The Malik Report
by George Malik on 07/19/12 at 06:09 AM ET
Well, aside from finding out in the middle of the night that the Red Wings may have been in the pre-nuclear trade discussions for one Shea Weber (a day after we found out that the Wings did their best to bid for Rick Nash—hey, Holland, Nill, Martin and Babcock weren’t working their phones half the time at last week’s developmental camp to check their tee times), Wednesday was a pretty regular day in Hockeytown.
The Wings avoided salary arbitration with Kyle Quincey, signing him to a 2-year, $7.55 million deal that will probably look downright sane a year or two from now, but might have been a wee bit more than the Wings were hoping, and, with the exception of Justin Abdelkader, more or less wrapping up the Wings’ summer housekeeping (okay, they have to sign some NHL-ready call-ups from Grand Rapids, but other than that)...
And Jordin Tootoo, perhaps the most hated player to join Detroit’s cause since Chris Chelios was traded here in 1999, came to town to pass his physical, do a little house-hunting and offer a little sales job regarding his desire to piss off players wearing colors other than red and white.
The Free Press’s Helene St. James duly noted that Tootoo plans on annoying and instigating and more or less being himself with a 2-year, $5.7 million contract in his back pocket as he hopes to cash in on a new start with a Cup-contending team:
“I’m fortunate to have that little spark in me that drives teams nuts,” Tootoo said. “I think it’s going to be a great fit here. I feel that I’m in the prime of my career, and when you have great, great people around you that are willing to teach you, anything is possible. So for me, I’m really looking forward to these challenges. I know that I’m going to have to earn every little bit—that’s part of my DNA, is working for everything. And I’m going to do that.”
Tootoo, 29, most likely will play wing on the fourth line, though he could fit on the third, too. He had career highs last season with 24 assists and 30 points, and hopes to build on that on a team renowned for rolling four lines all capable of contributing. The 2011-12 season was satisfying on a personal level for Tootoo, after his 2010-11 season was interrupted when he voluntarily sought treatment for alcohol problems.
“I think, first and foremost, when you look after yourself both mentally and physically, everything falls into place,” he said. “I’ve been through a few issues and been living a healthy lifestyle, and ... when those things are looked after, away from the game, I think it really falls into how you play. I realize that. Now, like I said, I feel very comfortable in my own skin. The game just slowed down a second for me, and I think that’s really helped me.”
After losing in the first round of the playoffs—to Tootoo’s Predators—the Wings formulated a plan centered on being tougher for opponents to handle. Part of that comes from being able to put incredibly skilled players like Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg on the ice—and now they also have a guy who’s incredibly irritating.
“He’ll be great for us,” coach Mike Babcock said of Tootoo. “I’ve known him since he was 16. He always drove me crazy when he played against our team. I’m looking forward to him driving the other team crazy playing for us. He gives us a different element.”
Tootoo had lunch Monday with general manager Ken Holland in Kelowna, British Columbia, then flew to Detroit on Tuesday. Zetterberg—the presumed heir apparent to the captaincy after Nicklas Lidstrom retired in May—called Tootoo shortly after he signed to welcome him.
“It’s just in my blood,” he said. “I’m a guy who gets out there and works. I love my teammates, I play for them. My ultimate goal is winning, and I’m going to do whatever it takes.”
As the Macomb Daily’s Chuck Pleiness suggests, Tootoo sounded like exactly the player Mike Babcock’s wanted to “keep the flies off” for years:
“For me, it’s earning those situations and knowing that if you come to work every day and work hard good things happen,” Tootoo said at Joe Louis Arena Wednesday afternoon. “Over the last year and a half everything’s just been falling into place for me. I feel that I’m in the prime of my career. This is the place I feel we’re going to win the Stanley Cup.”
Tootoo, the former Nashville Predators forward, was one of four players the Wings signed on the opening day of free agency, agreeing to a three-year deal worth $1.9 million per season.
“It happened pretty quick, we were talking to a few other teams and then Detroit came over the top and obviously, it was just the right fit for me to come in here and play the role that I play,” Tootoo recalled the day he agreed to come to Detroit. “I think the biggest thing was staying in the Western Conference, which was also a big part of it. Just the style of play, it’s more fitting for me. At the same time, this is an organization that has been very successful in the past and I feel that it’s the right fit for me overall and a great opportunity.”
