Haggerty: Perhaps it's time for Bettman and Fehr to step away

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Haggerty: Perhaps it's time for Bettman and Fehr to step away

So now the NHL and NHLPA sit and wait to see who lost more pints of blood after the entire month of November was wiped clean from the hockey slate.

Or erased from existence as Doc Brown once said.

Its pretty clear at least one side of the negotiating table wanted things to play out this way, and that the tenor of negotiations have gotten a little well personal. Thats the only explanation for the fervent, uncomfortable staring contest going on between NHLPA Executive Director Donald Fehr and NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman one that might just rival the unblinking stare-down between Will Ferrells Robert Goulet and a mountain ram in a hilariously unforgettable SNL skit.

Unfortunately its not nearly as funny.

The New York Posts Larry Brooks relayed a story second-hand of an exchange between Boston Bruins owner Jeremy Jacobs and Fehr that is pretty revealing.

According to Brooks, Jacobs said in front of 19 NHL players, Fehr and three of his fellow owners along with Bettman and Bill Daly that Gary Bettman has the hardest job because he represents both the players and the owners.

Without missing a beat Fehr fired back Does that mean we can fire him?

That kind of board room bravado will win Fehr major points with the players, but both sides havent met face-to-face since with the league essentially refusing to sit down with the NHLPA.

Thats probably not a coincidence.

Several sources within the CBA negotiations with varying degrees of involvement have basically said the same thing to CSNNE.com in recent weeks: the players want Bettmans head in these negotiations.

One hockey source uttered that exact sentence last week in describing the current tenor of negotiations, and there are few players ready to hop on the railroad tracks to save the commissioner given how things have gone.

The problem with all this: Bettmans head is going to stay attached to the rest of his governing body and he still has the ear of the most powerful, influential owners on the Board of Governors. The hostility and antipathy from each side isnt doing any good, and the big personalities at the top of the NHL and NHLPA food chain dont seem to be meshing very well even as they move closer to agreement on a 5050 split of revenues and some kind ofcontract guarantee for the players.

If the players really want to take Bettman down then the work stoppage is going to last for a long, long, long time, and some of these players could be surrendering millions of dollars and perhaps enough missed time that it could adversely affect their careers -- to make it happen. If that is Fehr and the players end game then the 2012-13 season truly is in peril.

But the expectation is that much of it is lockout tough talk and the kind of vitriol that can spill out when a lockout turns costly for both sides.

Heres one suggestion that might just work, however: remove both Bettman and Fehr from the process and leave everything to the No. 2 men in each organization at this point in the negotiations. Bill Daly has been doing much of the heavy lifting for the NHL during these CBA discussions, and showed with the make whole provision that the league is willing to extend toward the middle ground.

Steve Fehr clearly has the trust of his brother, and some have said he is the heir apparent as the Exec Director of the NHLPA once this current CBA has been put to bed.

So why not have Daly and Fehr meet to hammer out the middle ground and find some amenable solution that meets the leagues 5050 requirement and satisfies the players call for the owners to live up the contracts theyve already signed? It certainly cant get any worse than the current state of CBA talks.

Some in the past few months have already called for Bettman to step back from these negotiations given the blood thats already on his hands from the 2004-05 missed season, and the three NHL work stoppages on his resume as commissioner. From a players point of view, hes looked at as the Darth Vader of CBA negotiations.

Fehr was brought in as the perfect combatant against Bettman in the conference room given his experience leading the Major League Baseball players union, and hes proven to be that while standing up to the NHL without flinching. That hes been able to do that while keeping the disparate factions of the NHLPA together in a ring of solidarity has been nothing short of remarkable.

For a group that has always splintered and fractured in the past when things got tough, the players arent budging this time around while feeling full well they are in the right.

So both men clearly have plenty invested and healthy egos at play as well. Maybe its time for both Bettman and Fehr to take a knee and sit out a few plays while seeing what might be possible to save a 65-game hockey season that could start in early December along with the Winter Classic and NHL All-Star game.

