Once again, little progress made in NHL negotiations


Once again, little progress made in NHL negotiations

The NHL and NHLPA finally continued formal negotiations in New York City Wednesday, but an hour-long discussion among the four power players in the talks Gary Bettman, Bill Daly, Donald Fehr and Steve Fehr yielded little progress.

The sides are supposed to engage in a full day of talks on Thursday, but once again they wont be hitting on the core economic issues of the lockout. Instead theyll continue discussing things like player safety, ice surfaces, and which side is responsible for picking up the tab for additional trainers placed on each teams medical staff.

In other words, the kinds of things that wont come close to getting a new deal done.

As long as the NHL and NHLPA clash over the basics of economic outlay for the 2011-12 season, all negotiations are merely perpetual laps around a track. According to multiple sources with knowledge of the proceedings, the NHL has essentially said theres no reason to speak about core economic issues until the players are ready to absorb pay cuts for next season.

That means the players would have to agree to less than the 1.87 billion slice of the Hockey Related Revenue pie they earned last year, and also means the salary cap ceiling would drop across the league.

The message continues to be that theres nothing to talk about until the players are willing to give back from their contracts, said one source with knowledge of the proceedings. Until it changes its difficult to see how there could be a deal, and there isnt going to be any NHL.

The NHLPA is refusing to budge off the 1.87 billion figure earned by the players last season and its not difficult to see why. How would Fehr explain to his players they need to take an 18-20 percent cut in salary when the 30 NHL owners are swimming in 3.3 billion of hockey revenue earned last season?

Meanwhile the NHL has cancelled the first 14 days of the regular season already, and that amounts to 6.8 percent of a player's annual salary. Two more 14-day cancellations and the owners will have their 20 percent worth of salary cuts. Even at that, theres a pretty good chance the league could still get in a 70-plus game schedule starting in November if there was a sudden settlement.

Clearly the NHL owners put up the money for the business and should reap the profits since they assume all of the risk. Its difficult to argue that point. But the Board of Governors is going to need to make the first move if a middle ground is to be found.

The NHL started the negotiations by submitting an initial proposal that was punitive at best and draconian at worst, in both sharing revenues and restricting player contract rights.

The NHLPA made a pair of proposals following the leagues first "offer", with a fair amount of thought and compromise built into the proposals. The NHL responded to the unions efforts with what it called a meaningful counteroffer less than 24 hours later, but it was one that barely budged from its first proposal.

It probably made Bruins owner Jeremy Jacobs nod approvingly, but it did nothing to make the players feel like this was a good-faith negotiation.

Give the NHL credit because they did the savvy PR thing and sent out a token offer that allowed them to say they put in the final offer on the table, said the same source. But there was very little movement in that second offer, and really very little effort to try and get a deal done.

So now the sides are essentially ignoring the most important gulf between them and are focusing on little details in the hopes that the momentum of agreement on minor points will carry over into the bigger issues.

Perhaps the NHLPA has some willingness to create an escrow account that will link some of its revenue share into continued growth of the league. But Fehr isnt going to show those cards while Bettman is sitting on a straight flush hand with the most cloying poker face in North America.

In simple terms: It appears the NHL is standing pat and waiting to see what concessions it can get from the players (more years until free agency, escrow or salary rollback, the abolition of arbitration etc.), while the NHLPA is hanging together waiting for a big escrow check from last season. That escrow will tide the players over and help them pay their bills in the short term.

It all continues to point toward little to no progress on a new deal until the calendar hits November. At that point the NHL owners making money in the current system will want to start playing games, and the players will be hard-pressed to sustain their current lifestyles without NHL-sized paychecks.

Many people look at Europe as a threat to the NHL if players enjoy their time overseas, but the reality is most players are banking next-to-nothing in salary after paying hefty insurance costs on their NHL contracts. Shawn Thornton, for example, cant find work in Europe because hed have to pay thousands of dollars out of his own pocket to play due to high insurance rates.

What if there is no serious middle ground reached by November?

Then the NHL will begin making noise about cancelling the entire season and perhaps threaten to carry things over into next year, as well. The NHLPA will call for a end to the salary cap -- which it hates, but which the owners claim is the foundation for the league's economic survival -- and that will complicate negotiations ten-fold.