“They know what kind of role I play, bottom line is my being a physical presence out there, crashing and banging, but at the same time I know I can play in different situations,” Tootoo said. “I’m pretty sure a lot of teams know my style and I think it’s just in my blood. I’m a guy who gets out there and works. I love my teammates. I play for them. My ultimate goal is winning. I’m going to do whatever it takes. I’m fortunate to have that little spark in me that drive’s teams nuts. I think it’s going to be a great thing here.”
In 486 NHL games, all with the Predators, Tootoo has 46 goals, 79 assists and 725 penalty minutes.
“We wanted to get some physical play into our game,” Wings general manager Ken Holland said at the time of the signing. “We think he’ll provide an element of an edge to our team on the bottom six. He’s physical, he gets under your skin. It’s an ingredient we’ve always talked about.”
Tootoo is coming off a season where he set a career high for assists (24) and points (30).
The theory is that if the Wings don’t ice the HEMI line of Drew Miller, Darren Helm and Justin Abdelkader again (no, someone asked, I haven’t heard a thing about Patrick Eaves, but I’m hoping that no news is good news), Tootoo might fit in well with someone who also grew up playing in the WHL in Darren Helm.
And Tootoo didn’t shy away from his battles with alcoholism, either, as the Detroit news’s Gregg Krupa (I’m a sucker for Tenacious D references so I like his “Tenacious Tootoo” line) noted:
“I think first and foremost when you look after yourself both mentally and physically, everything falls into place,” he said. “And for me, personally, I’ve been through a few issues and I’ve been living a healthy lifestyle. I’ve realized that, and I just feel very comfortable in my own skin. The game just slowed down a second, and I think that’s really helped me.”
Tootoo’s brother committed suicide after a DUI arrest ten years ago, so he’s had a rough go…
Tootoo was having one of his better seasons in 2011-12 when the Predators made several moves at the trade deadline. He suddenly was an odd man out. As a free agent, he looked at some other teams. But when the Red Wings called, he signed a three-year deal, reportedly for $5.7 million.
“It was just the right fit for me to come in here and play the role that I play,” he said. “First and foremost, I’d just like to thank the organization for letting me come on board.”
Of course, Tootoo will wear number 22 — two, two — as he did in Nashville. Restless Red Wings fans, anxious about big changes to the roster, await the sort of grittiness seen fleetingly since the departure of players like Kirk Maltby, Dallas Drake, Sean Avery and Dino Ciccarelli. They are likely to warm immediately to Tootoo.
“I’m a guy who gets out there and works, you know?” he said. “I love my teammates. I play for them, and my ultimate goal is winning. I’m going to do whatever it takes. I’m fortunate to have that little spark in me that drives teams nuts, and I think it’s going to be great here.”
He said he hopes to “earn” a greater role, too.
“My foundation is being a physical presence and crashing and banging,” he said. “But I know I can play in different situations, and for me it’s earning those situations and knowing that, if you come to work every day and work hard, good things happen. And I think over the last year and a half, everything’s just been really falling into place for me, and I feel like I’m in the prime of my career, and this is a place where I feel that we’re going to win the Stanley Cup.”
Krupa goes into some significant depth regarding Tootoo’s upbringing and background, and I certainly won’t disagree with Tootoo regarding picking the right place to press the reset button:
“When you have great people around you, a great support system — and I’ve already experienced that in Detroit — everyone’s been very welcoming and it’s one big family,” he said. “I’m very excited about it, and it’s one day at a time for me. I’m looking forward to the challenges that lie ahead. We don’t know what those are.”
Given the depth of the multimedia presented by St. James and DetroitRedWings.com’s Will Posthumus, I’m willing to revisit the multimedia from this afternoon’s Tootoo entry because it’s worth a little repetition:
St. James posted a video of Tootoo speaking to the media…
As well as a shorter Q and A with Wings assistant GM Jim Nill:
Given the number of comments you were firing off at the rate they were piling up in my inbox, I have to admit that I didn’t look at the comments regarding the Kyle Quincey entry because I knew you weren’t taking it well…
And I have to admit that I looked at the $3.775 cap hit and went, “What the hell?” but when you break it down on Capgeek, I hate to say it, but this is an Ericsson-style deal that, even under a new CBA, will probably look downright sane in a year or two, especially given that defensemen who can skate backwards are $4-5 million players these days. $3.55 million for 2012-2013 and $4 million for 13-14 is probably less than he would have gotten in arbitration, and the deal’s a manageable length, so if he doesn’t pan out, the real-world money is still reasonable enough that he can be moved.
