Kukla's Korner

NHLPA Needs a Makeover

Blog: KK Hockey By Paul

from Damien Cox of the Toronto Star,

For the most part, it was difficult to discern whether the four unsmiling lawyers in dark suits were announcing the death of the NHL or the rebirth. My goodness, that was one sombre press conference yesterday. Grim Reaper TV. Called by the NHL Players' Association to announce, from its collective knees, that it had agreed in overwhelming numbers to rubber-stamp a stunning, concession-laden deal it swore never to accept 11 months ago, it turned into an effort by league commissioner Gary Bettman not to gloat too obviously and by Bob Goodenow to earnestly present the players' position as something other than total capitulation and renunciation of all for which they once stood. They were moments bereft of triumph and celebration. The best the two sides could muster was to weakly promise that their days of being at each other's throats were over. Goodenow repeatedly called Bettman "Gary," dropping his sarcastic pet nickname of "the owner's commissioner." Bettman, blasted once by Goodenow as a man who simply doesn't understand hockey, praised the members of the union as "the greatest athletes in the world," just like 700 Bruce Jenners. It was all rather muted and awkward, with Bettman and Goodenow managing nothing more than a forced handshake for the traditional photo op. It was the first we'd seen of Goodenow for months. He had nothing to smile about, having negotiated the players into a new, capped economic system that will define the industry for the next quarter-century. Yes, there is the possibility for more player movement through liberalized free agency. And yes, the least talented member of the fraternity is now eligible for compensation of nearly a half-million American dollars per season, a figure that will keep the flow of Euro-talent coming. And yes, not a single job was lost. Not even Goodenow's.

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Working Together

Blog: KK Hockey By Paul

from the Toronto Globe and Mail,

Gary Bettman and Bob Goodenow marched to the front of a ballroom at a Toronto hotel, allowed themselves a couple of tight smiles in their first public appearance together in more than two years and pledged to work together to rebuild the National Hockey League. Given the antagonistic relationship between Bettman, the NHL commissioner, and Goodenow, the executive director of the NHL Players' Association, plus the infighting over the dates of the ratification votes and subsequent press conferences, many NHL insiders are skeptical of their chances for success. "I think there's been too much made about a fragmented relationship," Bettman said. "It tends to make for, I suppose, interesting reading. But Bob and I have always had a professional relationship on a personal level. We've never had a problem dealing with each other. "While we've had different views in the past about what this business and this game needed, we're really now part of a partnership. I have no doubt labour and management can work together." Goodenow then quickly chimed in. "I agree totally."

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Not Their Leader

Blog: KK Hockey By Paul

from the Toronto Globe and Mail,

His title says he's still the executive director of the National Hockey League Players' Association and his employers, at least some of them, say he is still their boss, their leader. Clearly, he is not. Bob Goodenow is now a $2.5-million (U.S.) a year custodian, a caretaker for an organization that used to wield its power the way the Broad Street Bullies used to wield theirs. In their halcyon days, NHL players had the owners on the run. They pushed; the owners turtled. They demanded; the bosses delivered. Those days are now as much a part of NHL history as Don Cherry's coaching career. So, too, is the Great War of 2004. The public and backroom fighting that prolonged the NHL's 301-day lockout took its toll on both sides and most importantly, the game. This is no longer a time for feuding. It's a time for mending. The question is: Can Goodenow the fighter live in a time of reconciliation and partnership? Can the man who would have kept the battle raging at least another six months be useful, or useless?

