Haggerty: There is good-faith negotiation, finally


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.

Julien sidesteps job security question with "shock journalism" comment

Julien sidesteps job security question with "shock journalism" comment

BOSTON -- With three crushing losses in a row at a time when results are really all that matters, the Boston Bruins are reeling at the wrong time during the regular season. The B’s tried their best to win a game 0-0 with strong defense against a sleepy Chicago Blackhawks bunch on Friday night, but ultimately coughed up a Marian Hossa goal in the final minutes for a 1-0 regulation loss at TD Garden.

The defeat continued a swirl downward for the Black and Gold over the last week, and was a second straight shutout loss on home ice for the first time in almost 15 years. The losing stretch has also kicked up the chatter that Claude Julien is in trouble as head coach of the Bruins, and the hockey club’s underperformance up and down the lineup is ultimately going to cost the NHL’s longest tenured bench boss his job.

The Ottawa Senators have passed the Bruins in the Atlantic Division, and it’s only a matter of time before the Toronto Maple Leafs move by them as well with both Toronto and Ottawa holding six games in hand on Boston. Combine all of this with the B’s having missed the playoffs in each of the previous two seasons leading into this one, and it shouldn’t be at all surprising that Julien is squarely on the coaching hot seat.

The B’s bench boss was asked about his job security after the Chicago loss, and clearly didn’t appreciate the tough, but appropriate question.

“Well, I’m not into shock-journalism,” said Julien in a prideful tone. “So I’ll stay away from that question if you don’t mind.”

The Bruins posted their Saturday schedule shortly after Julien and the B’s players had addressed the media following the loss, and sure enough the embattled coach is scheduled to address the media post-practice as part of the regular practice day routine. So it doesn’t seem that a move with Julien is imminent this weekend despite another loss, but both the coach and the players know something is going to happen to shake things up with this team if they continue to struggle.

“Right now it’s a results based situation, so if you’re going to keep losing games then probably something’s going to happen,” said Torey Krug. “But right now we’re just pretty down emotionally after this game, so I don’t want to look at the big picture. I just [want to] focus on what’s going on in this room, and hopefully we can come back with a good effort the next game.”

A good effort might help Julien’s standing with the Bruins in the short term, but it’s impossible to imagine the B’s bench boss making it through the rest of the Bruins regular season given all of things working against him right now.