Haggerty: NHL owners messing with one of biggest strengths

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Haggerty: NHL owners messing with one of biggest strengths

There are obvious after-effects and negative impacts from an NHL work stoppage that hits everyone from players, owners, fans and media all the way down to the employees that rely on hockey to thrive.

The millions of dollars in revenue lost and the momentum frittered away in the sport of hockey are the most obvious, but those are things that both the NHL and NHLPA have already prepared for in the worst-case scenario planning.

The NHL seems like theyve been ready for a two-month work stoppage from the very beginning, and that would give them the 20 percent rollback on player salaries this season theyve been looking for all along.

Think about it: wiping out the first two weeks of the season erased roughly seven percent of the players paycheck, and a couple more two-week cancellations will give the NHL the 20 percent rollback theyve been seeking.

In fact the bottom third of teams in the league that routinely lose oodles of money annually are actually saving money by wiping out the first few months. The empty arenas that typically greet non-traditional hockey markets like Florida and Phoenix during the early months of October and November are being swallowed up by the lockout.

Those teams that hemorrhage cash are getting a little relief even as the NHL vows their disappointment hockey isnt being played.

Meanwhile the players have also prepped for almost a year having watched whats gone down in the NFL and the NBA before them. They also learned from the 2004-05 lockout debacle that cost the NHL a year. Players had made playing arrangements elsewhere in lieu of their NHL gigs while building up nest eggs to survive without NHL paychecks. The NHLPA war chest is helping out as well, and the players appear prepared to sit out at least an entire year, if necessary, from a financial survival point of view.

None of that is opinion; instead theyre cold, hard business facts of the NHL.

But theres also a potentially unforeseen consequence that both sides might want to think about as the lockout turns the corner to nastiness.

The NHL players are the best professional athletes to deal with in all phases of the professional sports business. Theyre clearly the easiest to interact with from a media perspective, but thats not likely to change with the NHL badly losing the PR battle during the lockout.

What could be irrevocably altered by a lengthy lockout is the bitter, hurt feelings kicked up between employer and employee a dynamic that could truly stain a league thats always enjoyed their players as a great strength.

Sure there are players like Jonathan Toews that appear to be waging a holy war against NHL commissioner Gary Bettman, and theres little doubt the players would love to see Bettman take a major hit as the unpopular lockout rolls on.

But the players are smart, and they know that Bettman is taking direct orders from his bosses: the 30 NHL owners.

What would happen to these amiable, friendly players willing to make endless charitable appearances for their NHL employers? In many cases NHL players go above and beyond any contractual obligations to support their teams fund-raising endeavors, and help their owners look like selfless philanthropists in the process.

Most NHL players are contractually obligated to make eight or nine appearances per season for their team at organized events, but the vast majority of them will participate in double that number when their employer makes the special request.

NHL players are good-hearted for the most part, and theyll undoubtedly continue the philanthropic and altruistic efforts on their own.

But NHL owners removing 20-percent of their paychecks off the top could turn the players into the kind of bitter, selfish, jaded athletes that are seen all too often in the other three major professional sports. Hockey players unfailingly go to great lengths to help promote their sport, and are mindful of that in every interview they grant to help the NHL market their tent pole events.

But what happens if the players suddenly go the route of so many hardened baseball players, and decide that surly is a better look than smiling. Killing the good-natured spirit of NHL players by essentially negotiating contracts in bad faith could have lasting effects for the worse.

Every NHL player that CSNNE.com has discussed the lockout with feels that the owners have zero intention of paying the full freight on the contracts signed for next season. Thats just dirty business and thats something that employees will never forgive or forget.

Think about it: NHL players set the pace for all other sports when it comes to personal conduct, serving as role models and giving the league a good name. When was the last time Bettman had to suspend a hockey player for firing off a gun in a crowded club or being the ring leader of a heartless dog-fighting scheme?

Granted those things will probably never happen to NHL players no matter what transpires in the next Collective Bargaining Agreement, but the point stands that Bettman and his 30 overlords are messing with an asset the players that already gives them everything they could possibly want. But now the owners want more, and they want a healthy chunk of it.

There will be hard, hurt feelings after this lockout is over, and the owners will feel it the next time they require any of their players to do a favor for them. Much like baseball, NHL players will start circling their off days on the schedule and tell their teams to buzz off if they need a special appearance made at an event. Its a small effect, for sure, but its also an unselfishness thats made hockey players incredibly popular over the years.

