Time, 'dirty tricks' pose issues in NHL lockout negotiations

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Time, 'dirty tricks' pose issues in NHL lockout negotiations

The CBA process in the NHL has been rife with roadblocks and ruts, and the last couple of days have fit squarely in that category.

The NHL and NHLPA spent Friday afternoon meeting separately with a federal mediator at different locations in New York City, and there has been no word of an actual face-to-face negotiating session as the day of business is coming to a close. Federal mediator Scott Beckenbaugh has been moving back-and-forth between locations while looking to patch things up between the two groups after a rocky previous 24 hours.

Some quarters of the NHLPA are upset feeling that the NHL attempted a fine print stunt against the players by reverting back to a previous definition of HRR (Hockey Related Revenue) in the latest offer both sides are working from. In essence both sides had agreed on stiff penalties for NHL clubs if they were found guilty of attempting to hide revenue away from their books.

In the version that rankled players, it was worded within the CBA draft that any attempts to hide revenue would be punished only at the discretion of the commissioner. Its pretty easy to see why the NHLPA had an issue with that kind of stunt, though it should be noted the NHL claimed it was an honest mistake in drafting a nearly 300-page proposal.

Some players like Ottawa defenseman Chris Phillips felt like it was the NHL trying to pull the wool over their eyes and dirty tricks while other players told CSNNE.com it was simply businessmen doing what they do.

One of the real problems is the timing as any potholes in the process put into danger the aim to have a completed agreement by the end of next week. That would in turn put into jeopardy the efforts by the NHL to put a 48-game shortened regular season into place that would begin by Jan. 19, and cause both the owners and players to walk down a road theyd rather not.

The NHL and NHLPA still must agree on:

An acceptable cap number for the second year of any new CBA with the players hoping for 65 million and the NHL standing firm at 60 million. This is an important subject given that a lowered salary cap number could do serious damage to next years free agent class while a higher number means the escrow on players salaries could go through the roof.

A pension plan that both sides can agree on given that its a difficult process that requires outset personnel to settle it between the NHL and NHLPA.

An acceptable term for the entire CBA with the NHL hoping for 10 and the players looking for something closer to eight years. It sounds like there might be traction on an eight-year CBA, but much like everything else that appears to be fluid at this point.

A salary variance for year-to-year of player contracts: the NHL has reportedly upped their offer to 30 percent limits with no year 60 percent higher than the lowest paid season in an effort to wipe out back-diving contracts. Thats something the players can probably live with in the next CBA.

Term limits for individual player contracts as the NHL continues to offer six years (with seven if a player is re-signing with his own team) and the players are pushing for seven year limits across the board.

So now fear, loathing and distrust have entered back into the equation at a late point in negotiations as Gary Bettman is reportedly threatening to cancel the season late next week if the two sides arent close to a deal. Theres a chance the NHL and NHLPA could finally sit down and talk at some point on Friday night, but theres just as good a chance that the newest silent stalemate continues.

Bruins bouncing between left wings Schaller and Spooner on Krejci line

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Bruins bouncing between left wings Schaller and Spooner on Krejci line

BRIGHTON, Mass. – It certainly doesn’t feel like it will go on forever this way for the Bruins, but at this point it’s essentially a case of musical left wings on the David Krejci line as it’s been for much of this season. 

Ryan Spooner has spent the majority of the season adjusting to playing the wing with Krejci, and has been just okay trying to play away from his natural center spot while using his speed and playmaking on the wing. But the speedy Spooner also spent his share of time lately on the fourth line after getting off to a slow offensive start this season with three goals and eight points along with a minus-1 rating in 23 games. 

The bouncing between the second and fourth line has undoubtedly been frustrating for the 24-year-old getting pushed off his natural position after posting 49 points in his first full year as a third line center. But Spooner has continued to toe the company line, work on keeping his confidence high for a productive offensive season and do what he needs to in an effort to get off a fourth line.

That’s opened the door for hard-nosed former Providence College standout Tim Schaller to get some top-6 forward time on the Krejci line as well, but he’s just posted a single assist in the last three games while working hard to keep up offensively with David Krejci and David Backes. The 6-foot-2, 219-pound Schaller has the grittiness to do the dirty work for that line in the corners and in front of the net, and he can certainly skate well enough for a big, energy forward. 

“To think this was going to happen, I would say ‘no’,” said Schaller when asked if he could have predicted at the start of the season that he’d be getting a look from the B’s in a top-6 role. “I’ve been able to play with whoever and whenever my whole career. I wouldn’t want to say it’s one of those things that I had expected, but I’m always ready for it. 

“We’ve been working pretty well together. I don’t know that we’ve had too many great [offensive] opportunities to capitalize on, but Backes and Krejci are good enough players that they’ll come. They’re good enough to bury on those chances, so the goals will come. I’m always going to play the same way no matter who I’m with. Those guys might have the puck on their sticks a little longer than other linemates of mine, but that will just create more space and opportunities.”

So Spooner and Schaller bring different strengths and weaknesses to the table as the B’s coaching staff searches for the right fit alongside Krejci and Backes, and Julien sounds like a coach that’s going to keep swinging back and forth between the two players. He certainly did that with Spooner during the third period in Philly, which led to an immediate goal for Krejci in the third period comeback, and toward the end of the Carolina win with the B's desperate for offense. 

Julien also didn’t rule out Matt Beleskey getting another look there as well with the Bruins having a tough time finding anybody to consistently fill Loui Eriksson’s role from last season.

“At times I don’t think that offense has been producing much because maybe it’s lacking a little bit of speed at that time, so you put Spooner back up there. But sometimes you feel like that line isn’t winning enough battles or spending enough time in the offensive zone, so you put Schaller back in there because he’s going to play a little grittier. So we’re looking there,” said Julien. “We’d love to be able to find somebody to be a consistent player there. We’ve had Matt Beleskey there and that line never really did anything. 

“[Beleskey] has been much better on the [third] line and he’s been getting more chances, so I’ve been trying to put the best scenario together, I guess. Sometimes it’s the situation and sometimes it’s the matchup [against the other team] as well. So there are different reasons for that. I’ve just got to make it work. If it’s working with [Schaller] on that night then you stick with it, and if you don’t think you’re getting enough then you move [Spooner] there and see if you can a little spark with some speed. It doesn’t mean Beleskey won’t go back there. That’s what we have right now.”

So it’s clear Julien, and the B’s coaching staff, have simply tried to find something that will work on a consistent basis with a couple of key offensive players on Boston’s second most important forward line. The one wild card in all of this: the impending return of Frank Vatrano, who has been skating for nearly two weeks as he works toward a return from foot surgery.

Vatrano was initially penciled in as the left winger alongside Krejci to start NHL camp this fall, and the Bruins were hoping he was going to build on the eight goals he scored in Boston last season in a limited role.

Vatrano could be ready to play within the next couple of weeks, and should be back in the B’s lineup prior to the early January timetable originally offered at the time of his surgery. So perhaps the 22-year-old Vatrano can end this season-long carousel of Bruins left wingers getting paraded on and off the Krejci line, and finally give the B’s greater options at left wing. 

But the Czech playmaking center could use some stability also as he looks to find the highest level of his game in a challenging year for the Black and Gold, and do it while the Bruins find the right kind of talent to skate alongside him.