Haggerty: NHL's brutal offer sets stage for work stoppage

703400.jpg

Haggerty: NHL's brutal offer sets stage for work stoppage

Well, so much for a summer of cordial labor negotiations between NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman and NHLPA Executive Director Donald Fehr.

Sources within the NHLPA confirmed to CSNNE.com over the weekend that the laughable first offer submitted by the NHL last week was indeed not a rumor.

Here is the Greatest Hits package from the offer that left players scratching their heads:

The players would take an 11 percent cut from 57 percent of the revenue share to 46 percent. And they could take a cut of well over 20 percent as both sides haggle over what actually constitutes Hockey Related Revenue (HRR) in the next collective bargaining agreement.

The Salary Cap next season would be 52.516 million under the NHL's proposal or more than 10 million less than it was during the 2011-12 NHL season. The cap ceiling would be just 4 million over the midpoint for each team. (According to capgeek.com 19 NHL teams are already over the proposed cap ceiling and the league is already 130 million in guaranteed money over the allowable salary for next season. The salary cap floor would remain 8 million under the midpoint total for each team.)

There would be a five-year term limit on player contracts with no signing bonuses, no arbitration rights and a minimum of 10 years of service within the NHL before a player is granted free agency. Currently a player is granted unrestricted free agency after seven NHL seasons or after reaching 27 years of age. Entry-level contracts for rookie players would extend from three years to five years.

And those are just a few of the changes listed in the NHL's draconian openingoffer.

The league basically wants a caste system setin place in a league where not a single player is inthe top 50 money-earners among US athletes. It wants to scale back player cost and hopes to turn the NHL into a throwback league where players are little more than indentured servants.

In the proposed system the players have little bargaining power or negotiating clout until they are close to 30 years old. Until then, they'll simply have to eat whatever the owners decide to force-feed them as all proathletes did before the days of Curt Flood in Major League Baseball.

One source from the players end of things told CSNNE.com there wasnt a single thing in the NHL proposal that would be embraced or approved by the NHLPA membership. Not even close.

Instead the players are now trying to decide whether they should even accept the leagues first proposal as anything more than a list of stale jokes left over from the NHL Awards show.

Its interesting that the owners have made this proposal on the heels of their complaints about a broken system they missed an entire season to install in the first place. In reality, theyve reached record highs in revenue over the last five seasons culminating in a record3.3 billion last year.

Exhibit A of the leagues hypocrisy: Minnesota Wild owner Craig Leopold complained about the need for a CBA change just months before ladling out 196 million in guaranteed money to both Zach Parise and Ryan Suter.

Heres what Leopold told the Star Tribune in April: "We're not making money, and that's one reason we need to fix our system. We need to fix how much we're spending right now. The Wild's revenues are fine. We're down a little bit in attendance, but we're up in sponsorships, we're up in TV revenue. And so the revenue that we're generating is not the issue as much as our expenses. And the Wild's biggest expense by far is player salaries.

Not a math major, Mr. Leopold, but it sounds like you willingly signed off on one of the biggest free agent spending binges in NHL history.

Plenty of fun can be had with numbers over the course of negotiations, but it's worth nothing that thatleague revenues have gone up by 50 percent since the end of the lockout in 2005. Player salaries have gone up by a rate of 15 percent during the same period of time.

The NHLs first CBA offer was unreasonable and one-sided, to put it kindly. It points to a summer-longexchange of labor ideas that will be far from the hug-fest both Bettman and Fehrwaxed hopefulaboutduring the last few months of the NHL season.

There are normally two types of negotiations in pro sports, no matter what the situation. There is the cordial, professional type of contract talks where both sides want desperately to get a deal done. During those negotiations there are little if any hurt feelings when a resolution has been reached.A "happily ever after"marriage usuallycontinues on both sides afterward.

Then there are the negotiations where one side is immediately insulted by a lowball offer meant to either A) create dissension between the party theyre negotiating with or B) send a message there really isnt a desire to reach common ground on a new contract.

