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.

Five reasons why Stamkos won't be coming to Boston

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Five reasons why Stamkos won't be coming to Boston

The downright mania around Steven Stamkos is reaching a fever pitch with the clock counting down to July 1 and unrestricted free agency, and doubly so with former Tampa Bay GM Brian Lawton stoking the Boston fires on Monday by lumping the Bruins in with Tampa Bay and Toronto as potential favorites to land the top free agent big fish out there. Unfortunately I have heard absolutely nothing about Stamkos harboring a desire to play in Boston, and there’s no reason to believe the Black and Gold have anything resembling a legit shot to land the Lightning center this weekend.

With that in mind, here are five reasons why Stamkos won’t be picking the Boston Bruins as his NHL destination of choice when the moment of truth comes, likely on Friday.

1. Going in the wrong direction

The Bruins are headed in the wrong direction at this point. Let’s say the Bruins sign Stamkos to a $10-11 million per season contract for seven years, and immediately plug him into the lineup. Things might work out financially for the 2016-17 season, and perhaps the Stammer Hammer on the PP is enough to get the Bruins back into the playoffs. They are still a deeply flawed team even with Stamkos, and the giant $11 million cap hit is going to make it impossible to keep everybody with Torey Krug, Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak all looking at new contracts over the next calendar year. That doesn’t even mention trading, or signing in free agency, a potentially expensive defenseman, and replacing Loui Eriksson on the right wing if he walks on July 1 as well. The Bruins could theoretically sign Stamkos at the end of this week because they have $20-plus million in cap space, but they would immediately be in cap trouble once again with a roster that’s still nowhere near a Cup contender. Signing a shiny, skilled sniper off the free agent market isn’t a good strategy to build the Bruins back up into Cup contender, and it could actually set them back even further than they already sit at this point.

2. Krejci would have to be dealt

The Bruins would need to move heaven and Earth to make Stamkos happy. Okay, so maybe not heaven and Earth, but they would have to find a taker for playmaking center David Krejci. The Tampa Bay Lightning scorer is leaving the Bolts, and looking for a team where he can play center after battling with Tampa coach Jon Cooper over his playing position for the last couple of seasons. Going from Krejci to Stamkos would clearly be an upgrade on paper, and on the ice where Stamkos is one of the most electrifying players in the entire league. But there’s no guarantee Krejci would be willing to waive his no-movement clause to accommodate the Bruins bringing in his replacement, and that could blow up in Boston’s face if they make the signing before clearing out Krejci. Imagine if the Bruins are stuck with an unhappy Krejci who knows the Bruins want to move him, and an unhappy Stamkos that’s playing out of position because the Bruins once again didn’t get all their ducks in a row. That would be just another disastrous scenario for the Black and Gold where not enough attention was paid to the details. Speaking of those details, Brett Connolly and Stamkos are fairly good friends after their time in Tampa Bay. So non-tendering Connolly certainly wouldn’t have won any points with a player in Stamkos they’re allegedly attempting to woo.

3. Ontario is home

People need to realize that part of what’s going on here is Stamkos harboring a dream to go home to Ontario, and be the player that’s going to lift his Maple Leafs back to a proud, winning organization. There are pictures all over the Internet of Stamkos wearing Maple Leafs gear as a kid, and he’s said to those close to him that he wants to play in a real hockey market where the NHL is king. That was never the case in Tampa Bay where he still flourished, became a leader and developed into one of the most well-liked superstars in the entire league. But Stamkos now has a chance to go to the biggest hockey market that the NHL has to offer, and that’s Toronto where were Saturday night at the Air Canada Centre is a certified sports event. It doesn’t matter which team is in town, the Leafs get top billing on Hockey Night in Canada, and those Leafs players are splashed all across TV sets throughout Canada. Boston is a great hockey market, and an Original Six city that boasts its own considerable amount of hockey history. But it doesn’t compare to Toronto for an Ontario kid that grew up worshiping the Leafs, and now potentially has a chance to go home and lead that franchise to glory. There’s no just contest there when you think about it.

4. Julien is not Obi Wan Kenobi

There are many that think Claude Julien holds some kind of special bond with Stamkos, and that is going to be the key to getting him with the Boston Bruins. I’m sure that Stamkos appreciates that a classy guy like Julien visited him in the hospital after he gruesomely broke his leg in Boston, and they have forged a good player/coach relationship during their time at Team Canada events. But people are portraying this as Julien being some kind of Obi Wan Kenobi figure that’s going to wave his hand, and use some kind of Jedi mind trick on Stamkos to get him to sign on the dotted line with the Black and Gold. This is probably one of the most ridiculous theories in this entire Stamkos-to-the-Bruins propaganda that’s floating around. The truth of the matter is that Stamkos’ offensive numbers would take a dive in Claude Julien’s system, and that he wouldn’t be the top center in most situations while giving way to Patrice Bergeron at important moments. I don’t think that is what Stamkos has in mind when signing with a team, whether it’s Toronto or Tampa, or somebody else. It’s nice to hold out hope that the Bruins are going to land a big fish despite being a star-crossed franchise that’s very much in the middle of a painful reloading process. But some of these are delusions more than reasonable scenarios based on what might actually happen.

5. Bruins aren’t on the list

Don’t believe me? Well, here’s the most damning piece of proof. TSN’s ultimate hockey insider Bob McKenzie was on the phone with TSN Radio out in Edmonton on Tuesday morning, and was asked about the Stamkos sweepstakes right out of the gate. He labeled Detroit, Buffalo and Toronto as the three favorites to land Stamkos in free agency, and Bobby Mac never even mentioned the Bruins during a lengthy, information-filled discussion with numerous follow-up questions. Other teams like the Canadiens were tossed into the mix for discussion purposes, but at no point were the Black and Gold even a glint in McKenzie’s eye during his comments. All due respect to Lawton, but it’s like I said earlier: there is a 0.0 percent chance that Stamkos signs with the Bruins on July 1 if he ultimately leaves the Tampa Bay Lightning. 

Joe Haggerty can be followed on Twitter: @HacksWithHaggs

Tuesday, June 28: Stamkos to the Bruins isn't happening

Tuesday, June 28: Stamkos to the Bruins isn't happening

Here are all the links from around the hockey world, and what I’m reading while the parade of RFAs without qualifying offers wait for July 1 free agency.

*The Eric Lindros induction into the Hockey Hall of Fame finally puts the debate to bed over a controversial player with dominant seasons, serious injuries and some potential unrealized when it was all said and done.

*A list of the top 5 reasons why Steven Stamkos is going to sign with the Toronto Maple Leafs.

*A list of the top reasons why Steven Stamkos is going to re-sign with the Tampa Bay Lightning. Notice there is no list of the top reasons why Stamkos is going to sign with the Boston Bruins because it is not going to happen. 

*Goalie Jack Campbell is traded away from the Dallas Stars, but has nothing but positive things to say about the organization.

*Matt Cullen will put off retirement after winning the Stanley Cup, and hopes to re-sign with the Pittsburgh Penguins.

*Congrats to Ron Maclean and David Amber splitting the hosting duties for Hockey Night in Canada on Saturdays. A great example of two classy pros, though I also think that Strombo did a good job under challenging circumstances the last couple of years.

*Andrew Shaw signs a six-year deal with the Montreal Canadiens that will insure he’s an aggravating pest in the Habs/Bruins rivalry for a long time to come. 

*For something completely different: Peyton Manning pays his respects to legendary Tennessee women’s basketball coach Pat Summitt on the day of her passing.