Haggerty: NHL, NHLPA need encore to optimistic weekend

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Haggerty: NHL, NHLPA need encore to optimistic weekend

There appears to be a wide-held notion the NHL owners are about to pack up their hockey nicknacks and call it a season because their Winter Classic cash cow has now been slaughtered.

On its face that might hold some logic with a National Hockey League that wont be enjoying the benefit of the doubt on collective bargaining anytime soon. But its actually had quite the opposite effect.

The NHL used the long-range marketing, advertising and planning needs required for a logistically imposing event like the Winter Classic as an excuse to whack the Jan. 1 outdoor hockey game, but its not nearly that simple. The league could have pushed things back until the Nov. 15-20 range before truly being forced to cancel the New Years Day game. But that wasn't the plan in the Bob Batterman "How to run a lockout" playbook.

Instead the 30 Lords of the Boards used the centerpiece event as a leverage point in CBA negotiations with the NHLPA, and erased the game before the players could wield it as a negotiating hammer against the owners.

Interestingly enough the cancellation of the Winter Classic opened things up for both sides to have open, frank discussions about a wide range of topics on Saturday night. Bill Daly and Steve Fehr, the No.2 in command for the NHL and NHLPA respectively, met at an undisclosed location for a wide-ranging conversation, and according to one source met continuously for 13 hours until long after midnight had passed on Sunday morning.

Thats by far the longest face-to-face meeting thats taken place during this CBA negotiation and indicates that a number of different subjects and concepts were broached in much greater detail. In other words two sides probably had to agree on a few things if they were chewing the fat for 13 hours.

That means inclusion of the make whole provision so important to players that want to be paid to the letter of their current contracts, and that means a drop to a 5050 split in Hockey Related Revenue between the owners and players. The middle ground on those two doesn't seem all that difficult to attain given where the players and owners currently stand, and it doesn't figure to be a very gnarly negotiation once the two sides begin trusting each other even a little bit.

The players know the two sides are slowly crawling closer to an agreement, and pushed their union leadership to get back into the negotiating room after an NHLPA conference call to action last weekend. Thats the kind of ripple of concern that can flow through the NHLPA rank and file when the NHL blows up their most beloved midseason event.

The Winter Classic cancellation left the players with the belief that the entire season could be cancelled in December, and that Gary Bettman was just crazy enough to do it again for the second time in eight years. So it appears that strategy might just have worked for the league.

Interestngly enough, however, the NHL is enacting one of several contingency plans for a shortened season, and looks poised for a 64-game shortened regular season set to begin on Dec. 1. The expectation is that a shortened schedule would also include a reduced travel schedule where Eastern and Western Conference teams dont play any non-conference opponents in the 2012-13 regular season.

That's a blow to some Western Conference teams that enjoy some of their largest crowds when the Bruins, Canadiens, Maple Leafs, Flyers and Rangers come to town, but that's also the reality of a shortened season.

Stay seated for the next part.

There are even some wild whispers in the hockey world that some kind of Winter Classic could be reinstated after the fact once a CBA is completed. It might not be the Red WingsMaple Leafs game on the University of Michigan campus that was supposed to take place on Jan. 1, but could instead pit a pair of popular American teams to be announced in an outdoor event cobbled together in the month plus leading up to the Jan. 1 date.

Think about it: the NHL and NHLPA would be given credit for both saving the regular season and finding a way to save the Winter Classic if they can utilize Saturdays gathering momentum to broker a deal. That's a nice little reward for a union and league that have been behaving pretty badly toward each other since the LA Kings hoisted the Cup.

Much of the current bad mojo and harsh words directed at the NHL will be long forgotten if the NHL can still produce a 60 plus game regular season, a suitable Winter Classic and a full Stanley Cup postseason that manages to resolve before July. A long conversation between Daly and Fehr on Saturday night is a nice start to those things becoming reality, but it now needs to be matched by a pair of adversarial groups intent on closing a deal.

The NHL will need to bring Gary Bettman, Bruins owner Jerry Jacobs and some of his hawk brethren willingly into the mix, and the Fehr brothers will have to find a deal that over 700 disparate NHLPA members can agree on.

Neither is an easy task, but at least theres some traction in the talks for the first time in weeks. Daly and Fehr have built the groundwork for this weeks discussions and theyll expand things with another face-to-face negotiation session on Tuesday in New York City. That's one of the few known details and that's a very good thing.

One of the really encouraging signs of negotiations over the last few days is that very little information has leaked out from either side of the aisle. That's usually when one knows things have gotten serious in the CBA negotiations.

Instead both the NHL and NHLPA finally appear intent on making a deal rather than winning the PR war, and that means a new CBA should be in the offing within the next few weeks provided things spin forward.

That seemed almost impossible 72 hours ago, but dont ever underestimate two negotiating parties that are finally seeing the light. There was optimism for the first time in weeks after the Saturday's late night DalyFehr meeting, and theres nobody but the NHL and NHLPA to blame if they cant somehow build on all of it now.

Cassidy: 'Trying to set a standard' of being one of the NHL's better teams

Cassidy: 'Trying to set a standard' of being one of the NHL's better teams

BOSTON – The Bruins have won seven of eight games under interim coach Bruce Cassidy and are fortifying their position as the third playoff team in the Atlantic Division with each passing victory.

The 4-1 win over the Arizona Coyotes at TD Garden on Tuesday night probably shouldn’t be all impressive based on the Yotes standing as the second-worst team in the NHL, but it was a classic trap game coming off a long West Coast road trip. Instead of falling for the trap the Bruins exploded for three goals in the second period, energized by a shorthanded Riley Nash strike, and continue to extend the winning stretch they need in order to punch their playoff ticket.