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Empty Promises, No Marketing

Blog: KK Hockey By Paul

from Larry Brooks of the NY Post (reg. req.),

The league, whose CBA victory speech prominently features the pledge that a new era of hockey marketing is just around the corner, seems to have neither a marketing department nor marketing plan in place. Or, if it does, it's sure kept either or both a double top secret. I'm tempted to suggest that this is simply typical NHL neglect. But that's probably unfair, because honestly, with only 10 months to create a high-powered relaunch campaign engineered by a powerhouse New York advertising firm, there obviously wasn't enough time to hit the ground running. I know, I know, I know. This is a time for celebration, not cynicism. I mean, just look, even Bob Goodenow could sit beside Gary Bettman on the NHLPA dais here yesterday during the press conference at which the union announced it had ratified the hard-cap-percentage-of-the-gross imposed on it by the league. Bettman, who will have much more to say at a New York press conference this afternoon after the Board formally ratifies the document, talked about the dawning of a new age of true partnership between the league and the players. He talked about how the league and the players will now share the risk of the business. Which, of course, is not true at all. The risk has now been shifted entirely to the players, who, in order to even maintain payroll levels that have been set artificially high for this coming season, have to trust the league to increase revenues through creative and aggressive marketing. They have to trust that owners who - for the most part, have no incentive whatsoever to increase revenues - will now work feverishly to do so. Indeed, not only don't owners and the league have incentive to increase revenues, they have incentive to depress revenue. That's because the players' share increases to 55-percent when revenues hit $2.2B; to 56-percent when revenues hit $2.4B; and to 57 percent should revenues ever hit $2.7 billion. This year's payroll range of $21.5 to 39 million is based on a revenue projection of approximately $1.8 billion that is almost certainly optimistic, given both the effects of the cancelled 2004-05 and the widespread cut in ticket prices around the league. If this year's revenue is in fact $1.6 billion, the range next year will be set at $18.8 to 34.8. But if revenues were to grow to $2.4 billion, the range would become $34.8 to 50.8 million. And understand, if revenues grow, it will because they're driven by big-market teams with a selfish interest in increasing the cap. The lower revenue teams - half the league, if not two-thirds of it - have no interest at all in adopting a floor of nearly $35 million.

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Team by Team Cap Situation

Blog: KK Hockey By Paul

from USA TODAY,

USA TODAY's Mike Brehm takes a look at how well teams have prepared themselves for the salary cap that's included in the tentative collective bargaining agreement. NHL payroll and salary figures are based on the union's Dec. 9 proposal that included a 24% rollback and the qualifying offer formula expected to be part of this CBA. The qualifying offer figures could change because teams might not qualify all of their restricted free agents or because some players might get raises based on an expected $450,000 minimum salary.

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Players Shut Out

Blog: KK Hockey By Paul

from the Sun-Sentinal,

This isn't just one of the most lopsided sports labor outcomes in North American history. It's among the most lopsided labor outcomes. It's among the most lopsided sports outcomes. This is Reagan vs. Mondale. Tyson vs. Spinks. Jaguars vs. Dolphins. Check that. Mondale won a state. Spinks lasted 91 seconds. The Dolphins managed a touchdown. The NHL players were shut out, unless you count "earlier free agency" as a significant score.

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Heated Debate

Blog: KK Hockey By Paul

cia the Philadelphia Inquirer,

They began meeting at 6 p.m. Wednesday at the Westin Harbor Castle. The session was impassioned at times, with yelling across the ballroom. After it ended at 1:30 a.m. today, some players hung around for another three hours, seeking more answers. In the end, the NHL Players' Association ratified a new six-year collective-bargaining agreement today. "Definitely, there was heated debate," former Flyer Luke Richardson of the Columbus Blue Jackets said. "Guys on both sides shared concerns. Others tried to make guys see what it's all about. "You can't look back. That was part of the problem. Some guys had problems with the answers to their questions. They want answers and won't let go of the past. A lot of the problem with our players who are unhappy is they are stuck in the past." Though 88 percent of the union's membership voted to accept the deal, many wondered whether a season really had to be sacrificed. The hot-button issue for Bob Goodenow, the union's executive director, going into yesterday's vote was how much of players' salaries would be held in escrow. A maximum of 54 percent of leaguewide revenues is ticketed for the players. Some reports said players would have to put 15 percent of their salaries in escrow. In the abridged version of the bargaining agreement, which was distributed by the league to general managers this week and obtained by The Inquirer, there is no mention of a percentage. If leaguewide payrolls exceed 54 percent, the players will fork over the difference. "Probably the most questions directed to Bob were about the escrow," Flyers captain Keith Primeau said. "The 15 percent is a fictitious number. There is nothing that says it may be less or may be more. That in itself is scary to players. It's 54 percent of hockey-related revenues. Anything over or under that percentage would be considered escrow or return of escrow."

