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.

Haggerty: Bruins get chance to show good results weren't just short term

Haggerty: Bruins get chance to show good results weren't just short term

The mission for the Bruins on their four-game road swing through the West Coast is certainly to keep the momentum going, but it’s also to quell any talk that the positive results will be short-lived following the coaching change.

The Bruins won there first three games interim head coach Bruce Cassidy headed into the five-day “bye week”, and they’ll come out on the other side with a potentially dangerous road swing through California that will finish up in Dallas next weekend. 

The Black and Gold have gone into death spirals before on the Cali trip, so that’s always a danger when going coast-to-coast to face tough teams in the Sharks, Ducks and Kings.

There’s also the fact that NHL teams are 3-10-2 as of Saturday afternoon in the first game coming back from the five-day midseason vacation. That means the B’s are going to face a stiff uphill battle on Sunday night against the Pacific Division-leading Sharks. 

The challenge is going to be there for the Bruins to answer all of those challenges when they’ve shrunk away from such adversity most of the season. It gives the Bruins yet another chance to show that the three games aren’t merely a sugar-high after cages had been rattled and is instead something that Boston sustains over the season’s final two-plus months.

“Our thinking is to try to win every game. We know the standings. We know it’s pretty tight. We put ourselves in some of the games in tough situations. Now, we’ve got to climb up and fight for every point,” said Zdeno Chara. “It’s going to be very important that we do that and play that way until the end.

“We can look at the standings as much as we want. I think that we really have to focus on how we play, how we want to go into every game, and what we can do to get as many points as possible.”

The good news for the Bruins is that the teams chasing them in the standings really haven’t gained ground on them, and they enter Saturday still in a playoff spot. So, the mathematics don’t look as dire for Boston as they did going into their rest period, and now they should be energized, recharged and highly motivated headed into the final 24 games of the season.

There’s also the fact that the Bruins were playing exciting, aggressive and winning hockey due to some of the tweaks made by Cassidy after taking control of the team. He finally got some production from the third line after putting forwards Frank Vatrano, Ryan Spooner and Jimmy Hayes together, a combo he never truly gave a look because he didn’t trust them to do the job defensively. Cassidy immediately placed 21-year-old Peter Cehlarik into a top-six role with power-play time straight from the AHL. That’s something one almost never saw happen with rookies and inexperienced guys during Julien’s run.

The B’s defensemen corps scored four goals in the three wins and showed aggressive, timely risk-taking to produce offense when playing it safe was normally the call of the day under Julien. The forwards were avoiding the low-to-high passing to the point that so often resulted in perimeter shots from the Bruins in the offensive zone, and instead attacked the net down low with the forwards looking to put some anxiety into the opponent’s D-zone coverage.

It all worked and it all looked remarkably different from the way the Bruins played in the opening 55 games.

“It’s something we need to bottle up and not change our approach, not change what we’re doing, make sure we’re moving [during the bye] and not just sitting idle and getting rusty,” said David Backes last weekend headed into the bye. “Make sure that mentally, we can have those same sort of mindsets for every guy to be contributing. It’s something that doesn’t show up on the score sheet, but guys are recognized in here for doing those things and that’s winning culture. That’s what we’re building.”

The Bruins now get their chance to prove this is a permanent change to a winning culture rather than a short term, three-game adrenaline rush after watching their longtime coach get fired. It won’t be easy, but it shouldn’t be for the Black and Gold if they’re finally going to earn their way into the Stanley Cup playoffs for the first time in three seasons. 

Saturday, Feb. 18: NHL more likely in Seattle than NBA?

Saturday, Feb. 18: NHL more likely in Seattle than NBA?

Here are all the links from around the hockey world, and what I’m reading, while hoping that Purple Passion doesn’t try the same comeback as Zima.

*A Seattle investor says that an NHL team coming to that city is much more likely than a return by the NBA to the Pacific Northwestern city.

*Gare Joyce writes eloquently about the loneliness of a hockey scout, and how that world can sometimes come to a crashing halt.  

*Good piece from Arpon Basu giving the sights and sounds of Claude Julien’s second stint behind the bench with the Montreal Canadiens.

*The agent for Russian player Maxim Shalunov says there is a “10 percent chance” that he’s going to sign with the Chicago Blackhawks.

*Mike Babcock says not to expect any big trade deadline deals from the Toronto Maple Leafs as they push for a playoff spot.

*Henrik Zetterberg reflects on a difficult season with the Detroit Red Wings where it looks like things might finally come down to a crashing halt.

http://www.detroitnews.com/story/sports/nhl/red-wings/2017/02/17/red-wings-zetterberg-reflects-tough-season/98064530/

*The Minnesota Wild have underrated depth on their team, and the Hockey News says it might just be their scariest attribute.

*For something completely different: as referenced above, it looks like that Zima drink of the 1990s is trying to make a comeback. I was in college when the Zima people were seemingly flooding campuses with advertising and samples back in the day.