Haggerty: NHL CBA talks set to pick up

803496.jpg

Haggerty: NHL CBA talks set to pick up

BALTIMORE In today'sCBA talks between the players and the league, the NHLPA finally will give their long awaited answer today to last months resoundingly unreasonable opening NHL proposal.

Donald Fehr, his staff and a host of players have been gathering information while meeting with NHL officials in New York and Toronto. Questions have been asked on both sides. Most of those informational queries have been adequately answered, while some, probably, have not.

Instead NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman has dropped the L word as in lockout into the summer discussion in recent days. He has confirmed the owners will indeed lock out the players if no agreement is reached by the Sept. 15 day that the current CBA expires.

A work stoppage is something the players desperately do not want, but something they appeared solidly ready to absorb if the alternative is turning back NHL playing conditions to what they were 10, 20 or even 30 years ago.

Expect a couple of things to happen when reports surface about the contents of the proposal: 1) It will include some level of a revenue sharing and luxury tax system modeled after Major League Baseball, 2) it wont include any of the major bullet point conditions from last months NHL proposal (a drop in players share of Hockey Related Revenue, 10 years of service until free agency, the abolition of arbitration etc.) and 3) it should provide similar conditions those under which the NHL has thrived during the last six seasons.

One source inside the NHLPA said in the days following the leagues offer that there wasnt a single acceptable condition among the major points, and the sense is that it was put out there to potentially fracture the union membership.

That hasnt happened.

Fehr has long concluded that Major League Baseball has the healthiest, the most viable and the most sensible economic system among the four major sports, and thats probably not a surprise given that he was one of the architects that helped craft its structure. It would appear hes now attempting to do the same thing in the NHL where teams like the New York Rangers, Chicago Blackhawks, Philadelphia Flyers and the Toronto Maple Leafs among others would spend over the salary cap if they were allowed to do so under the CBA.

Those teams could then help subsidize the have not clubs in New Jersey, Phoenix and Florida among others that annually lose money. Those impoverished NHL teams currently under fiscal water are being held up by the NHL as the prime reason why the system is currently broken despite a record 3.3 billion in revenues. A luxury tax system would give them a lift up just like the largesse of the New York Yankees helped allow every other Major League Baseball club survive through the worst economic recession since the Great Depression.

The answers are all there for the NHL owners if theres more concern for the games health prognosis than for its profit margin.

One interesting byproduct of introducing the luxury taxincreased revenue sharing system to the talks: It will pit owner against owner on the NHL side of the bargaining table.
On the other hand, its pretty clearthat all NHL players are on the same page, represented by the fact that Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin will fly in for the players presentation.Crosby is the face of the NHL as its marquee player, and his presence speaks volumes to just how determined the players are to dig in their heels.

Steve Stamkos, Mike Cammalleri, Jason Spezza, P.K. Subban and John Tavares are also among the "whos who" of 23 players that showed up for the presentation. There were no Bruins players at the pivotal meeting on Tuesday, but Daniel Paille, Andrew Ference and Patrice Bergeron have all been present at different stages of the discussion.

Fehr even went to the trouble in recent weeks of meeting with the European players in Barcelona to apprise them of the talks a gesture that past NHLPA leadership had never extended to their considerable European membership.

The NHLs response to a considerably different manner of offer from the players union will be telling. Perhaps Bettman and his Board of Governors will be open-minded about a new financial system where each and every team could survive without having to worry about going into NHL receivership, like the Coyotes. But the NHL is a business and it would be surprising if Toronto, New York and Chicago et al would be willing to give up a margin of their profits for the well-being of the league.

The league's initial proposal expected players to give up a chunk of their share of the pie, shoving a salary cap, a 24 percent salary rollback and year-long lockout down their throats.

Optimism has been hard to come by when it comes to the NHL starting on time in October, and all are about to see exactly how realistic those doomsday discussions have been. The hope is that the worst-case scenario has the NHL season starting between Thanksgiving and New Years Day so not to interrupt the national TV schedule.
A lockout would be painful and fraught with angst from finger-wagging hockey fans, of course, but ultimately the sport, its irreplaceable players and those that love it would all survive in the end.
Keep your fingers crossed, hockey fans, but it could be a bumpy ride before your NHL plane comes to a full and complete landing.

Haggerty: Mark it down -- the Bruins WILL make the playoffs

Haggerty: Mark it down -- the Bruins WILL make the playoffs

The Bruins are going to snap their two-year drought and get into the Stanley Cup playoffs this spring. 

Sure, it’s going to be a tight race. And it'll come down to the last few games, befitting a team that's lived on the Atlantic Division bubble over the last three years. But in the seven games under interim coach Bruce Cassidy, the Bruins have shown they have the goods to get into the postseason. There's every reason to believe they’ll sustain their winning ways over the final two months of the regular season. 

