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.

BOSTON SPORTS TONIGHT PODCAST: Is trading for Paul George worth the risk?

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BOSTON SPORTS TONIGHT PODCAST: Is trading for Paul George worth the risk?

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0:41 - Michael Holley, Kayce Smith and Tom Giles recap their thoughts on drafting Jayson Tatum and trade rumors involving the Celtics.

6:21 - Ian Thomsen joins BST to discuss if it would be worth trading for Paul George as a one-year rental and if there would be a chance he could still around long-term if traded to Boston.

11:13 - Evan Drellich joins BST to talk about Rick Porcello’s outing, the Red Sox offense coming to life, and Doug Fister being claimed by the Red Sox. 

15:10 - Kyle Draper and A. Sherrod Blakely look back at the Celtics/Nets trade, what the assets have turned into, and if Danny Ainge has done a good job turning those assets into players. 

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.