Will the threat of decertification break the labor impasse?

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Will the threat of decertification break the labor impasse?

Decertification was the buzzword of the day with talks stalled on Friday between the NHL and the NHLPA, and the week finished off with more game cancellations (through Dec. 14) and special event implosions (this time All-Star weekend).

Instead of enjoying the annual Friday afternoon Turkey Day Showdown at TD Garden that NBC is transforming into an annual national television attraction, it was a much different scene all thanks to the lockout: disillusioned fans wandering around North Station in Bruins jerseys like hockeys version of the Walking Dead.

Thats what 69 days of ockout have done to the hockey fans of Boston, and to those around the rest of North America. But heres a positive thought: the NHLPA may just have found the leagues soft white underbelly with the growing talk of decertifying the union.

If it played out, the act of dissolving the players union could turn the NHL into the Wild West of pro sports leagues: the entry draft, the salary cap, the free agency process and pretty much everything else held together by the CBA would go out the window. But it would also allow the individual players to file antitrust lawsuits seeking triple the damage of lost wages due to unfair labor practices.

More importantly, it would take all manner of control out of the NHLs hands.

Thats the potential trump card: the NHL wont want to relinquish their fate into the hands of the U.S. court system, potentially for years, and NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr knows it.

Thats the reason the NBA ended their lockout just weeks after basketball players got serious about decertification. Thats also why NHL league media mouthpieces are now threatening that decertification will lead to the entire season being lost, along with pensions and medical benefits for players.

It appears somebody is trying to make the players so afraid of decertification that they wont consider it, doesnt it? Either way, its the mere threat of sinking the NHL into court rooms that might ultimately sway the Board of Governors toward compromising with the union as the easiest way out.

After all, the NHL and NHLPA stand 182 million apart in the make whole provision, or transitional payments as the union has begun referring to them. Its still mystifying that the league hasnt yet tried to bridge that gap.

The decertification chatter was strong enough that it smoked both Bill Daly and Steve Fehr out of their respective negotiating lairs for radio appearances on SportsNet 590 in Toronto on Friday afternoon. Daly fired back with a No answer when asked if the NHL was afraid of decertification, and proceeded to publicly wonder if the NHLPA leadership is aiming to miss the season.

Decertification is a time-consuming process that would likely lead to the end of the season, said Daly. Ive had my doubts and concerns along the way about the players willingness to have a season.

"I would hope that the players want to play and want to have a season. Im not sure that unless its under certain terms that the NHLPA leadership feels the same.

So the NHL continues to paint the players union leadership as zealots who dont care whether or not there is a hockey season, and the players as unknowing sheep willingly following them off the cliff. The words are a pretty transparent attempt to get the players riled up against their leadership: thats something thats clearly sidetracked the progress of negotiations over the last three months.

Its also something that has galvanized the players against the league rather than fracturing them as in past CBA negotiations. Sure, Roman Hamrlik and Michael Neuvirth have voiced their dissenting opinions on Fehr from faraway locales in Europe, but there havent been any others within the 700-plus NHLPA membership that have broken ranks. So the Fehr bashing hasnt quite worked out, and its perplexing as to why the league continues down that road.

The players also have their own missteps to answer for when it comes to lockout decorum. Ian White rightfully apologized for calling Gary Bettman an idiot and Kris Versteeg was flat wrong to call Bettman and Daly cancers that needed to be removed from the NHL. Blue collar forward Dave Bolland retweeted somebody threatening to do Bettman bodily harm before also apologizing. NHLPA special counsel Steve Fehr denounced the name-calling during his radio hit with SportsNet 590, but also understood why its happening as frustration mounts.

"This is the players' careers that they NHL are messing with, said Fehr. They'll never get these games back. So while its not something that were condoning, its also hard to keep them under wraps.

Instead the NHLPA continues to scratch their collective heads over the NHLs non-reaction to their Wednesday afternoon proposal that the league admitted was progress with the players moving toward them. The NHLPA proposal was rejected without any counteroffer from the league, and the Fehr brothers -- along with the players involved -- left that board room steaming.

Fehr confirmed the players wont be making any new offers anytime soon, and were instead waiting for the NHL to meet them halfway. No, not halfway across the sky. Rather just halfway toward the union in negotiations.

"If it was a Thanksgiving dinner the NHL gave us the relish tray instead of a turkey, said Fehr. Were not going to make any more offers anytime soon, but were prepared to meet at any time. We moved miles, they moved inches.

With just about no room for error as Dec. 15 and Jan. 1 seem like the last two reasonable starting points for a shortened NHL season, lets hope the two sides are done taking shots at each other like the Hatfields and the McCoys. The name-calling and public undermining is simply muddying up the negotiation process, and has served as a distraction to getting a deal done.

It also betrays two sides that dont yet seem genuine about saving the 2012-13 season. Lets hope for hockeys sake the NHL owners decide theyre ready to start the season now that theyve slashed 24 percent of the players pay checks while lopping off the two least profitable months of the season. The business of the NHL starts getting good around Christmas-time, and everybody hopes thats the topic of discussion when the Board of Governors meet on Dec. 5.