There's a long way to go, of course, but a third-place (or higher) finish would ensure the B's a berth in the Atlantic Division playoff bracket, and they could conceivably advance a round or two based solely on the poor quality of clubs in their division. With 20 games to play, the Bruins are now third in the division and have a one-point cushion (70-69) over fourth-place Toronto, though the Leafs have a game in hand. If Toronto passes them, they currently have a two-point lead over the Islanders (70-68) for the eighth and final spot in the conference playoffs, though the Isles also have a game in hand. 

And that's not to say Boston couldn't climb higher. The B's are only four points behind the first-place but spinning-their-wheels Canadiens (20-20-7 since their 13-1-1 start), and they're even with the Habs in games played. They trail second-place Ottawa by two points, but the Senators have two games in hand.

All that, however, is another story for another day (even if it is a reason for Boston adding, rather than subtracting, at Wednesday's NHL trade deadline),

So how can we so stridently state that the Bruins are going to make the playoffs, and assure that this seven-game run isn’t just a flash in the pan?

Clearly they're playing with more urgency, higher compete levels, and a consistent focus that wasn’t there in the first 55 games under Claude Julien. They've now scored first-period goals in nine straight games and scored first in each of the four games on the highly successful Western swing through San Jose, Los Angeles, Anaheim and Dallas over the last week. 

To put that in perspective, the B's had gone 1-8 in California over the previous three seasons, when those late-in-the-year road trips spelled the beginning of the end for Boston.

But even more convincing is a simple look at the numbers, the production and the reasons behind the surge forward. 

The Bruins have long needed their two franchise centers operating at a high level at both ends of the ice, and consistently playing the 200-foot game that can cause major problems against teams not blessed with frontline talent in the middle. That wasn’t the case under Julien this year, but things have changed. 

David Krejci has three goals and eight points along with an even plus/minus rating in seven games under Cassidy. Patrice Bergeron posted three goals and nine points along with a plus-7 over that same span of games. With those two big-money, big-ceiling players operating at their highest levels, the rest of the team has shown its true potential . . . and the talent level is considerably higher than many thought.

It wasn’t long ago that many Bruins fans, and some major Julien apologists in the media, would have had you believe that Claude was keeping together a substandard NHL roster with a MacGyver-like combination of duct tape, chewing gum and an offensive system that only a dump-and-chase, trappist wonk could love. Now we’re seeing there's offensive talent on a group that’s been given the green light to create and produce. 

To wit, the Bruins' third line is now winning games for them after serving as a liability for the first half of the season. Ryan Spooner, Jimmy Hayes and Frank Vatrano have combined for 6 goals, 15 points and a plus-11 in the seven games under Cassidy after never getting a chance to work together under Julien because they weren’t in his defensive circle of trust.

There's also the elevated level of production -- across the board -- from Boston’s defensemen. Not to mention Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak continuing to produce offense at elite levels. Marchand just set a career-high with his 64th point on Sunday afternoon, and still has another 20 games left in attempting to become the B's first point-per-game player since Marc Savard (88 points in 82 games in  2008-09).

All of it amounts to a Bruins offense that’s now choosing quality shots over quantity: Boston is scoring 1.5 more goals per game under Cassidy while averaging a significant 4.5 fewer shots per game. The Bruins have finally ditched the weak perimeter attack that so entralled the Corsi crowd -- it was putting up 40-plus shots per game, yet only about 2.5 goals -- and are instead honing in their offensive chances between the dots and in closer to the net .

Should people still be wondering if this current B’s run of entertaining, winning hockey is sustainable? They certainly can if they want to wait until the season is over to decide, but the jury is in for this humble hockey writer.

Bruins fans should take the cue and start lining up for their postseason tickets. 

Because there is going to be playoff hockey in Boston this spring. Remember, you heard it here first.

Haggerty's Morning Skate: NHL teams aren't just making trades for themselves ahead of deadline

Haggerty's Morning Skate: NHL teams aren't just making trades for themselves ahead of deadline

Here are all the hockey links from around the world, and what I’m reading while feeling like Warren Beatty took the sneaky way out by handing that wrong Academy Award card to Faye Dunaway last night. Clearly he knew something was amiss and he let her step into it. Kind of a weasel move if you asked me.

-- An interesting letter from FOH (Friend of Haggs) James Mirtle about the pay wall involving The Athletic sports website in Toronto.

-- Dean Lombardi and the Los Angeles Kings dealing for Ben Bishop is about more than just an insurance policy for Jonathan Quick.

-- FOH Mike Halford has the Minnesota Wild going for it with their trade for Martin Hanzal, but also keeping him from the other teams in the West.

-- NHL commissioner Gary Bettman says the Penguins are in great shape after winning the Cup last spring, and it’s clear they’re in good hands after Mario Lemieux and Ron Burkle opted not to sell the franchise.

-- Kyle Quincey is being held out of the lineup in New Jersey because of pending trades, and the wonder is who else in New Jersey might be getting dealt.

-- Gabriel Landeskog and his Colorado Avalanche teammates know the trade deadline is coming. It would certainly be weird if they didn’t.

-- The San Jose Sharks feel fortunate for the timing of their bye week as it was clear that they needed a break.

-- For something completely different: Gronk was busy doing Gronk things at the Daytona 500 over the weekend.