Kukla's Korner

Puckin' Around With Spector

Forecasting the PR Strategies for “NHL CBA 2012”.

With the NHL formally serving notice last week to the NHLPA of its desire to “terminate and/or modify” the current collective bargaining agreement by September 15th, hockey fans know for certain another potentially contentious round of labor negotiations will begin soon.

Given the toxic atmosphere between the two sides during previous CBA talks, there’s concern among some pundits, bloggers and fans that there could be yet another lengthy lockout.

Speculation has been brewing for months over what the league could seek (another reduction in players’ revenue share, lowering of the salary cap, salary rollbacks) and possible reaction/counter-proposals from the PA. We probably won’t know the official positions of both sides until mid-summer.

In the meantime, the only certainty is the league, led by commissioner Gary Bettman and his trusty team of labor negotiators, will be calling the tune for this dance, as they always have. It is anyone’s guess which side could emerge victorious, and as history has shown, those which claim victory in these labor squabbles often find it costly.

It’ll be interesting to see if the league employs the same public relations strategy as it did during the previous two lockouts, painting the NHLPA leadership, the players and their agents as the bad guys.

Since it worked so well in the past, it wouldn’t be surprising if the league resorts to that playbook again.

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  Tags: bettman, cba, nhl, nhlpa, pr

Big Market NHL Teams to “Max Out” This Summer?

For the seventh consecutive year, the NHL salary cap limits are expected to increase.

Thanks to a projected $3.2 billion in revenue for the 2011-12 regular season and playoffs (the most for a single season in NHL history), the salary cap “ceiling” for 2012-13 could rise to $69 million, as well as raising the salary cap “floor” to over $53 million.

It could go even higher, for if the NHLPA employs its five percent salary escalator clause, the ceiling could go as high as $72 million, and the floor to $56 million.

In other words, the projected cap minimum for next season could be as high as the salary cap ceiling of 2009-10.

While the salary cap’s constant escalation leaves NHL fans wondering what the 2004-05 lockout was about, it’s good news for the nine teams (Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Boston, Buffalo, Chicago, Toronto, San Jose, Vancouver and Los Angeles) with payrolls currently in excess of $54 million for next season, giving them considerably more available cap space to worth with.

It’s also good news for traditionally free-spending clubs like the Detroit Red Wings, and New York Rangers, as well as the Montreal Canadiens, Calgary Flames and Washington Capitals, who’ve been big spenders for some time under the salary cap.

That projected increase, however, could be short-lived.

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  Tags: cba, nhl, nhlpa, salary+cap

Coyotes Need Fan Support To Survive.

After three years of uncertainty, the Phoenix Coyotes ownership issue could be on the verge of resolution.

NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman on Monday acknowledged a tentative agreement had been reached with an ownership group (led by former San Jose Sharks CEO Greg Jamison) which would keep the team in Glendale, Arizona.

This doesn’t mean it’s a done deal, as the NHL Board of Governors must approve the sale, plus the Jamison group would have to not only work out a new arena lease agreement with Glendale City Council, but one which would pass scrutiny of The Goldwater Institute, a local taxpayer watchdog.

Nevertheless, this news could signal a significant step toward ensuring the Coyotes remain in Arizona.

Critics wonder why the league has fought so hard and for so long to keep the franchise there, pointing to the poor attendance - especially over the past five, when they’ve been either last or second-last in overall attendance - as proof of poor fan support in that market for the NHL.

The consensus among the critics is the Coyotes would be best served relocating to a more “traditional” hockey market.

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  Tags: coyotes, glendale, nhl, phoenix

Are You Not Entertained?

During the first round of this year’s NHL playoffs, the NHL Network has several players wearing microphones, of which the best clips were featured in “Best Sights and Sounds of Round 1”.

Among the clips were Phoenix Coyotes Keith Yandle, following one of his team’s victories over the Chicago Blackhawks, yelling to a teammate in the post-game celebration, “Are you not entertained?”

It’s a line from the 2000 film “Gladiator”, but one which would be appropriate in describing the performance of the Coyotes thus far in this year’s playoffs.

Despite finishing the regular season with their first division title in franchise history, few observers expected much from the Coyotes in the post-season, ranking them once again as an underdog.

It’s understandable. The ongoing uncertainty over their future in Arizona aside, the Coyotes hadn’t won a playoff round since 1987, when they were the original Winnipeg Jets.

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  Tags: blackhawks, coyotes, predators

Looking Back on the Penguins-Flyers Series.

The Conference Quarterfinal between the Pittsburgh Penguins and Philadelphia Flyers was expected to be the most entertaining of the opening round of the 2012 Stanley Cup playoffs.

No one, however, expected it to become a throwback to the wild, fire-wagon style of the 1980s. Though it ended with the Flyers eliminating the Penguins in six games, the notable storylines of that series still linger.

- In an NHL in which tight-checking and strong goaltending are the norm at playoff time, the Flyers and Penguins combined for 56 goals - the Flyers with 30, the Penguins with 26.

45 of those goals came in the first four games, setting a record for the most goals in the opening four games of a seven-game series. That’s right, the 2012 Flyers and Penguins posted up numbers in those four games which broke records set back in the free-wheeling ‘80s.

