The Malik Report
by George Malik on 06/04/11 at 08:51 AM ET
The Red Wings news seems to have reached an ebb with the Wings’ brass and amateur scouts occupied at the NHL’s draft combine in Toronto, but between the Stanley Cup Final cranking up with what might be the last Satellite Hotstove on Hockey Night in Canada and a Sunday’s worth of rumors and innuendo, things will crank up again as Ken Holland gets back to business working on contracts for the Wings’ free agents-to-be and tries to find out the status of Nicklas Lidstrom’s playing future ahead of the team’s organizational meetings in a little over a week from now.
In other words, welcome to the first intermission of the spring/summer. The last few days, Nicklas Lidstrom’s no-comment aside, have been relatively quiet, but it’s gonna get “interesting” real fast, and while there will be some lulls here and there, I don’t expect things to really “get quiet” until the middle of July, my hopes for a little excursion to prospect camp included…
So the Detroit News’s Gregg Krupa delivers a really wonderful story about a family which chose to donate Gordie Howe’s 700th goal puck to the Hockey Hall of Fame in the “good news” portion of this entry:
On his way to 44 goals [during the 1968-1969] season, Howe accomplished what no other NHL player had managed. Against Penguins goaltender Les Binkley on Dec. 9, Howe scored goal No. 700. The next highest career total was Maurice “Rocket” Richard’s 544. Howe’s stick immediately went to the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto, along with a puck with which he had posed after the game, painted with the number “700.”
But, in the generous way of Howe and his wife, Colleen, who would become known all across North America as Mr. and Mrs. Hockey, the actual puck that went into the net off Howe’s stick that night was given to a beloved, longtime season-ticket holder, John Barnes. On Friday, 43 years later, in the living room of a home in Livonia, the puck started its journey to join the stick in the Hockey Hall of Fame.
Allen Moore, the nephew of Barnes and his wife, Mary, handed it to Craig Campbell and Phil Pritchard of the Hockey Hall of Fame, after almost a decade of research and conversations with Moore.
“When I first contacted them about making the donation, they were kind of leery about it,” Moore said. “They said, ‘Well, are you sure you’ve got the right puck?’”
Moore and his wife, Janet, said they could have obtained $10,000-$15,000 on eBay. But it would not have honored his uncle and aunt, or the Howes.
“You know, money is money,” Moore said. “This is more important. Gordie Howe and his wife, Colleen, were thoughtful and kind people. I know he is a great hockey player, but I think he is a great person, too. For him to do this, to give such a significant puck to a fan, is something special. And we’ve seen other things he’s done in the community.”
The second thrust of this entry, however, isn’t so cheery. Looking back at Gary Bettman’s state of the game speech and its implications, I left out the labor relations part.
In an era where it’s almost expected that labor unions will not only be painted as the “bad guy” in business and governmental budget negotiations, to the point that teachers, librarians, fire and police persons, first responders and the people who do things like provide state-assisted physical and mental health care, deal with public assistance and make sure that you have driver’s licenses and the like are the ones who are asked to give, first and foremost, because they’re clearly overpaid and over-insured for their services (I have a few friends who are state workers so I’m kinda passionate about this given how remarkably harsh their jobs are—and sorry, I’m rambly this morning)...
The billionaires are locking out the millionaires in the NFL, and it’s expected that an NBA lockout will soon follow. As such, despite the fact that the NHL’s CBA won’t expire until 11:59 PM on September 15th, 2012, Gary Bettman has chosen to delay negotiations regarding the NHLPA’s next CBA until the spring or summer of 2012, likely using the NFL and NBA’s lockout-induced give-backs as a template for the much-rumored demands for another rollback in salaries and reduction of the players’ share of revenues, if not more, on the line, as the Sporting News’s Craig Custance suggests…
We’re not talking about the NHL CBA right now, but we will be soon. The entire 2004-05 NHL season was lost to a lockout. Can we expect another stoppage when the current CBA expires after next season? It’s a possibility. The hot-button issues that will come up in negotiations:
1. Escrow payments. Players absolutely detest paying a portion of their paychecks to an escrow account in case league revenues don’t live up to projections, as they do under the current CBA. In 2009, the escrow payment increased from 13.5 percent to 25 percent to protect against revenue shortfalls. It was dropped to 17 percent in 2010.
