NHL labor negotiations reach a critical point

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NHL labor negotiations reach a critical point

Things better start getting serious in the NHL labor negotiations, and quickly, or the entire regular season will be in jeopardy.

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and deputy commissioner Bill Daly will meet today in Toronto at the NHLPA offices with Donald and Steve Fehr, the directors of the union, and the expectation is that both sides are prepared to discuss the core economic issues at the heart of their significant disagreement.

Thats a change from what's transpired since the lockout began. What talks have been held have focused on issues like ice-surface conditions, player safety, and the high cost of additional training staff for each of the 30 NHL clubs. In other words, the two sides have been avoiding the 500-pound gorilla in the room thats been jumping up and down for months.

At least one side, and perhaps both, are ready to bring new offers to the table and finally start actual negotiations on the issue that spurred the lockout. It may end the mother of all staring contests, which has wiped out the entire preseason and the first two weeks of the regular-season schedule.

This week represents the last-ditch effort to find common ground before things really get bad, and we find out what kind of kamikaze mission the NHL is on after missing the 2004-05 season to labor issues.

The expectation is that the league will cancel up to a month of games if things dont radically improve during this next round of discussions. That would wipe out two paycheck periods up to Nov. 22 (though it would leave the nationally televised Black Friday game between the Bruins and Rangers on Nov. 23 untouched for the time being).

If that happens, the players will have lost roughly 20 percent of their salaries for 2012-13. That may harden positions on the NHLPA side, since the players felt all along that the owners -- feeling there'd be a work stoppage that would result in a new collective bargaining agreement with player givebacks -- signed a slew of contracts for more than a billion dollars this summer without any intention of paying the full freight.

Still, losing 20 percent of salary is certainly more palatable than losing 100 percent if the entire season is cancelled and, according to sources with knowledge on both sides, the feeling is that if the dispute drags on into November, the NHL will cancel the entire season.

At some point logic has to factor in, since the players dont have many other options. The salaries in Europe that many are collecting as they play there during the lockout are small to begin with, and most of it is eaten up by the high cost of insurance to protect them in case of injury. The only league close to approaching the NHL in pay scale is the KHL, but its long plane trips and less-than-ideal setting don't make it an attractive destination.

(There have even been reports of NHL players unable to get their own equipment delivered to them in the KHL because their suppliers have been harassed by Eastern European companies. That kind of thing will get old very quickly for players like Zdeno Chara and Henrik Zetterberg, who are used to the first-class, five-star experience guaranteed everywhere they go in the NHL.)

What's especially worrisome is that the NHL is now focused at least partially on winning the public-relations battle. It has gone so far as to hire the same consulting firm used by the Republican Party to turn the PR tide against the players.

Whats escaping the NHL and to a lesser degree the NHLPA is that the ticket-purchasing public doesnt care which side is right. Theres a limit to Joe Six Packs empathy for millionaire players and billionaire owners when the NHL isnt playing games, and its being reached.

Those intimate with the NHLPA line of thinking freely admit that a deal that slowly staggers their percentage of Hockey Related Revenue down from its current 57 percent figure would work. The players know its eventually going to be a 5050 proposition, and a seven-year deal that goes something like 53-52-51-50-50-50-50 for the players would be approved with very little fight from the NHLPAs side.

So far the NHL hasn't budged from its demand for a drastic drop, right off the bat, that would cut the players share by 10-20 percent immediately.

That represents 300-700 million in very real money cuts for players in a league thats broken revenue records in each of the last five seasons. It's a giant slice of the pie, and the players wont give it up all at once.

It shouldnt take a PR consulting firm to come up with a clever marketing campaign for the NHL during the lockout. Its very simple:

Seek a fair compromise rather than wield a sledgehammer of greed. End the lockout. Protect the season, the Winter Classic, the HBO 247 series and Stanley Cup playoffs.

The fans dont care which side is right. They just want their NHL back, and they want it back now.

The sooner the NHL grasps that simple truth, the better it will be for everybody involved.

Friday, July 22: Versteeg headed for Europe

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Friday, July 22: Versteeg headed for Europe

Here are all the hockey links from around the world, and what I’m reading, while vowing to never try to marry the NHL and Pokemon into the same lame story.

*PHT writer James O’Brien has Kris Versteeg one of a number of NHL veteran free agents going to Europe for next season.

*The New York Islanders have reportedly been discussing moving to Queens and building a rink right next to the Mets’ Citi Field. Interesting. I know the Isles fan base was not happy with the setup in Brooklyn last season.

*The Black Knights get the top odds as a moniker for the Las Vegas franchise with a number of funny long shot names.

*Ian Mendes said that it’s pretty clear by the moves of the Ottawa Senators that they believe their time is now.

*Jason Botchford wonders if the Vancouver Canucks have a shot at being a playoff team next season. I hope so for Jim Benning’s sake.

*Ken Campbell wants to know if Brad Richards and Vincent Lecavalier, now that they’re both retired, are Hall of Fame-worthy players. I say no to both of them, but I can be stingy with my Hall of Fame qualifications as the Jarome Iginla fanboys know so well.

*For something completely different: Jon Stewart brought the funk and the noise while breaking his TV silence on Thursday night and tearing into a GOP that’s coming apart at the seams right now.

 

Bruins set to appear 16 times on NBC national broadcasts

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Bruins set to appear 16 times on NBC national broadcasts

The Bruins might have missed the Stanley Cup playoffs  each of the past two seasons, but that doesn’t mean they’ll be taking a backseat on the national television schedule for NBCSN and the rest of the NHL on NBC programming. 

