Haggerty: There is good-faith negotiation, finally

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Haggerty: There is good-faith negotiation, finally

It took nearly six months of death stares, angry diatribes, jibes, conference room storm-outs and millions upon millions of dollars lost by virtually everybody involved with the NHL.

But finally there is an actual good-faith CBA negotiation going on between the NHL and the NHLPA, and that means there should be a deal done within the next week that will allow NHL arenas to open their doors on Jan. 19. The NHL and NHLPA are meeting daily, holding cordial face-to-face discussions and are exchanging comprehensive offers where traction and middle ground are finally being found.

The two sides are still apart on key issues, of course. The salary cap in Year 2 of the CBA, a cap on escrow, and perhaps even a pension plan that both sides thought theyd agreed to all might still be on the table.

Bruins players should be fighting hard to change the Year 2 cap figure from its current 60 million mark because the Bs have more than 58 million committed to 16 players for the 2013-14 season, and that doesnt include any goaltenders with NHL experience. It appears some measure of roster dismantling could be in place (with familiar faces jettisoned in trades as unwitting salary cap victims) for GM Peter Chiarelli if that figure isnt bumped out by another 5-7 million when the final CBA is approved.

Those issues need to be resolved before both sides can proclaim there is an agreement in principle, or begin making plans for NHL training camp and a shortened 48-game regular season schedule.

But it appears a hard deadline for the season to be whacked Tony Soprano-style something the players clearly cant stomach, and something the NHL owners have reportedly told Gary Bettman they will not accept is forcing both Bettman and NHLPA Executive Director Donald Fehr to finally act as deal-makers.

Make no mistake about this embarrassing path of negotiations. The NHL wasnt truly serious about beginning the season until Bettman emailed Fehr with a comprehensive 300-page offer at the end of last week, so none of those tentative start dates in October, November or December had much chance of happening. In fact nothing really happened until the NHLPA threatened to dissolve and take things into the court room. But the olive branch NHL offer prompted a counter-offer from an NHLPA group in New York City that now includes Bruins defenseman Andrew Ference among its negotiating team, and Tuesday night it was the NHLs turn to come back with another offer where they moved toward the players in some key areas.

Even better, both the NHL and NHLPA have finally patched up the leaky back channels that had consistently unearthed details about both sides offers, and done everything possible to make the other side look like mud. A cone of silence has dropped over the negotiations, and that is one of the most promising signs yet that a deal might in the wings.

"We're not trying to keep score," Bettman said, "we're trying to get an agreement."

It appears the NHLs strategy was to grind out the players until January, throw the non-traditional NHL markets a bone by cutting off their three least profitable months of the season, and then cut a deal before throwing itself off the NHL fiscal cliff.

Its a plan thats certainly difficult to stomach for bar, restaurant and parking garage owners around Boston that have taken an unwanted fiscal bath while missing out on an expected 17 home dates this season. Thats 800,000-1 million lost for the city of Bostons economy per home game that people will never get back, according to Greater Boston Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Of course, a great deal of this will be forgotten provided both the NHL and the players can hammer something out over the next nine days. The Bruins and the rest of their NHL brethren will embark on a regular season sprint through a 48-game schedule, and, if reports are true, the league will add another four teams to the playoff mix this year. Excitement will be high by the time the postseason arrives and fans, advertisers and sponsors will likely feel toasty and secure at the beginning of a 10-year CBA that should guarantee good health and prosperity for the league.

But there will also be a nagging feeling for some that so much of this lockout was also completely unnecessary. Its an indictment of leadership on all sides that it was ever allowed to get to the brink of NHL oblivion in January, and its something that needs to be fixed if the league is ever to get past periods of labor strife between Collective Bargaining Agreements.

Its already clear that this current CBA will be a band-aid of sorts without any real revenue sharing that permanently addresses the issues inherent within the business model. The NHL cant be a truly solvent business until the Maple Leafs, Bruins, Canadiens and Rangers are sharing bigger bags of dough with the Coyotes, Blue Jackets, Panthers and Predators.

But thats an argument for next time around when many of the current NHL Board of Governors will surely have turned over. Perhaps those leading the league then will have new ideas and fresher perspectives that can usher in a time when the owners and players are in a true partnership building a league that has so many other things going for it.

For now its just nice that theres a negotiation finally taking place in the New Year, and thats about the only resolution that the hockey-loving public could hope for.

Reese Witherspoon tries to recruit Malcolm Mitchell for her book club

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Reese Witherspoon tries to recruit Malcolm Mitchell for her book club

Malcolm Mitchell's on-the-field ability got him drafted in the fourth round by the Patriots last weekend, but his off-the-field story has garnered just as much -- if not more -- attention.

Mitchell's story, at this point, has been well-told. The 6-foot, 198-pound receiver arrived at the University of Georgia able to read at only a middle-school level. But while on campus his love of reading steadily grew, and he has since become a strong advocate for children's literacy. He's written his own children's book, The Magician's Hat, and he even joined a book club in the Athens, Georgia area made up of women about twice his age and older. 

Though his fellow book club members plan to make a visit to Gillette Stadium at some point this season to watch Mitchell play, he may be in the market for a new group now that he'll be moving to New England. 