The alternative would be disastrous for all parties involved, and might mean that none of them escape with unscathed reputations if the NHL once again falls into the dumpster due to its own greed and hubris. If that happens then NHL and the players will both get exactly what they deserve, and the puck-loving fans will once again be the equations biggest losers.

Bruins make official free agent signings of Liles, Nash, Khudobin

Bruins make official free agent signings of Liles, Nash, Khudobin

The Bruins made a number of signings official on the first day of NHL free agency on Friday along with the big prize in hard-hitting, productive center David Backes.

Backup goaltender Anton Khudobin signed a two-year deal worth $1.2 million per season to return as a goaltending tandem with Tuukka Rask as they were back in a highly successful 2012-13 NHL season.

Hustling, grinding fourth line forward Riley Nash was signed to a two-year, $1.8 million contract with the Bruins as well, and had nine goals and 22 points in 64 games for the Carolina Hurricanes last season in an energy forward role. In his five-year NHL career, Nash has played in 242 games, amassing 31 goals and 50 assists for 81 points with 69 penalty minutes, including a career-high 10 goals a couple of years ago with the Hurricanes.

The 36-year-old John-Michael Liles signed a one-year, $2 million contract with the Bruins after arriving from Carolina at the NHL trade deadline last spring. Liles appeared in 17 games and notched six assists along with a minus-6 rating for the Bruins in 2015-16 after being acquired for Anthony Camara, a 2016 third-round pick and a 2017 fifth-round pick on February 29, 2016. Prior to joining up with Boston, the 5-foot-10, 185-pound Liles played in all 64 games for Carolina, recording six goals and nine assists for 15 points with 16 penalty minutes.

“We went out to identify a primary target in David Backes as a center, right wing candidate. He provides depth and balance to our lineup, as did Riley Nash. And Anton Khudobin addressed an area that we seemed to have chased for a little while and possibly with Malcolm’s [Subban] injury we needed to address that for the next couple of seasons. John-Michael Liles is a player that we acquired last year that really added a lot to the mobility and the transition game and we’re excited about bringing him back,” said Bruins GM Don Sweeney. “Tim Schaller was a local boy at Providence College that we went out and identified another size, strength, left-shot, penalty kill and continued to add depth. Tyler Randell emerged last year was on our roster all year long, contributed and was a real hard-nosed player, sticks up for his teammates, was able to contribute goals, albeit not necessarily in the lineup every night, bringing balance. And Tommy Cross and the leadership qualities he brings to Providence for younger players to continue to develop.

“He found himself playing in NHL games, acquainted himself very well, just a real quality person across the board. So I think the overall philosophy of today and going into the free agent period was to address some needs and we did that. But we’ve created what I think is a real internal competition for our younger players to step up and emerge around what I think we’ve added to the core group of our players. They should be excited about this opportunity.”

Tommy Cross, Tyler Randell and Tim Schaller all signed one-year, two-way deals with the Bruins for an NHL value of $600,000, but are all expected to play the bulk of the season at the AHL level barring anything unexpected. 

Joe Haggerty can be followed on Twitter: @HacksWithHaggs

OFFSEASON

Hawks adding Howard could lead to Celtics signing Horford

Hawks adding Howard could lead to Celtics signing Horford

BOSTON – It’s a toss-up as to which was celebrated more by Boston Celtics fans: Dwight Howard coming to terms with the Atlanta Hawks, or the fact that it significantly improves Boston’s chances of landing one of their top free agent targets Al Horford.

A league executive texted CSNNE.com that Howard being off the market and going to Atlanta, should make the Celtics the favorite to land Horford.

Acquiring Horford, a four-time all-star, would be the biggest free agent signing in the Danny Ainge era. Boston is scheduled to meet with Horford tonight and is expected to offer him a four-year, $113 million max contract.

But as much as the Celtics want Horford, their primary target remains Oklahoma City’s Kevin Durant who may be more inclined to seriously consider Boston if they were to acquire Horford.