Im willing to go with the former rather than the latter when it comes to the NHL as they have plenty to lose: television deals, rising ratings and record revenues along with that TV jewel known as the Winter Classic.

The NHL also has a group of elite hockey players they have no choice but to employ if they want to keep the good hockey times rolling.

But the leagues recent offer makes a work stoppage a distinct possibility. Both sides are getting ready to meet in New York this week to see if that can be avoided at this early stage of negotiations.

Most industry insiders felt that a few months of the season would probably be missed, much like what the NBA went through last year. "When looking at labor negotiations you always look toward the other sports," said one industry insider to CSNNE.com. "The NBA didn't get started until Christmas, but attendance and TV ratings were strong by the time the playoffs rolled around. Nobody remembered the work stoppage. So the NHL could survive if they miss a few months."The presiding feeling was that the season would be back on schedule by December -- or at the very worst casewhenthe Winter Classic was set to arrive on New Years Day.

Now those thoughts have been shaken by one miserly, Montgomery Burns-likeoffer.

Its unclear whether the NHLPA plans to bring a counter-offer with them to the Big Apple as Bettman and Fehr ready for another round of discussions this week. But it might behoove the NHLPA to let the league know they mean business by coming down hard on the gag-filled first offering.

Perhaps Fehr and his players will take the tact Michael Corleone chose in Godfather II. When Michael was being insulted by a crooked senator during an attempt to venture into the casino business, he provided us this cold-bloodedline:

You can have my answer now, if you like. My final offer is this: Nothing. Not even the fee for the gaming license, which I would appreciate if you would put up personally.

Perhaps Fehr and Co. could walk into the NHL offices this week, briefcases in hand, and calmly pronounce that their counter-offer is nothing and wait until September when owners might suddenly realize theyre killing their sport.

They must understand that missing an entire year so close to the last lockout is akin to league suicide.

But the NHLs first penny-pinching offer isnt a good sign that play will get underway without a Zdeno Chara-sized hitch this fall. In fact, right now, that seems to be the best-case scenario to an increasingly bad situation.

Morning Skate: Devils get a good one in No. 1 pick Hischier

Morning Skate: Devils get a good one in No. 1 pick Hischier

Here are all the links from around the hockey world, and what I’m reading, while locking the name Urho Vaakenainen into my Microsoft World spellcheck.

 *The New Jersey Devils got a No. 1 overall pick that isn’t going to be a generational player, but he’s going to be one heck of a player.

*PHT writer Cam Tucker has fired Arizona Coyotes coach Dave Tippett indicating that he needed a change after a long run in the desert.

*The Edmonton Oilers cleared cap space by dealing Jordan Eberle and immediately filled it up with a four-year commitment to Kris Russell. Peter Chiarelli must make sure he doesn’t paint himself into a salary cap corner like he did in Boston with signings like this one. Word is that Connor McDavid is going to command a massive contract, and that could make contracts like the Russell one tough to manage in Edmonton.

*Old friend Claude Julien is only a spectator at the NHL Draft, but he’s already juggling the Habs roster in his mind as it goes through changes. Both Julien and Shawn Thornton came over to shoot the breeze with the Boston media on Friday night as the first round approached, and showed once again why both men are on the All-Class team.

*The Winnipeg Jets took a guy that I thought made a lot of sense for the Bruins, big Finnish power forward Kristian Vesalainen. He was available for the Bruins at the 18th pick when they opted to go defense instead.

*The Washington Capitals decided not to let winger TJ Oshie get to free agency, and locked him up with an eight-year contract.

*Arizona Coyotes GM John Chayka is in the middle of the storm right now as he blows up his team and begins to build it the way he wants to.

For something completely different: Everything you always wanted to know about Sammy Hagar but were afraid to ask.


 

Haggerty: Bruins playing it pretty safe at the NHL Draft

Haggerty: Bruins playing it pretty safe at the NHL Draft

CHICAGO – As opening nights go at the NHL Draft, Friday night was a bit of a ho-hum affair for the Boston Bruins at the United Center home of the Chicago Blackhawks.

