Haggerty: NHL needs to avoid the noise, and find the deal

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Haggerty: NHL needs to avoid the noise, and find the deal

It was probably too good to be true when the NHL and NHLPA quietly hunkered down for three long days of negotiating this week.

That was clear when Boston Bruins owner Jeremy Jacobs and the lockout squad of NHL owners arrived armed with briefcases on Friday. Their presence and the downward spiral of progress turned things from bloodless business negotiations into a barb-throwing episode of Jerry Springer.

Okay, were exaggerating here but you get the point.
Leaked memos, divide-and-conquer strategies and hurt feelings are all side issues and a simple part of the sound and fury around the negotiations. None of that should really matter when it comes to hammering out a deal both sides can live with, and only detracts from the process. Hopefully thats the message put forth by the league and the players association as they piece things back together during a relaxed Saturday afternoon lunch in New York City.

Both sides clearly think they smell the stink of weakness in their opponent. There are some among the 700 plus NHLPA members that want a deal done that will get them back to playing hockey. Thats a message thats been very clearly passed along to Exec Director Donald Fehr during the myriad NHLPA conference calls over the last few weeks, and part of what prompted the PA to re-engage with the NHL for this weeks marathon sessions.

There are also a growing number of NHL owners that are discontent with the lack of progress toward the 5050 Hockey Related Revenue (HRR) split theyve been promised by their commissioner. Side note to the Board of Governors: continuing to allow Jacobs to be the face of the NHL ownership group isnt really doing them many favors in the eyes of hockey fans. Its bad enough that Jacobs is quickly erasing any of the goodwill hed built up after the 2011 Stanley Cup championship. But hes also taking down plenty of good NHL owners with him that still do have the NHLs best interests at heart.

Jacobs lost the last NHL lockout in a huge way when he didnt foresee the 24 percent salary rollback coming, and his front office allowed Mike Knuble, Michael Nylander, Brian Rolston and Sergei Gonchar to walk away via free agency.

A Bruins team that finished as the No. 2 seed in the East prior to the 2004-05 lockout was basically reduced to expansion rubble while forecasting a dream buyers market in the new CBA. As weve all learned in hindsight, Jacobs, Harry Sinden and Mike OConnell royally botched the Bruins during the last lockout.

So Jacobs is bent on winning in this CBA, and thats not the proper mentality for either side. Not when it comes to collective bargaining with the good name of a sport on the line, and not when it comes to league sponsors squawking about lost revenue stemming from their failing partnership with the NHL.

The league can try to paint Fehr as a despot, a tyrant or a union overlord thats leading his flock of NHL sheep by the hand, but hes simply too savvy and experienced to fall victim to those smear tactics. It didnt work a month ago and its not going to work now.

So they should quit trying to play that game, and end all game-playing for that matter. Theres a reason the players dont think the owners are taking these negotiations very seriously, and its got to do with the complete lack of concessions going toward the players. After all the discussions over the last two months, the players are still looking at a unilateral reduction of player contract rights and no guarantee theyll ever get paid the amount written on their signed contracts.

The NHL is sending out messages through their media envoys theyre willing to negotiate player contract rights, but at the same time telling the NHLPA theres no flexibility until the players have approved the make whole concept. That needs to change as both sides continue to watch the Hockey Related Revenue pie for this season shrink while cancelling hundreds of games and special events.

The whacking of the NHL All-Star game in Columbus is an automatic at this point in a shortened NHL regular season, and should be fitted for a nice tombstone alongside the 2013 Winter Classic.

Meanwhile there are also murmurs the players want their full pay for this season despite the NHL being forced to scale back to 64-70 games starting Dec. 1 due to the lockout. The latest NHLPA offer also asked that the league make good on the 1.87 billion paid out to players last year plus a 1.75 percent pay raise for this season.

Thats not going to happen and it shouldnt happen if the NHLPA truly wants the partnership theyve lamented about during the entire two-month lockout process. The pain and blame should be shared on both sides, and both should probably walk away from the new CBA muttering exasperatedly under their breath.

Lets be honest here: the season isnt anywhere close to being in danger yet. During the last lockout it wasnt entirely cancelled until the month of February had hit on the hockey calendar. But the most livable solution for sides is to exchange their best offers right now and allow for the season to begin on Dec. 1. Otherwise the deals get worse, the animosity gets stronger and they might have to start employing Jerry Springers security crew for CBA negotiation sessions in case they go bad.

Agree to a 5050 split. Agree to make whole the entirety of NHL player contracts already agreed to even if the final number is closer to 600 million than 211 million. Agree to a return to the previous CBA for player contract rights aside from the 5 percent variation limit from year-to-year on long term deals.

Agree to a 10-year contract so something like this doesnt happen again to the NHL for a long, long time in a hockey rink far, far away. Then sit back and watch the NHL flourish as it should be doing if the games leadership wouldnt keep shooting itself in the foot.