2. Guaranteed contracts. Owners have to be envious of leagues like the NFL where contracts are not guaranteed. While the players will fight hard to protect their contracts, they also want to prevent more situations like Wade Redden’s and Sheldon Souray’s, where NHL-caliber players are buried in the AHL to circumvent the salary cap.
3. Olympic participation. The players want to participate in the 2014 Olympics in Russia, but the NHL hasn’t signed off on it yet. Owners risk injury to their million-dollar investments, and it’s debatable whether having NHL players in the Olympics actually boosts the popularity of the league.
The good news, even as the statuses of the Phoenix Coyotes, and to a lesser extent, the Florida Panthers remain murky, is that while we have sentimental yutzes from the New York Times talking about Canada “saving” the game from Bettman’s supposed Sunbelt follies and a salary cap whose “floor” will exceed the 2005-2006 season’s ceiling, making it very hard to do business for teams whose owners shortsightedly didn’t anticipate that a salary range driven by league-wide revenues would mean that at least 15 teams making below the league average would find it hard to compete without losing money—and that the economic bubble bursting and having yet to recover since 2008 yielding no longer guaranteed increases in franchises’ equitable bank values on a yearly basis, which was the real point of the lockout from the start…
The owners aren’t a united front this time around.
The big-market teams are both making more money than they did before and are pissed off about the fact that they have to halve their playoff revenues and cut a $10 million-plus cheque to keep Phoenix, Florida, Nashville, Columbus et. al. afloat;
The mid-market teams aren’t too keen on the fact that the salary floor and midpoint keep rising, to the point that there’s no doubt that at least half a dozen teams who were in the black when the second lockout ended are back in the red because the league average of revenues keeps going up and up, in no small part due to the fact that even their own decisions to raise ticket prices on a supply-versus-demand or “How much can we charge ‘em?” basis instead of raising them based upon their expenses or on-ice performances…well, even that strategy bites mid-market teams in their asses these days;
The small-market teams aren’t necessarily happy with the commissioner given that the second lockout’s “dream CBA” was supposed to stem their revenues-versus-expenditures losses once and for all, stabilize their franchises’ business models and give them the equity that they were supposed to borrow against and establish real money-making businesses, and even open consulting firms which would issue loans banking against their own team’s bank values;
And no one is happy about the fact that what was and remains teams’ biggest money-makers, full revenues from long playoff runs, are slashed in half to go to the revenue-sharing pot, regardless of whether you’re the Vancouver Canucks, Boston Bruins or the Coyotes.
If you’re a small-market team that makes a run, half of your money goes to you and half of it goes to both subsidizing you and your fellows, and if you’re a big-market team that makes a run, you’re not only writing a revenue-sharing check that probably has eight zeroes (over $10 million for the biggest clubs), you’re also losing out in millions of dollars in post-season profit that you don’t have to share with your players, post-season bonuses excluded, meaning that if you’re a team like Vancouver, that’s charging a grand or more for front-row seats, you’re only seeing half of that money. For teams that spend to the cap, those playoff revenues can be the difference between them spending to win to the point that they see an operating loss or generate revenues, and that’s also a system-bites-you-in-the-butt proposition.
Now the players are an easy scapegoat, especially now that they’ve hired Donald Fehr to represent them, and it’s entirely possible, if not probable, that the NHL will attempt to engage in another smear campaign to make the players the fall guys, but big-market owners aren’t too happy writing blank checks to teams that keep losing money, and the teams that keep losing money have to ask themselves whether it’s worth buying into a Bettman-promised CBA which probably won’t address the fundamental issues that keep them in the red.
The other “good news” part of the equation is that fans have been locked out twice, for half a season in 1994-95 and for the entire season in 2004-2005, both times with the promise of lower player salaries yielding either a full stop or at least a slower rolling of ticket price inflation, and especially after the Levitt Report and the bogus “NHL CBA News” website’s worth of lies were swallowed hook, line, and sinker, an increasingly web-savvy and fickle public (the NHL will tell you how web-savvy hockey fans are, and they’re right) will have far more options as to what they can spend their discretionary income upon if the NHL starts dishing out the same old lies.
So winter might be coming soon, but at least we’re going into it with our eyes open, and I hope that this time around, when the NHL starts blaming the PA for the fact that its business plan remains a bit of a mess, we won’t say, “Sure, we’ll come back if you lock out the players again because we’re gullible.”