It also means that Abdelkader will probably be signed for around $2 million, which cuts into the Wings’ remaining cap space, but with sixteen forwards (including Damien Brunner and his 2-way deal) already signed, and perhaps a 50/50 chance of Tomas Holmstrom going the try-out route, the Wings are going to move salary anyway, so I’m not worried about the Wings having $13 million in cap space currently and around $11 million once Abby’s re-signed.
The Wings can exceed the cap by 10% anyway, and as for Quincey, the Free Press’s St. James noted that the Wings don’t exactly mind having a reclamation project with top-four and/or Brad Stuart replacement potential in the fold:
“There’s an opportunity here with the losses we’ve had on defense with Stuart and Nick Lidstrom,” general manager Ken Holland said. “Kyle was in the top four in Colorado. We think there is tremendous opportunity for him now in Detroit. He is a guy who can step in and eat some minutes and give us some offense.”
The deal takes Quincey, 26, a year into potential unrestricted free agency.
The Wings remain in search of a defenseman to add to their top four, which now includes Kronwall, Quincey and Jonathan Ericsson. Brendan Smith might audition for a spot if needed, but given he has 14 games of NHL experience, he’d be a risk to put in such a prominent position instead of in the third pairing.
The Wings pursued Ryan Suter, but he opted for more money and to be closer to his family and chose Minnesota. They also offered a contract to Sami Salo, but he chose Tampa Bay. They weren’t interested in Matt Carle at the $5.5-million cap hit he got from the Lightning.
This wasn’t a banner summer for unrestricted free-agent defensemen, and the ones left are third-pair types. The Wings will continue to explore their options, but are more likely to improve their defense now via trade.
Again, I don’t think that the aforementioned trade happens until the regular season begins, but that’s just my gut feeling, and Ken Daniels disagrees with me.
The Red Wings, under general manager Ken Holland, have never tendered an offer sheet to a restricted free agent. Holland has said he believes it’s pointless, since the player’s team almost always matches.
Detroit desperately needs a top pair defenseman after Nicklas Lidstrom retired. The Red Wings made a big push for Weber’s teammate, Ryan Suter, offering him a 13-year deal worth $88 million, but he signed instead with the Minnesota Wild for $98 million over 13 years.
There are no more high-end defensemen on the free-agent market, forcing the Red Wings to fill that void through a trade.
The Red Wings also are seeking a top-six winger. They offered New Jersey’s Zach Parise a 13-year deal worth $73 million, but weren’t even in the ball park. He joined Suter in Minnesota for the same amount (13 years, $98 million).
The Red Wings made an offer for Shane Doan, who apparently won’t decide anytime soon whether to re-sign with the Phoenix Coyotes.
They also made an offer to the Columbus Blue Jackets for Rick Nash, but it generated no conversation.
Speaking of free agent and/or trade talk, Sportsline’s Adam Gretz assesses the Wings’ summer thus far as follows in his “Central Division off-season progress report”...
Detroit Red Wings
Key Additions: Jordin Tootoo, Mikael Samuelsson, Jonas Gustavsson
Key Losses: Jiri Hudler, Nicklas Lidstrom, Brad Stuart
For the second year in a row the Detroit Red Wings lost one of their top defenseman to retirement. Last year it was Brian Rafalski, this year it was future Hall of Famer Nicklas Lidstrom.
The Red Wings were the heavy favorites to land Ryan Suter in free agency to serve as his replacement along the blue line, but it never happened as he and Zach Parise signed new deals in Minnesota. The Red Wings are still looking to use their excess cap space and have been connected to both free agent Shane Doan and Columbus Blue Jackets forward Rick Nash. They were rumored to have made a “hell of an offer” to Columbus for Nash.
The Red Wings Are... Right now, worse. They can overcome the loss of a guy like Jiri Hudler rather easily I think, but Lidstrom is an entirely different issue, especially if they’re counting on players from within the farm system (Brendan Smith, for example). When you add in a guy like Brad Stuart leaving as well the Red Wings defense is going to have a very different look next season. And it’s not a better one.
And the Hockey News’s Adam Proteau believes that the Wings made a particularly risky gamble in signing Jonas “the Monster” Gustavsson, who Proteau names the 9th-worst free agent signing of the summer…
9. Jonas Gustavsson, Detroit (two years, $3 million): Perhaps the organizational Midas Touch in Detroit will rub off on Gustavsson, who had some tough luck on the health front in his three years in Toronto. But a two-year commitment to a goalie who has never had an NHL save percentage above .902 is a considerable gamble for Wings GM Ken Holland, even if Gustavsson only plays a handful of games as Jimmy Howard’s backup.
