NHL labor negotiations reach a critical point

911455.jpg

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.

Win vs. Islanders 'a nice building block' for Bruins

bruins_islanders_riley_nash_2_032517.jpg

Win vs. Islanders 'a nice building block' for Bruins

BROOKLYN, NY – It wasn’t particularly entertaining and it won’t be all that memorable down the ride aside from the timing and importance of the meeting between the Bruins and Islanders. But it was a solid 2-1 team win for the Bruins over the Islanders at the Barclays Center on Saturday night with the B’s grinding all the way down to the end while protecting a one-goal lead through much of the third period.

Nearly everybody across Boston’s roster contributed in the major victory over the team trying to bypass them in the wild card standings, and it was a beautiful thing. Anton Khudobin stepped up when Tuukka Rask couldn’t start Saturday night’s showdown with a lower body issue, and Riley Nash supplied both Boston goals from a fourth line that’s played some of their best hockey lately.

It was unlikely heroes all around for the Black and Gold in the tightly-wound contest, but that diversity of talent and production can be a very good thing for a team looking to make that playoff push.

“You have to stay with it. You have to stay in the moment and stay with the game no matter what’s happening during the game. That’s how you get results, and that’s how you find ways to persevere through adversity,” said Patrice Bergeron. “We just got back to playing stingy, especially in the neutral zone. We got away from it the last few games, and it was nice tonight to be back playing a low-scoring game like what we’re used to playing.”

When it was all said and done the Bruins only allowed 19 shots on net and also killed off six penalties in the kind of grinding defensive showdown that you haven’t seen all that much out of the Black and Gold lately. It was exactly what Cassidy was looking for to snap the four-game losing streak, and once again start pushing the Bruins upward into the playoff chase.

“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 find pucks and your D are blocking shots. And you kill that many penalties. It was a nice building block for us,” said Cassidy. “From the goalie on out, everybody was in there [in the win]. It was a tough game. It was a nice Bruins win. We had been doing it with offense earlier, and we’ve got to be able to do it both ways. You need to be able to win 2-1 hockey games, and it had been awhile.”

Now it’s simply up to the Bruins to be feeling good about their latest win while going back to basics, and looking for more next time around after ending their worst losing streak of the season.

Anton Khudobin battles for a huge win filling in for Tuukka Rask

bruins_anton_khudobin_032517.jpg

Anton Khudobin battles for a huge win filling in for Tuukka Rask

BROOKLYN, NY – Things didn’t go so well last season for the Bruins when Tuukka Rask suddenly wasn’t well enough to play in the last game of the season, so there was good reason for the B’s to be a little nervous when their No. 1 goalie again couldn’t answer the bell Saturday night vs. the Islanders.

Anton Khudobin had won four games in a row headed into Saturday night, of course, and in his previous start he’d helped snap a 10-game winning streak for the Calgary Flames. So perhaps it wasn’t all that surprising when Khudobin stood tall for the Bruins making 18 saves in a tight, nervy 2-1 win over the Isles at the Barclays Center.

“You don’t have that many shots, but maybe 10 scoring chances…that can be tougher than seeing 30 shots and same amount of scoring chances,” said Khudobin. “But I’m glad got the job done, we got our points and we got the ‘W’.”

It wasn’t wall-to-wall action in a game where both teams combined for 37 shots on net, but it was still impressive that Khudobin and the B’s special teams killed off six Islander power plays in such a tight hockey game. After the B’s backup netminder was lauded for the way he battled in the crease and competed for pucks like his team’s very life was on the line in a pivotal game.

“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. And you kill that many penalties. It was a nice building block for us,” said Bruce Cassidy. “I loved his 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.”

One could spend days analyzing Cassidy's words and wondering much of that was deserved, appreciative praise for Khudobin, and how much of that might have been a veiled message to Boston's No. 1 goaltender sitting back home in Boston. 

The best save of the night probably won’t even count as a save for the Russian netminder. It was John Tavares, after having beaten Khudobin once in the first period, moving into the offensive zone with speed during a third period power play, and getting an open look at the net front in the high slot. Khudobin thought quickly and dropped into the unconventional double-stack pad save that seemed to throw Tavares off just a little, and the Isles sniper smoked the shot off the crossbar rather than tying up the game.

“I didn’t touch it. I didn’t really have time to get there, so the only thing I tried to do was the two-pad stack, old school Bob Essensa-style,” said Khudobin, who has now improved to 6-5-1 with a 2.60 goals against and an .899 save percentage this season. “Then he hit the crossbar. You need to get some luck in this league, and if you don’t get luck you’re going to lose games.”

A little luck and a little good, old-fashioned battling between the pipes was enough for Khudobin and the Bruins in Saturday night’s mammoth win. Now the questions become whether or not to go right back to Khudobin again on Tuesday at home against the Nashville Predators.