The postseason clincher is still a long way away from reality, but Cassidy said the B’s are starting to achieve the elevated level of play they’re aiming for while finally getting the full potential out of their team.

“I just want the guys to make sure that they play confident, solid hockey and believe in themselves. And play to a [higher] standard,” said Cassidy. “We’re trying to set a standard where we’re one of the better teams in the National Hockey League. They’ve been there before, the leadership group here. That’s where we’re striving to get through in the end.”

They haven’t exactly shied away from the competition either, twice beating the first-place San Jose Sharks and shutting out the first place Montreal Canadiens in the final straw that saw Michel Therrien axed in favor of Claude Julien.

The B’s have now opened up a three-point cushion over the Maple Leafs for their playoff spot and they’ve averaged 4.13 goals per game (33 goals in eight games) while allowing just 2.13 goals per game (17 goals in eight games) in the eight games going from Julien to Cassidy. 

The challenge now is to maintain that level of play over the final 19 games of the regular season to drive home their playoff bid and finish strong at a point where in each of the past two seasons they’ve utterly imploded.


 

Curran: Hard to believe Garoppolo's completely untouchable

Curran: Hard to believe Garoppolo's completely untouchable

Months ago, I was told by someone who’d know that it wasn’t a done deal the Patriots would trade Jimmy Garoppolo.

This was after Garoppolo got hurt and Tom Brady was in the midst of his didn’t-miss-a-beat return. At the time, it made all the sense in the world for the team to start listening to overtures. 

And it still does. 

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Despite having it reiterated to me recently that people shouldn’t “expect” Garoppolo to be dealt (and plenty of national media reporting the same thing), I’ve maintained that -- while it may not be likely -- that doesn’t mean it’s impossible. 

A recitation of the reasons why:

-- First, Garoppolo is a backup behind the best quarterback in NFL history who also happens to be one of its most durable. Regardless if he’s pushing 40, even compared to quarterbacks like Aaron Rodgers and Cam Newton, Brady is a less prone to injury. So the likelihood the team will need to summon Garoppolo to sub for Brady either because of performance or injury is tiny. 

-- Second, value. What good does it have to be in possession of a good player if he never plays? Brady is signed through 2019. The Patriots can control Garoppolo through 2018 if they franchise him, but they’ll have to spend close to $25 million on a one-year deal to do that. And what’s the plan there, spend $25 million to have him watch Brady play at a level Garoppolo still probably won’t be able to approach? When it comes to draft picks, Bill Belichick is like an old guy with a metal detector at the beach. He’ll pocket anything he can find. But he’s not going to flip Garoppolo into possible first-round currency and -- after almost two decades of saving for the future -- just sit on a tradeable asset that may never play?

-- Third, Jacoby Brissett’s ability to play is a helluva lot better demonstrated than Matt Cassel’s, Ryan Mallett’s, Brian Hoyer's and Matt Guttierez's. All those players were the lone backups to Brady at different junctures. The belief the Patriots don’t trust Brissett to back up Brady and need more security is inconsistent with what they’ve done in the past. Further, they seemingly groomed Brissett to be the backup in 2016 in little ways -- bringing him back from IR, taking him on the road when he was on IR. 

Finally, does this actually mean that Garoppolo is somehow the player without a price? Completely untouchable in a way Richard Seymour, Logan Mankins, Jamie Collins and whoever else we want to dredge up as a trade example were? 

So where’s this leave us? 

One of three possibilities. 1) The Patriots do indeed have an asking price and are driving up the market. 2) The Patriots are going to franchise and trade Garoppolo next year. 3) Or they are going to trade Brady before the 2018 season and give the job to Garoppolo. 

If the ultimate plan has even crystallized, it’s not going to be shared. Not now. So instead we need to look for bread crumbs to lead us to the team’s mindset. 

Perhaps the best insight Belichick gave into his approach was in November of 2009 in an interview with Jason Cole. The interview came a couple of months after the Seymour deal. in which the Patriots grabbed a 2011 first-rounder for the former All-Pro. 

“We gave up a significant player and we gained a significant asset,” Belichick told Cole. “There’s a balance of this year and years in the future. Do we consider that? Yes, but in the end you look at the level of compensation and you do it. Had it been for another level of compensation, would we do it? Maybe not. I don’t know. There’s a point where you say yes and a point where you say no and there’s a real fine line in the middle where it really depends on how bad you want to make the trade. It’s like anything else, if you really want to do it, you might take less. If you don’t, it probably would take more.” 

The link is dead so here I lean on Mike Florio of PFT, who aggregated the Cole interview from Yahoo!:

Belichick also said that “probably everybody is available at the right price,” but when Cole pressed him about whether he’d really trade Tom Brady, Belichick acknowledged that he’s building a team around a certain core group of players -- and he wouldn’t trade those guys. As an example of a player he wouldn’t trade, Belichick named linebacker Jerod Mayo, last year’s first-round draft pick.

“Now, is Jerod Mayo available? No, not really,” Belichick said. “But there are certain players who are young that have a certain number of years left on their contract that you want on your team, so you’re really not going to trade them. Those guys are realistically not available, no. But is everybody else available for a certain price on every team? I would say, for the most part, they probably are. Who’s willing to give that? What you want and what someone else is willing to give, that’s usually very different. In this case, it worked.”

Bearing that in mind, and understanding the amount of desperation around the league to find the right quarterback, I still believe there’s a price for Garoppolo. But unless someone pays it, we’ll never know what it is.