A little more deal-making and a lot less saber-rattling could go a long way.

Patriots To-Do List: Figure out what’s up with Cyrus Jones

Patriots To-Do List: Figure out what’s up with Cyrus Jones

Personally, I would buy a crapload of stock in Cyrus Jones. In part because – after his nightmarish rookie season – stock can be bought on the cheap. But also because he’s too talented, too committed and too smart to suck like he did in 2016 when he handled punts like they were coated in uranium and never made a big contribution in the secondary.

Because of his disappointing year, Jones is an overlooked player on the Patriots roster, but he’s in a pivotal spot. With Logan Ryan and Duron Harmon approaching free agency, Malcolm Butler’s contract expiring after 2017, Pat Chung on the edge of 30 and a free agent after 2018 and the other corners being Justin Coleman, Eric Rowe and Jonathan Jones, Cyrus Jones is going to get his shot.

The reason I included safeties Harmon and Chung in the discussion is that when the Patriots go to six DBs, roles are less stringently defined. And because of Jones’ size (5-10, 200), powerful build and short-area quickness, he can be the kind of versatile player who covers inside against quicker slot receivers as well as being on the outside if necessary. Kind of like Chung can cover on the back end or drop down to cover tight ends.

The Patriots are confident that Jones will get it right. His teammates in the secondary are unanimous in saying he’s got all the talent he needs.  

PATRIOTS TO-DO LIST:

But as 2016 wore on, it was apparent that Jones was miserable and let his failures consume him. Jones muffed or fumbled five kicks in the 2016 season.
 
By the time the Patriots played the Ravens on a Monday night in December, he was so inside his own head that he stalked a bouncing punt he had no business being near (for the second time that game) and had it bounce off his foot setting up a Ravens touchdown. That night, Jones exited the Patriots locker room and made his way to the players parking lot before the field was even clear of equipment.

Jones either expected things to come as easily in the NFL as they did at Alabama and wasn’t prepared to deal with adversity. Or the mistakes he made caused him to wonder if he really was good enough to play in the league.

Either way, Cyrus Jones was all about Cyrus Jones in 2016. And his comments to the Baltimore Sun over the weekend were evidence that the world he’s concerned with ends at the end of his nose. 

"I honestly felt cursed," he said. "I reached a point where I didn't even want to play. I just didn't have it...What I did this year was not me," he said. "I don't care how anybody tries to sugarcoat it. Yes, I was a rookie. But I feel I should always be one of the best players on the field, no matter where I am.
 
"But honestly, it was hell for me," he said. "That's the only way I can describe it. I didn't feel I deserved to be part of anything that was happening with the team. I felt embarrassed that these people probably thought they wasted a pick on me."

The first thing Jones needs to do this offseason is get over himself. He can look one locker down and talk to Devin McCourty about getting crushed for shaky play in 2012, battling through it and then turning into a Pro Bowl-level safety. He can talk to fellow Alabama product Dont'a Hightower about Hightower’s being benched in the 2013 season against the Broncos and labeled a bust before flipping his season around and being the team’s best defender by the end of that year.

But he’s going to have to figure it out. Draft status means nothing to New England and, as it now stands, undrafted corner Jonathan Jones out of Auburn has more demonstrated value to the team that Cyrus Jones does. In two months, the Patriots are damn sure going to add more secondary players.

This offseason, Jones needs to check his ego, simplify his game and simply ban outside perceptions from fans, media or coaches from infect his on-field decision-making.

His conversation with the Sun didn’t really indicate he’s ready to do that. Asked about criticism, Jones said, “It pisses me off. You can say shut it out or don't listen, but I know people are talking, and it's negative. I'm not a dumb guy. It definitely affects me. What it should do is piss me off in a way that I want to shut them all up."

From the limited number of times I spoke with him and from his teammates regard for him, I can confirm Jones isn’t a dumb guy. That doesn’t necessarily make life easier though. In 2016, Cyrus Jones’ brain got in the way. The Patriots need him to shut that thing off in 2017. 

Brady lists suspects in jersey theft: Edelman, Lady Gaga, Game of Thrones villain

Brady lists suspects in jersey theft: Edelman, Lady Gaga, Game of Thrones villain

The case of Tom Brady's missing Super Bowl jersey got a tad more serious on Tuesday as the Houston Police Department's report on the stolen No. 12 was published by TMZ. In it, police estimate the value of the jersey at a cool half-million dollars

Brady clearly took notice. 

Though he'd probably like to have the jersey back in short order, he took to Instagram on Wednesday to make light of the search. 

His investigation seemed to lead him toward a familiar face, Julian Edelman, who he describes as a "sneaky lil squirrel." 

To let his teammate know he means business, Brady pulled a quote from Good Will Hunting.

"Ya suspect, yeah you! I don't know what your reputation is in this town, but after that s@?# you pulled, you can bet l'll be looking into you!"