kind of had the theatrics with Mr. Bettman blowing up in front of the microphone, said Thornton. But we need to put that behind us now. I know its a business and thats the ugly side of it.

Even so the bulk of players still felt they got the best CBA they possibly could without doing irreparable harm to the NHL they feel so very protective about. They lost somewhere in the ballpark of 800 in salaries by missing the first three plus months of the regular season, but were willing to make the sacrifice for a 10-year business contract that will net them billions of dollars over the deals lifetime.

We did the best we could without destroying the sport entirely and without selling out the kids that havent even been drafted yet but will play under this CBA, Ference said to CSNNE.com. Nobody is going to deny that its awful. The negativity directed at our sport is disheartening. It sucks. It really sucks for fans to have to go through it and hearing the posturing.

At the end of it all its just a sigh of relief that you can get back to the good parts of the game and the positive stuff. It sucks to hear negative things about a good group of guys that really do love the game, but are being locked out of the game they love. We couldnt control that. You understand the other side of it and the pressure points needed in negotiations. But we always just wanted to play.

Theres a widely held belief among the NHLPA members that the NHL always had Jan. 19 in mind as the start to the regular season while grinding the players down with a lockout labor strategy. Sources have indicated to CSNNE.com that as far back as November the NHL held a 48-game schedule beginning in mid-January locked and set in stone.

Thats got to make advertisers, sponsors and those depending on NHL games for a living feel good, doesnt it?

If the players buckled and gave in on some of the NHLs crazy player contract rights demands during their September, October or November CBA offers, then that would have been even better for Bettman and his Board of Governors. That was the fear among the NHLPA membership if former Executive Director Paul Kelly was left in charge of the CBA negotiations, and its the reason players literally begged Donald Fehr to take over their union.

Despite protests from the NHL that the deal would worsen as things got contentious, Fehrs hard bargaining style produced league offers that kept improving with make whole money, player contract rights and finally a favorable pension plan. His logical, even-keeled style got under the NHLs skin and confounded league operatives as they tried to break the unions will.

Ference was one of the NHLPA members instrumental in the leadership change from Kelly to Fehr two years ago, and without hesitation said the deal would have been worse for the players if the change hadnt been made.

Without a shred of a doubt, Fehr was a difference-maker. These things might seem simple from the outside, but when youre in that room going over the details in negotiations his experience was invaluable, said Ference. But it was also the team around him. The people he trusted and the people he brought in handled some very, very important things for us moving forward like the pension. Those things were huge.

And lets face it: we werent dealing with a very easy negotiating partner. These were some very tough negotiations. Without Don I think that a lot of guys would have been sold out for sure. We might have already been playing, but the cost to future NHL players would have been astronomical.

The NHL players knew they were going to lose the CBA battle and in many ways they were fighting for a new generation of nameless, faceless hockey players that should mean nothing to the current group that forfeited millions in paychecks. In this hockey writers book that makes the players the big winners of this NHL lockout in name if not in fact.

Rather than hoarding as much cash as possible the NHL players were doing the right thing and standing up to a bullying foe something theyve been taught to do since they were PeeWee skaters in places like Thunder Bay, Saskatoon and Kamloops.

There is something to be said for that now that a 48-game schedule and 10 years of labor peace are staring the players and league right in the face.

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

browns-collins-jamie-collins-012017x.jpg

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.