There is still hope because the negotiations havent turned into a staring contest for three months, like they did in 2004-05. But if those two doomsday hammers get brought to the bargaining table, then the NHL is in deep, deep trouble.

Haggerty: Reports of Seidenberg's demise were greatly exaggerated

Haggerty: Reports of Seidenberg's demise were greatly exaggerated

Hindsight is always 20/20, of course, but it appears the Bruins made a mistake buying out veteran defenseman Dennis Seidenberg from the final couple of years of his contract. 

Seidenberg just finished up a wildly successful stint with host Team Germany at the IIHF World Championships, where he was named Directorate Best Defenseman (the tournament’s best defenseman) after leading all D-men with a goal and eight points. This came after Seidenberg, at age 35, posted 5 goals and 22 points in 73 games for the Islanders, with whom he signed after being cut loose by the B's, while averaging a shade under 20 minutes per game.  Seidenberg also had an excellent World Cup of Hockey tournament for Team Europe last summer (where he was teamed once again with Zdeno Chara), thus managing to play at a high level from September all the way through May.

A faction of Bruins fans thought he was on the serious decline after the 2015-16 season and, clearly, the Bruins agreed, opting to buy him out with two more years still left on a sizable contract extension. (They owe him $2.16 million next season and then will be charged $1.16 million on their salary cap over the next two seasons.) But the B's could have used a durable, defensive warrior like Seidenberg in the playoffs, when they lost three of their top four defensemen against the Ottawa Senators. A rejuvenated Seidenberg, able to play both the left and right side, would have been a better option than Colin Miller.

The Bruins made a conscious decision to hand things over to younger defensemen like Miller, Torey Krug, Brandon Carlo and Joe Morrow in cutting ties with Seidenberg. But they also perhaps miscalculated how much Seidenberg still had left in the tank after his best season in at least three years. 

“Well, at the time we felt like [Seidenberg's] game had really dropped off to where we thought he couldn’t contribute, and we wanted to see if some younger players could come in and help us out,” Bruins president Cam Neely said at the end-of-the-season press conference earlier this month. “I’ve got to say he played well this year for Long Island. But at the time we thought it was the right move. You can’t envision us having three of our top four D’s get hurt [in the playoffs]. We went through a lot of D’s in the postseason. You can’t predict that.”

Neely is referring to the decision made after Seidenberg’s second straight minus season in Boston, when back injuries and a major knee injury had seemed to slow him down a bit. It seemed the only way to properly evaluate some of their other, younger defenseman was to cut Seidenberg loose, but one has to wonder if the Bruins would have possibly done it had they known he was still capable of playing like he did this season for the Islanders. 

Either way, the buyout of Seidenberg is an extremely legitimate second guess of Bruins management in a year where they did a lot of things right. 

Monday, May 22: Senators all out of playoff magic?

Monday, May 22: Senators all out of playoff magic?

Here are all the links from around the hockey world, and what I’m reading while feeling like we’ll be getting a Pittsburgh/Nashville Stanley Cup Final, which I suppose would be the best possible outcome at this point.

*You hear the name and it just gets you angry all over again if you grew up watching the Bruins. Ulf Samuelsson is in the running for an assistant coaching job with the Chicago Blackhawks, according to a report.

*FOH (Friend of Haggs) Chris Johnston says it appears that the time is running out on a Cinderella season for the Ottawa Senators.

*A taste of winning at the world championships with Team Sweden could fuel Alex Edler’s desire for a change from the rebuilding Vancouver Canucks.

*Interesting piece on a former can’t miss goaltending prospect with the Nashville Predators that ended up totally missing, and what he’s been up to in life since then.

*Guy Boucher explains to Pro Hockey Talk why he kept changing goaltenders in the Game 5 blowout loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins.

*Don Cherry explains that he hates afternoon hockey during his Coach’s Corner from Hockey Night in Canada in the Game 5 blowout between the Penguins and Predators.

*A good piece from FOH (Friend of Haggs) Alex Prewitt on the Nashville Predators, and the evolution of the franchise into a team on the verge of a Stanley Cup Final appearance.

*For something completely different: What a win by the Boston Celtics in Game 3 in Cleveland, and quite an interesting, fired up interview with Al Horford afterward.