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

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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: Old friend Warsofsky called up by Penguins

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Morning Skate: Old friend Warsofsky called up by Penguins

Here are all the links from around the hockey world, and what I’m reading while waiting for the next wave of announcements that the Bruins have signed college players out of the NCAA tournament.
 
-- Former Wild goaltender Josh Harding is finding his way after his MS diagnosis forced him out of the NHL prematurely.

-- Young D-man Seth Jones is becoming the “hoss” defenseman that the Blue Jackets will need come playoff time.

-- PHT writer Cam Tucker has Wild coach Bruce Boudreau calling a loss to the Canucks “embarrassing” as the hard times continue for Minnesota.  

-- Backup goalie Curtis McElhinney is ready to step up for the Leafs after they lost Frederik Andersen to injury.
 
-- Old friend David Warsofsky has been recalled from the AHL and will be with the Penguins as crunch time hits ahead of the playoffs.

-- USA Hockey is now reportedly reaching out to rec league and former Division III women’s hockey players to find a replacement roster for the world championships as the USA women continues their boycott.
 
-- For something completely different: We have an honest-to-goodness think piece about pulling the “Irish Exit.” Well, okay then.

Haggerty: Time for Bruins to make a change in goal

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Haggerty: Time for Bruins to make a change in goal

BROOKLYN -- For the second year in a row, Boston's franchise goaltender and $7 million man Tuukka Rask couldn’t physically answer the bell for one of the biggest games of the year.

Rask was unable to go Saturday night when the Bruins faced the Islanders at the Barclays Center because of a lower body injury. Anton Khudobin stepped in and helped the B's to a 2-1 victory that snapped their four-game losing streak, moved them past the Isles back in the second wild-card spot, and enabled them to close to two points behind Toronto for third place in the Atlantic Division.

It wasn't quite the same as last year, when Rask was too sick to play the win-or-go-home regular-season finale against Ottawa. The Bruins got shellacked in that one and missed the playoffs. There are still two weeks left in the regular season, so Saturday didn't have the same do-or-die consequences.

But Khudobin, who made 18 saves, gave Boston some energy and enthusiasm in the crease with the same kind of battling, chaotic style that Tim Thomas exhibited. Watching Khudobin throw a double-pad stack at John Tavares on a late third-period Islanders power play in a one-goal game was a clear sign that Rask wasn’t in net, and his unconventional technique perhaps distracted Tavares enough that he ripped his open shot off the crossbar and away from harm.

Afterward interim coach Bruce Cassidy fervently sang Khudobin’s praises, and almost seemed to be shedding some light on what they aren’t always getting from their top goaltender in these crunch-time games.

“That’s the type of win that goes a long way in the room when your goaltender is battling hard, and fighting that hard to see pucks and your D are blocking shots," he said. "And you kill that many penalties. (The Islanders failed to score on six power plays.) It was a nice building-block win for us.

"I loved [Khudobin’s] performance. He’s a battler. He got swimming a couple of times, but that’s Dobby. He keeps it interesting for you. He’s a battler and he always has been. That’s what we needed tonight.”

So now the Bruins have a choice about what to do Tuesday against the Predators. And the hope here is that Khudobin gets a second straight start, whether or not Rask is healthy enough to go.

Khudobin has won five games in a row and has a 1.98 goals-against average and a  .920 save percentage since the All-Star break. Rask, in contrast, has an inflated 2.91 GAA and .892 save percentage in that span.

More than that, however, there’s a real issue developing with Rask and how much trust the Bruins can have in him when the games matter most. He gave up a couple of bad goals in the loss to the Lightning on Thursday night, and afterwards looked like the boy who lost his dog when answering questions with a soft, unsure voice that began to trail off when it came time to accept responsibility for his part in the ugly defeat.

The downcast expression was a concern, and it certainly seemed like Rask was rattled mentally as much as he was beaten physically after that defeat.

So the overriding question now is: What good is a No. 1 goaltender if he doesn’t play like one when it matters most?

Maybe Rask is seriously injured and we’ll find out after the season that he needs hip surgery, and was far less than 100 percent all year. Or maybe playing three games in four nights was too much of a strain, and he needed the weekend away from the ice after the unavoidable bump in workload.

The fact that the Bruins expect Rask to practice on Monday, however, really takes some of the oomph out of the serious-injury argument, and makes one wonder how he can practice Monday after not playing in the biggest game of the season on Saturday.

Maybe Rask was angered by Cassidy calling him out by saying the team “needs more from him” after the goalie's lackadaisical performance in the loss to Tampa Bay, and that played into the goalie’s sudden case of “lower body discomfort” on Friday after saying Thursday he felt fine physically.

Maybe Rask is frazzled emotionally after the burden of carrying the team at times this season, and he needed a few days away from the ice to recollect himself and get ready for the crucial seven remaining games on the schedule.

Still, the Bruins can’t look at Rask as someone they can rely on when the chips are down for the rest of this season. That cost them last year, and shame on the Bruins if they again make the mistake of putting all of their playoff eggs in the Rask basket.

Perhaps it’s time to even start thinking about other goaltending options this summer. Rask will no longer have full no-trade protection once the season is over. He's been inconsistent at best in the biggest moments over the years, and the B’s shouldn’t pay a goaltender like he’s one the best if he isn’t when the late-season heat is on.

But that’s a question to ponder in a month or two.

For now, the Bruins should ride the hot goalie -- Khudobin, who showed Saturday he's willing to battle his butt off -- and let Cool Hand Tuukka cool his heels on the bench while recuperating from whatever it is that kept him out of a gigantically important game in Brooklyn this weekend.