At the same time, as you and I already know, the Red Wings will have a hard time replacing Brian Rafalski (and now, thanks to the Roman Polak signing, re-signing Jonathan Ericsson) because NHL owners still commit over a hundred million dollars to about thirty to forty players over the first seven to ten days of July.
I found it particularly ironic this morning that the guy who you should never take seriously about anything trade rumor-related (click at your own risk) revealed what is an open secret:
There’s a reason that you’ll see Brad Richards (who is not coming to Detroit) sign a multi-year contract with somebody like Toronto or the Rangers a few minutes after 12 PM EDT on Canada Day.
Player agents. Player agents can engage in de-facto negotiations with teams which don’t hold their particular clients’ rights before July 1st, regardless of whether they’re restricted or unrestricted, without subjecting general managers or owners to the risks of collusion.
They do so by filling out a simple equation with names and numbers: “If player X were to be available at Y dollars for Z years, are you interested?” They can re-work the equation as many times as necessary while GM’s can wrap themselves in fifty layers of Kevlar and Teflon by answering “Yes,” “No,” or, “Maybe at Y dollars for Z years,” substituting different figures to more or less work out a contract way before July 1st hits—and they can react to counter-offers from other teams if an agent calls and says, “You know about player X? Well team A’s willing to give him B dollars for C years. Can you match that?” }
This doesn’t just go on from April to July. This goes on all year long, with agents pitching trades and very legally negotiating player and prospect contracts with their rights-holders, if not their competitors should things not work out, using similar language.
This is the reason people like the guy linked to above and Bruce Garrioch are in business. Agents float stuff to ‘em as de-facto press releases (which are also sent out, as are emails and, even in this day and age, faxes—though text messages are obviously the most secure way for GM’s to engage in this habit, thus the inevitable pair or trio of Blackberries in general managers’ pockets), seeing whether eagle-eyed readers or even GM’s who go to Spector to get a reality check read up and are at least given something to chew upon.
While we’re in the rumor business, I’m gonna float one, too: the Winnipeg Free Press’s Gary Lawless believes that the Manitoba NHL team should simply promote the Moose’s coach, Claude Noel, if Craig Ramsay doesn’t want to head to Winnipeg, but it would not surprise me if Paul MacLean is interviewed. That being said, the sense from the entire NHL is that if the Thrashers’ coaches and executives aren’t brought to Winnipeg, True North will promote from within, negotiating releases of execs’ rights from the Canucks instead of shipping them off to St. John’s, Newfoundland (because it’s also believed that the Manitoba team will absorb the Chicago Wolves as its affiliate—the Wolves, Moose and Hamilton Bulldogs are the gold standards of the AHL—and will let whoever wants to have a team on the frickin’ east end of North America take that affiliation), so it’s unlikely, but you never know.
Also of very brief Red Wings-related note: The Saginaw News’s Adam Smith reports that Mickey Redmond celebrated his Hockey Hall of Fame induction by throwing out the first pitch at Thursday’s Great Lakes Loons game;
• And I have to snicker regarding the fact that Boston Bruins goalie Tim Thomas expects to be protected from would-be crease crashers when he’s outside of the blue paint, while former referee Kerry Fraser says that if Thomas gets to the spot on the ice first, it’s his, but if he’s heading back to the crease and someone else is in his way, that player has the right to ice, too.
These rules do not apply when Tomas Holmstrom is present, obviously. I’m still floored about the fact that Pekka Rinne managed to have two goals waived off by pushing out to the top of the crease and beyond and essentially checking Holmstrom, but what do I know…
Have a lovely Saturday morning and early afternoon, avoid the thunderstorms that are coming Michigan’s way, and stay tuned, because things will get “interesting” again very soon.
Update: Pay no heed to this the Port Huron Times-Herald as it recounts something from 25 years ago:
25 years ago
» Bobby McCammon, former Port Huron Flags coach and player, is a candidate to replace Brad Park as the new coach of the Detroit Red Wings. McCammon, now an assistant coach for the Edmonton Oilers, has been given permission to talk to Jimmy Devellano, the Wings’ general manager.
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About The Malik Report
The Malik Report is a destination for all things Red Wings-related. I offer biased, perhaps unprofessional-at-times and verbose coverage of my favorite team, their prospects and developmental affiliates. I've joined the Kukla's Korner family with five years of blogging under my belt, and I hope you'll find almost everything you need to follow your Red Wings at a place where all opinions are created equal and we're all friends, talking about hockey and the team we love to follow.