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Whither Radulov?

Alexander Radulov’s return to the Nashville Predators in March after a nearly four-year absence generated considerable commentary over whether or not his presence would bolster the Predators offense, as well as questions about his off-season intentions.

In the summer of 2008, Radulov bolted for the riches of Russia’s Kontinental Hockey League while still owing the Predators the final season on his entry-level contract. During his four seasons in the KHL, he would become their most marketable star, as well as one of their best paid, earning considerably more than the $918K per season he made with Nashville.

Despite playing only nine regular season games with the Predators and participating in this year’s playoffs, he has fulfilled his contractual obligation to the club.

Naturally, that’s given rise to speculation over whether Radulov re-signs with the Predators this summer, if they might instead trade his rights to another NHL team, or if he’ll return to the KHL.

Whatever the scenario, Radulov will benefit.

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NHL Must Do More To Promote Stamkos.

Entering the 2008-09 season, the OK Hockey group, which then owned the Tampa Bay Lightning, launched a clever ad campaign to promote their rookie forward Steven Stamkos, whom they’d selected with the first overall pick in the 2008 NHL Entry Draft.

Using the slogan, “Seen Stamkos?”, it was a smart marketing move from an otherwise inept bunch during their short, disastrous ownership of the Lightning.

Unfortunately, Stamkos struggled through the first half of his rookie season, and “Seen Stamkos?”  became fodder for derision for the team’s critics, as well as fans who felt he was not only over-hyped, but overrated.

Four years later, however, it might be a good idea for NHL marketing to resurrect and update that campaign as a means of promoting Stamkos as one of the league’s top players.

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Management The Root of Canadian Clubs’ Woes.

When the salary cap was implemented under the current NHL collective bargaining agreement, it was assumed it would be a boon for Canadian NHL franchises to become not only more competitive, but improve their chances to become legitimate Stanley Cup contenders.

Over the course of this CBA, however, only two Canadian teams – the 2006-07 Ottawa Senators, and the 2010-11 Vancouver Canucks – fell into that category.

Yes, the 2005-06 Edmonton Oilers advanced to the Stanley Cup Final, but they were an underdog team, finishing eighth overall in the Western Conference, and14th overall in the league-wide standings. The ‘07 Senators and ‘11 Canucks, by contrast, were among the league’s dominant franchises in those respective seasons.

Apart from ‘05-‘06, when four of the then-six Canadian teams qualified for the playoffs, only three Canadian teams qualified between 2006-07 to 2009-10, and since 2009-10, only two.

Of those who have made the cut over that period, most weren’t among the league’s elite. Only the Senators of ‘05-‘06 and ‘06-07, and the Vancouver Canucks since 2008-09 were consistently among the league’s best regular season clubs. The remainder were marginal playoff contenders.

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This Summer’s NHL Trade Market Could Be Busy.

NHL general managers looking toward this summer’s free agent market to bolster their teams won’t find many star players available.

It’s a very thin market this season, particularly for available “name” talent, lacking quality starting goaltenders and offensive stars.

The best of this summer’s bunch includes New Jersey’s Zach Parise, Nashville’s Ryan Suter and Andrei Kostitsyn, Washington’s Alexander Semin and Tomas Vokoun, Calgary’s Olli Jokinen, Philadelphia’s Jaromir Jagr and Matt Carle, Phoenix’s Shane Doan and Ray Whitney, Detroit’s Brad Stuart, and Minnesota’s Josh Harding.

Of this group, only Parise and Suter are considered elite talents in their playing prime. Most of the aforementioned are past their “best before” date or have yet to fully reach their expected potential.

Detroit’s Nicklas Lidstrom, New Jersey’s Martin Brodeur and Anaheim’s Teemu Selanne will also be available, but these ageing wonders will either re-sign with their respective teams, or retire.

That could result in perhaps a higher-than-usual volume of off-season trade activity.

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NHL CBA Gamesmanship Well Underway.

Last week’s NHL GM meetings concluded with no indication when the league and the NHLPA will finally open negotiations toward a new collective bargaining agreement.

The current CBA expires on September 15th, and while that date is still months away, the fact negotiations toward a new deal have not begun is a tad disconcerting for NHL followers fearful of another work stoppage.

Both sides last fall hinted talks would probably begin soon after the All-Star weekend, but nearly two months following that event, it’s apparent that’s not going to happen before the end of the regular season.

It’s now believed the NHLPA would prefer to start negotiations following the end of the 2011 Stanley Cup playoffs, in order to have as many players available as possible to take part in the talks.

NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman, meanwhile, maintains it’s “business as usual” for the 30 NHL general managers, who can continue to operate this summer under the current CBA until its expiration on September 15th.

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About Puckin' Around With Spector

I’m Lyle Richardson. You might know me from my website, Spector’s Hockey, my thrice-weekly rumor column at THN.com, my weekly column at Eishockey News (if you read German), and my former gig as a contributing writer to Foxsports.com.

I’ll be writing a once-weekly blog here with my take on all things NHL. Who knows, I might actually find time to debunk a trade rumor or two.

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