The Bruins went the safe route by drafting a smooth, defensive-minded defenseman with the 18th overall pick when they selected Finnish product Urho Vaakenainen, and in doing so left more dynamic forwards like Kristian Vesalainen and Kailer Yamamoto still on the draft board for other teams to claim as their own. It was a bit of a curious choice given how many defensemen the Bruins already have in the prospect pipeline, but the lack of strength in the draft class seemed to lead teams to carve their own paths looking for players.

MORE: Bruins select defenseman Urho Vaakanainen with No. 18 pick

The 6-foot-1, 188-pounder clearly has miles to go offensively despite his smooth skating and solid passing skills, but there’s also a consideration that the teenager has been playing in the men’s league in Finland for the last couple of seasons. It makes things a little more difficult to project for the Finn D-man, but the Bruins believe there is some upside to his offensive game given the skills, the hockey IQ and the considerable confidence that the player has in his own game.

“His gap control and skating ability are really good. He’s obviously played in the Finnish Elite League at a very young age for one and a half years now and he’s played on the big stage at the world juniors. We feel like there’s a lot of upside for a 200-foot player that gets back on pucks, and then can transition them back out. Being able to cover ice is an important part of the game, and it continues to evolve in that direction,” said Bruins GM Don Sweeney, who indicated Vaakenainen will play in North America in 2018-19 after fulfilling his contractual obligations in Finland. “We tracked what he did on offense at the junior league level prior to him jumping to the elite league, and it lines up pretty well with other elite players that made the jump to that level.

“It’s a valid question and whether he gets put into those [offensive] situations this year is what we’re excited about with his [Finnish] team moving forward.”

While Vaakenainen sounded surprised the Bruins selected him after only a single meeting at the NHL scouting combine, Sweeney said that Boston’s head scout in Finland has enough history with the family to vouch for the kid’s makeup.

So while it’s far from a sexy pick and the Bruins could have tried to hit a home run with an 18th overall selection in a mediocre draft, the B’s will also get some time before anybody is ready to label the Finnish blueliner a boom or a bust.

The rest of the draft night didn’t add up to much for the B’s, however. They made the selection of Vaakenainen after strongly considering dropping down in the first round, and in doing so lost one of the better trade chips in the form of their 2017 first round pick. There were discussions with Minnesota about Marco Scandella and a few trade feelers to other clubs that might listen on a D-man, but the Bruins now have to hit the reset button on trade discussions for left-shot defensemen or top-6 left wings.

Perhaps Scandella’s $4 million per season salary was an issue for the Bruins, or maybe the Bruins didn’t want to give up their first round pick for a 27-year-old D-man coming off a so-so season with the Wild. Either way, there wasn’t enough momentum for the Bruins to get a trade done with a bevy of defensemen rumored to be available if the offer is good enough.

“I was on the record saying that we’d be offering our first round pick for target-specific players, and we did do that,” said Sweeney. “I don’t blame teams for not necessarily wanting to go through with it, so we went ahead with a player we wanted with our own pick. We continue to build what we think is a good group of guys moving forward.

“There are a couple of areas we’d like to address and get better. We’re trying to help our team currently. Certainly Brandon [Carlo] jumped into our lineup and we hope Charlie [McAvoy] will carry over what he did, and we have other players that will push. We have six returning defensemen we feel good about and we’ll certainly push from underneath, but it’s an area we’ll continue to address. We have some forwards that we also hope will come online, but we’ll never stop exploring and trying to improve our club.”

So let’s sum it all up after a week of additions and subtractions from the Original Six organization: The Bruins added a decidedly vanilla defenseman in the first round of the NHL Draft that might be a simple stay-at-home guy, and they weren’t able to muster any kind of deals for a D-man or winger to enhance the NHL roster. On the other hand, they didn’t give up much over the week as well and they didn’t do much at all to harm a solid roster that looked like they were finally on the right track pushing into the playoffs last season.

The Bruins could be in store for an action-packed Day Two of the draft on Saturday full of promising prospects and bountiful trades, but it sure feels like the 2017 NHL Draft in Chicago isn’t going to be a very memorable one for the Black and Gold.