The Black and Gold will appear in 16 nationally televised games in the 2016-17 season across the NBC Sports networks, though they won’t be a part of the Winter Classic, the Black Friday matinee or most of the other NHL showpiece events featured by NBC aside from their one appearance in the late game on “Hockey Day in America.”

In total, 16 games will be broadcast on either NBC or NBC Sports Network, with all other matchups being televised locally on NESN, along with some of these non-exclusive games ceding rights back to the local rights-holder.

The Bruins are tied with the New York Rangers for the third-most appearances on national television this season, behind only the Chicago Blackhawks (21) and Philadelphia Flyers (20). The broadcast schedule is highlighted by the Bruins visiting the San Jose Sharks on Feb. 19 as part of a quadruple-header on “Hockey Day in America.” 

 Bruins games on NBC and NBC Sports Network (all times Eastern):

Wed., Oct, 26 at N.Y. Rangers at 8 p.m. (NBCSN)
Tues., Nov. 22 vs. St. Louis at 7 p.m. (NBCSN)
Tues., Nov. 29 at Philadelphia at 7:30 p.m. (NBCSN)
Wed., Dec. 7 at Washington at 8 p.m. (NBCSN)
Wed., Dec. 14 at Pittsburgh at 7:30 p.m. (NBCSN)
Tues., Jan. 10 at St. Louis at 8 p.m. (NBCSN)
Wed., Jan. 18 at Detroit at 8 p.m. (NBCSN)
Wed., Feb. 1 at Washington at 8 p.m. (NBCSN)
Sun., Feb. 12 vs. Montreal at 7:30 p.m. (NBCSN)
Sun., Feb. 19 at San Jose at 8:30 p.m. (NBCSN)
Sun., Feb. 26 at Dallas at 12:30 p.m. (NBC)
Thurs., March 2 vs. N.Y. Rangers at 7 p.m. (NBCSN)
Wed., March 8 vs. Detroit at 8 p.m. (NBCSN)
Thurs., March 30 vs. Dallas at 7:30 p.m. (NBCSN)
Sun., April 2 at Chicago at 12:30 p.m. (NBC)
Sat,, April 8 vs. Washington at 3 p.m. (NBC)

Bruins’ pick Frederic out to prove he wasn’t a reach

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Bruins’ pick Frederic out to prove he wasn’t a reach

Trent Frederic had heard all of the chatter about the Bruins reaching a bit for him when they selected the physical, athletic center with the 29th overall pick last month in the draft.

Draft night pundits had the Wisconsin-bound Frederic much lower in the rankings and even Bruins scouting director Keith Gretzky admitted that Frederic probably projects to being a third-line center in the NHL a few years down the line.

“[Frederic] is not going to be a top-two line guy, we know that,” said Gretzky on draft night. “But he has some jam. He plays hard with the [amount of] penalty minutes. We were fortunate to get him. We believed he was our next guy and we really liked the projection of him as a staff. Everybody raved about him, his character is outstanding. He’s an athlete.”

So, it’s fair to say it was a conservative pick going for a player more likely to have an NHL career rather than a boom-or-bust risk choice like the small, skilled Alex DeBrincat and it’s equally important to note that the Bruins were looking size, strength and jam with a few of their center choices in this particular draft class.

The B’s selected the 6-foot-2, 203-pound Frederic as an organizational need pick and a safe pick at the end of the first round, but there were also at least two NHL teams that had player pegged to go between 20-30 in the draft.

“If you watch him in the [fitness] testing he’s a really good athlete, and he’s explosive,” said Bruins assistant coach Jay Pandolfo. “He was playing on that US [National Development] team behind [Kieffer] Bellows and [Clayton] Keller, so I think maybe he’s got a little bit more skill than people are giving him credit for.

“He’s got some upside more than a third line player. I know that’s what everybody was saying, but there were a lot of teams that were pretty high on this kid. I think he just went under the radar a little bit playing on that US team behind the top skill players.”

So, Gretzky, Scott Bradley, Don Sweeney and the rest of the B’s talent evaluators weren’t on their own in making the selection, and only the passing of time will tell if he turns into the next David Backes, or the next Chris Kelly. 

It appeared early in last week’s Bruins development camp that Frederic was trying to do too much as he struggled at times in skating drills and looked a little nervous during the first session with fellow NHL prospects.

But Frederic settled in after that and showed the athleticism, the toughness and a fairly decent amount of skill over the four on-ice days of development camp prior to getting ready for college. He certainly wasn't bursting with over-the-top offensive skill like Jake DeBrusk or Charlie McAvoy, but Frederic didn't look out of place grinding and battling with fellow top prospects while showing a ready willingness to go to the danger areas on the ice. 

The 18-year-old admitted he’s got a little of a chip on his shoulder about the first round reach chatter, and that won’t be a bad thing as he develops at the NCAA level.

“I have the hard work and the dedication, and I think I’ve been a winner my whole life…so I have that’s something I can bring to the Bruins. I think my two-way play is what they like a lot. My overall skating and my offensive game are things that I’m working on a lot,” said Frederic, who had 20 goals and 40 points in 61 games for the USNTDP last season. “I think you use [the draft talk] as motivation, and something that can push you to get going and to prove people wrong I guess you could say.

“I think I’ll do it, and I’ll work my hardest to do it. [The best advice I got] was don’t read anything good and don’t read anything bad about yourself because none of it really matters. I don’t know if anybody gave that to me, or if I gave it to myself. The main point is [to not buy into anything] whether it’s really good or bad.”

That’s exactly the right kind of attitude for the Frederic, who will be under the microscope a little bit now that he’s become a first-round pick in a Bruins organization leaning heavily on their future prospects.