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What Lies Ahead

Blog: KK Hockey By Paul

from USA TODAY,

NHL players often say the season is a marathon, not a sprint. But when the NHL reopens for business Saturday, it will be a mad dash. The lengthy talks have compacted the usual signing periods. What lies ahead, according to a union memo to agents that was obtained by USA TODAY: • 2003 draft picks: They must sign by July 28, or they'll re-enter the draft. Philadelphia will be eager to get Jeff Carter and Michael Richards under contract. • Buyouts: Teams have until 5 p.m. ET on July 29 to buy out contracts at two-thirds value without it counting against the cap. • Free agency: It opens Aug. 1, but teams can negotiate with their free agents beforehand. The age for unrestricted free agency remains 31, as of June 30, but it drops next year. More than 400 players can become free agents. • Arbitration: Teams now can take players to arbitration. Previously, only players filed. The filing deadlines are Aug. 11 (players) and Aug. 12 (teams), and cases will be heard from Aug. 22-Sept. 1. Arbitration awards are based on comparisons to other players, and the salaries of those comparables have been rolled back 24%. Plus, any award must be figured into the $39 million team salary cap. • Restricted free agents: They must sign by Dec. 1 or sit out the season. The NHL first sought to make the deadline 14 days after the start of training camp. But few players will want to stay out long, especially after they lost a year's pay.

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Largest Setback in Collective Bargaining

Blog: KK Hockey By Paul

from the New York Times,

Jeffrey Kessler, a labor lawyer in New York who has worked for the N.F.L. and the N.B.A. unions, called the N.H.L. deal "the largest setback for players that I've seen in collective bargaining." "The verdict is still out on whether the owners lost, too," he said. Union officials released more details of the agreement on Thursday. Ted Saskin, the senior director of the union, said it had coaxed the league into acknowledging about $100 million more in hockey-related revenue from sources including stadium-naming rights, arena concessions and local broadcast contracts. Saskin also said teams could exceed the salary cap in certain situations, such as when a player sustains a long-term injury. The next item for attention is how the N.H.L. and its players will bolster revenue and rekindle interest in the sport, which has struggled in recent seasons to attract television viewers and spectators in nontraditional hockey markets. "We need to be making a splash," said Rich Winter, the agent for Senators goalie Dominik Hasek. The league is holding its draft lottery on Friday in Ottawa to determine which team will pick first in the July 30 draft - and most likely select the top prospect Sidney Crosby. The draft will not be televised in its entirety in the United States. "Why not have it at Times Square in New York or on Madison Avenue?" Winter said. "The fact is, we have the Canadian fans," he added. "It's the Americans we need." Bettman said the N.H.L. had made "the best we could of very difficult circumstances, where there wasn't a whole lot of time to do the types of events our fans have become accustomed to."

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Boycott Opening Night

Blog: KK Hockey By Paul

Anyone want to boycott the opening game of the NHL season? Not me! First and foremost we want professional hockey around so our grandchildren can watch it. The game must be protected so it survives for years to come. But, so far the individuals in positions to accomplish that goal have failed miserably. The recent lockout is an example that is almost too obvious. They have bumbled it to the brink of failure. The players and owners both equally share the responsibility for this fiasco. And now it rests on the shoulders of the fans to dig them out. Our response to the lockout will determine if the sport can succeed. OneGame.ca believes that with the right set of actions the fans can set a precedent that will affect not only professional hockey, but other professional sports as well. We must make a bold statement that says, “We will not tolerate this anymore!” Another lockout cannot be allowed.

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