Actress Reese Witherspoon was so inspired by Mitchell's story that she tried to recruit him to her own book club. Using Twitter to make the connection, Witherspoon happily engaged Mitchell in a back-and-forth where the two shared some of their favorite reading list suggestions.

Mitchell will soon be in Foxboro for Patriots rookie minicamp so he'll likely have to devote an inordinate amount of time to digesting his new playbook, but it seems like he now has a few other items on his to-do list thanks to his new pal.

GAHS Podcast: Felger 'fearful' of where Bruins are headed

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GAHS Podcast: Felger 'fearful' of where Bruins are headed

In an all-CSN edition in the 15th episode of the Great American Hockey Show Podcast as co-hosts Joe Haggerty and Jimmy Murphy welcomed SportsNet Central anchor Mike Giardi to discuss the current B’s situation and conducted a wide-ranging interview with Sports Tonight host and Felger and Mazz co-host Michael Felger about his time covering the Bruins as a beat reporter, where he developed his love for hockey and his pathway toward becoming the most influential figure in the Boston sports media scene.

Perhaps most interesting from Giardi’s segment was his take that “nobody should be untouchable” on the Bruins roster, that includes franchise player and future captain Patrice Bergeron, if the return is good enough. Felger discussed who he’d move between Zdeno Chara and Tuukka Rask to change up the Bruins roster this summer and how gravely concerned he is about the health and well-being of the franchise coming off two seasons out of the playoffs.

“I’m fearful, of course. I think the passion of the Bruins fan base is still there. We could do four hours on the radio tomorrow talking about the Bruins, and totally bang it out with callers,” said Felger. “So the Bruins are so lucky that the fans are that passionate. But if it’s too long of a drought, we all lived through 2005 and 2006 coming out of the lockout. It was dark, and we have the capacity to go back there.”

For the full Great American Hockey Show podcast check it out below: 

McAdam: More firsts for Ortiz in what looks like stellar final season

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McAdam: More firsts for Ortiz in what looks like stellar final season

CHICAGO -- It could happen Thursday night, or perhaps sometime this weekend in New York, where he always hits well.
      
But sometime soon, David Ortiz is going to tie, then surpass, Carl Yastrzesmski as the second-greatest home run hitter in Red Sox history.
      
Ortiz hit his sixth of the season Wednesday night, giving him 451 for his Red Sox career, one behind Yastrzemski. Ted Williams is, of course, the Red Sox' all-time leader with 521, safely out of reach.
      
"Know what happens when that's happening?'' asked Ortiz, when told of the approaching milestone. "I'm getting old, man. Like I always say, whenever they mention your name right next to the legends, it's something that, humbly I can tell you, is an honor.''
      
What makes Ortiz's spot on the list all the more amazing is that he has reached these heights after being discarded by the Minnesota Twins some 14 years ago.
      
He arrived as a backup first baseman, initially stuck behind Jeremy Giambi on the Red Sox depth chart. He'll retire, later this year, as one of the handful of best hitters the franchise has ever known.
      
On nights like Wednesday, the context seemed to have Ortiz himself in awe.
      
"I was just a guy who was trying to have a good career,'' said Ortiz, “and put (my) family in a better situation. Now, all of a sudden, these things are happening. It's a blessing.''
      
It's a stretch to suggest that these things are happening "all of a sudden.'' To the contrary, they're the result of a remarkable stretch of 14 seasons in Boston.
     
Only now are the numbers coming into focus. And what numbers they are.
      
Beyond Ortiz's ascension on the all-time lists for the both Major League Baseball and the Red Sox in particular are the improbable feats of a 40-year-old who is performing this season at a level that would be impressive for a hitter a decade younger.
      
Consider:
      
* When Ortiz homered off Yankees reliever Dellin Betances last Friday, he did so on a first-pitch curveball. Tom Verducci of Sports Illustrated noted that Betances had thrown 355 first-pitch curveballs in his career; Ortiz was the first to hit a homer on one of those pitches.
      
In fact, only six of the first 355 had even been put in play.
      
Ortiz hit his well into the Monster Seats to snap a 2-2 tie and send the Red Sox to a 4-2 victory.
      
* On Wednesday night, Ortiz became the first lefthanded hitter to ever homer off White Sox lefty starter Carlos Rodon.
      
Since last July 2, Ortiz is third among all lefthanded hitters in hitting homers off lefthanded pitchers. That's quite an accomplishment for someone who was being benched as recently as last June against some lefty starters.
     
And what did Rodon learn about that particular showdown?
      
"Don't throw a fastball down the middle to Big Papi,'' said Rodon.
      
Sounds like a good strategy.
      
It's fairly amazing that a 40-year-old, in his final season, is enjoying all these firsts. But Ortiz has lasted this long, and played at such a high level, precisely because he works to get better all the time.
      
Manager John Farrell noted that Ortiz hadn't faced Rodon before Wednesday night and didn't look particularly good in his first two at-bats, grounding into a double play and hitting a flyout.
      
But Ortiz is forever making mental notes, getting ready to make adjustments and process what he's seen.
      
"His retention is great,'' marveled Farrell. "He understands what he's seeing after just one at-bat.''
      
There's still more than five months to go in the regular season and a lot can happen in that span. But after a month in 2016, it seems likely that we are in the midst of one of the greatest final seasons a player has ever enjoyed.