All of the favors will be taken when the NHL players bleed 20-percent of their 2012-13 salaries all over the pile of paperwork the new CBA is written on, and things wont be the same afterward. The NHL owners can take that to the bank right along with the rollback money earned from this years lockout stunt.

Rask: Last season 'something to rebound from' personally

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Rask: Last season 'something to rebound from' personally

BRIGHTON, Mass. – While David Pastrnak, Tuukka Rask and David Backes are back from competing in the World Cup of Hockey in Toronto, that doesn’t mean you’ll see those players on the ice over the next couple of days. Perhaps the trio will practice on Monday in the fourth on-ice session at main training camp, but Bruins GM Don Sweeney confirmed that none of those returning players will suit up against the Columbus Blue Jackets in the B’s preseason debut at TD Garden on Monday night.

“Yeah…absolutely,” said Sweeney when asked if those three players have been ruled out for Monday night. “They’re going to get through the weekend here. Next week, we’ll evaluate [them] when they get on the ice. But, all those guys will not be on the ice until next week.

“It might be case-by-case for each guy. Those guys have been playing for a while at a high level. It’s unique for David Backes coming into the organization, so he’d like to integrate himself. I talked yesterday with all three of them just to get a read of where they’re at. But, sometime first of next week, they’ll be on [the ice].”

Both Pastrnak and Rask have checked in with the Bruins media over the last couple of days after returning from Toronto, and the Bruins goaltender, in particular, has plenty of motivation coming off a down statistical season. The 2.56 goals against average and .915 save percentage were well below his career numbers, and people like B’s President Cam Neely have pointed to Rask as somebody that needs to have a better season for Boston to rebound back into the playoffs this year.

“There were a couple of years where the standards pretty high, so obviously when they go down there’s something to rebound from. You kind of know where you can be. That’s where I try to be every year and I’m working on being there this year, and taking us to the playoffs and moving forward,” said Rask. “But every year is a new year where you’ve got to work hard, and set your goals to be at your best. More often than not you hope [being at your best] is going to happen, and I hope this year is going to be a great year for us.”

Clearly Rask wasn’t alone in his struggles last season behind a mistake-prone defense that allowed plenty of Grade chances, and that could be a repeating phenomenon again this season for the Bruins unless the defense is substantially upgraded along the way.

As far as the other three B’s players still taking part in the World Cup, it could be a while for Patrice and Brad Marchand as Team Canada has advanced to the final best-of-three series that could also feature Zdeno Chara if Team Europe is victorious. 

Sweeney: 'Helpless feeling' hoping World Cup players return healthy

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Sweeney: 'Helpless feeling' hoping World Cup players return healthy

BRIGHTON, Mass. – It’s a bit of a helpless feeling for an NHL general manager watching their star players participate in an intense hockey tournament like the World Cup of Hockey that doesn’t directly benefit their respective teams.

Not helpless because of the tournament’s outcome, obviously, but helpless because players could return from Toronto dinged up, or even worse significantly injured.

Aaron Ekblad had to shut it down for Team North American with what many speculated was a concussion, and Pittsburgh goalie Matt Murray is out a month, or more, with a broken hand sustained playing for the same young guns team.

So, it certainly must have been an uneasy few moments for Don Sweeney when Brad Marchand was pulled from Team Canada’s last game for the concussion protocol after a nasty-looking collision with Team Europe forward Marian Hossa.

Marchand went through the testing, and ended up returning to the game no worse for the wear. But it could have been a lot worse for a Bruins team that can’t afford to be missing Marchand, Patrice Bergeron or Zdeno Chara, who are still playing for teams alive in the semifinal round of the tourney.

“I would expect all of us to have been in a similar situation. For everybody - any general manager, coaches, staff, you're concerned about [injuries],” said Sweeney, talking about the World Cup and Marchand’s close call. “I mean, especially when you realize the stakes are going to go up as the tournament goes along. The pride involved - it's a risk. There's no question, it's a risk.

“But you also want to see them play their best hockey and they're not going to hold back. Yeah, it's a definite concern. You've got your fingers and toes crossed.”

David Pastrnak and Tuukka Rask have already returned to Boston fully healthy. David Backes should be joining the team anytime now after Team USA’s rude dismissal from the tournament. But Sweeney and the Bruins still have their sensors out for the three B’s players taking part that aren’t quite out of the woods yet before returning to B’s camp in one piece.