Some questions and answers when it comes to Miller contract

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Some questions and answers when it comes to Miller contract

A day after the Bruins announced a much-maligned four-year contract extension for defenseman Kevan Miller, B’s general manager Don Sweeney held court with the media to equal parts explain/defend the $10 million deal. Sweeney pointed to the very high character of a hardnosed player in Miller, and the relatively low mileage given that he’s played only 159 games at the NHL level.

There was also mention made of the room to grow in Miller’s game, though it’s difficult to imagine a much higher ceiling for a 28-year-old player than what the former UVM produced showed in 71 games last season.

“Kevan brings incredible character. His signing provides us with the necessary depth on our defense that all teams need. His relative low-mileage, having just played 160 games, we identified that we think Kevan has room for continued growth and development,” said Sweeney. “We certainly saw that in his play this year when he had an expanded role. Relative to the free market place, very, very comfortable with where Kevan fits into our group, and this provides us with the opportunity to explore the marketplace in every way, shape, or form, in having Kevan signed.”

Here’s the reality: Miller is a 5-6, bottom pairing defenseman on a good team, and a top-4 defenseman on a team like last year’s Bruins that finished a weak 19th in the league in goals allowed. The five goals and 18 points last season were solid career-high numbers for a player in the middle of his hockey prime, but he barely averaged 19 minutes of ice time per game as a front top-4 defenseman. Miller struggles with some of the fundamental needs in today’s NHL if you’re going to be a top-4 D-man: the tape-to-tape passes aren’t always accurate, there’s intermittent difficulty cleanly breaking the puck out of the defensive zone and Miller was exploited by the other team’s best players when paired with Zdeno Chara at points last season.

Certainly Miller has done some good things racking up a plus-55 rating during his three years in Boston, but executives and officials around the league were a bit surprised by the 4-year, $10 million contract extension. It’s viewed as a slight overpay in terms of both salary and term, but it’s more the redundancy of the contract that’s befuddling to some.

“Miller is certainly a rugged guy, but you already had one of those at roughly the same value in Adam McQuaid. I believe that you can’t win if you have both McQuaid and Miller in your top 6 because they are both No. 6 D’s in my mind,” said a rival NHL front office executive polled about the Miller contract. “You look at the playoffs and the direction that the league is headed in, and you need to have big, mobile defenseman that can quickly move the puck up the ice. You have too much of the same thing with Miller and McQuaid, and I think you can’t win with that in this day and age.”

The one facet of the four year Miller contract that might make it okay for some Bruins fans: the tacit connection to the Jimmy Vesey sweepstakes. According to several sources around the league, the Bruins taking care of Miller now will very likely have a positive impact on their chances of landing Vesey when he becomes a free agent on Aug. 15, and makes them the front-runner for the Harvard standout’s services. Both Miller and Vesey are represented by the same agent in Peter Fish, and those are the kinds of behind-the-scenes connections that many times factor into free agent signings and trades around the NHL.

So many, this humble hockey writer included, may owe Sweeney a slight apology if paying a $10 million premium for a bottom-pairing defenseman in Miller now pays dividends in landing a stud forward like Vesey that’s drawing interest all around the league.

First impressions from Red Sox' 10-3 win over Rockies

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First impressions from Red Sox' 10-3 win over Rockies

BOSTON- First impressions from the Red Sox' 10-3 win over Colorado:

 

Steven Wright is the very picture of consistency.

In nine starts this season, Wright has pitched at least six innings and allowed two earned runs or fewer eight times. In the one start in which he failed to do so, he was pitching in a mini-monsoon and unable to properly grip his signature pitch.

On Wednesday, he battled some early-inning wildness with the knuckler, resulting in two wild pitches and four passed balls, but eventually settled down.

His 4-4 mark hardly represents how well he's pitched. A more telling stat is the 60 2/3 innings he's pitched in nine outings, just shy of seven per game.

 

It could be a costly night for injuries.

Ryan Hanigan left the game after 2 1/2 innings because of illness. Dustin Pedroia came out in the fifth as a precaution after experiencing some tightness in his right hamstring. And Xander Bogaerts jammed his thumb in the eighth.

Let's assume that Hanigan's illness is a temporary thing, and since Bogaerts remained in the game, that, too, seemed minor.

But the Pedroia hamstring is potentially a red flag, since it was that same hamstring that sidelined him for almost half of last season.

 

For the past 19 home games, the Red Sox have averaged more than eight runs per game.

Nineteen games isn't exactly a small sample size. In fact, it's almost exactly one-quarter of the home schedule. To average more than eight runs per game over that long a stretch, covering parts of three different homestands, is pretty remarkable.

 

Blake Swihart's speed is something else.

Swihart hit two triples to the triangle Wednesday night, and on the second, to see him shift into higher gear as he approached second base was really something to see.

It's difficult to think of another catcher -- and yes, I understand that Swihart has been playing left field exclusively of late; but he remains primarily a catcher -- who ran as well as Swihart does.

When the Sox and other independent evaluators remark about Swihart's athleticism, that's one of the things to which they're referring.