Mostly, the Wings think that Gustavsson has tons of potential if he an only be taught by Jim Bedard and especially Chris Osgood to get his massive body off the goal line and play more like himself as opposed to a Francois Allaire robot. If he doesn’t work out, again, in the current environment, his cap hit is reasonable.
But NHL.com’s Dan Rosen believes that the Red Wings are the best possible landing spot for Alex Semin, should his insane agent, Mark Gandler, lower what are probably equally batty salary demands…
The obvious need in Hockeytown is for defense, but the Red Wings have a hole in their top six forwards after the departure of Jiri Hudler to Calgary and plenty of salary-cap space to burn on a proven scorer to fill it.
Organizational success clearly is not an issue—Detroit is a perennial contender with four Stanley Cup championships since 1997.
The Red Wings have been successful in bringing players to Detroit—even players with some questions on their resumes (Todd Bertuzzi)—and turning them into players who sew themselves in to the fabric of the organization. Players usually don’t want to leave Detroit when they get there, and if they do, some try to find ways to return (Mikael Samuelsson).
Even without Nicklas Lidstrom, there still is plenty of veteran leadership in Detroit, with Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg, Johan Franzen, Danny Cleary, Niklas Kronwall and Samuelsson. Semin could take his cues from Datsyuk, his Russian national team teammate.
Coach Mike Babcock also is the pull-no-punches type who finally may get through to Semin. If you don’t work hard for Babcock, he’s going to let you know and he’s not going to be shy with his words.
And if you’re a “wait until next year” person, Sportsnet’s Luke Fox tossed off a very long list of the potentila UFA class of 2013.
That might help you feel a little better, and I could say the same for the Philadelphia Flyers’ Capgeek roster page, because if their offer sheet for Shea Weber is indeed so massively front-loaded that the Predators’ less than financially stacked ownership group can’t match it, and even considering Chris Pronger’s cap relief if he starts the year on the LTIR, the Flyers will be dancing perilously close to the cap with seven other defensemen (again, excluding Pronger) on NHL-only contracts.
And regarding ye olde future, this story’s status as lurking in a thread that became a Todd Bertuzzi discussion got way too much of a short shrift, so I’m going to re-post it as I know that the Left Wing Lock’s Sarah Lindenau slept about as well as I did in Traverse City, and her final article from the Wings’ development camp may very well involve the biggest “sure thing” this side of Teemu Pulkkinen in Swiss Army Knife defenseman Brian Lashoff:
“I try to make the right play at the right time with a physical edge,” Lashoff said. “I think my style of play doesn’t get as much press as a guy like Brendan Smith, but that’s fine with me. Smitty is an exciting player with great offensive skills, but I like to play solid in my own end and focus more on the defensive game.”
The 6-foot-3, 212 pound defenseman is coming off his second season with Grand Rapids. In 76 games last season for the Griffins, Lashoff scored 8 goals and 19 points while playing in all situations.
“I found a role for myself last year,” He said. “I played every game and I was on one of the top penalty killing units while also getting some power play time. I was able to contribute on both ends of the ice so I was pretty happy with how things went.”
Lashoff, who signed as a free agent with the Red Wings in 2008, is entering the final year of his three-year entry-level contract. He has a lot on the line this season and wants to show he can be counted on to step into Detroit’s line-up if needed.
“Every year there is a little more pressure, but going into this year I want to make an impression that I am ready to take the next step,” he said. “I played a lot last year so going into camp this year I want to be as strong as possible. Hopefully I can get a couple games in Detroit. I feel like I can be a guy who can be used as depth this year and I can step in and play reliably if needed.”
“I’d like to be a guy who’s counted on every night,” Lashoff said. “I want to be a top two pairing guy and I would like to take a leadership role. I think I am ready for that and that is something the [Griffins’] coaching staff wanted me to do last year.”
At 22, Lashoff’s more level-headed than people twice his age, and he’s very realistic about hoping to earn a cup of coffee call-up from the Wings this season, so…I mean it’s hard to bet against someone who has spoken, trained, played and led like he’s going on 30 since the moment he showed up at the Wings’ 08 prospect tournament as a try-out and earned a contract.
And at the other end of the personality spectrum—except when it comes to hockey—Tomas Tatar gave an interview to Dennik Sport’s Tomas Stulajter, and while Slovak is by far my worst “language” to translate, here are the main points of Tatar’s conversation:
• Somewhat remarkably, the 21-year-old is a wee bit worried that he’s being dangled as trade bait;
• Four weeks after the Slovaks captured silver at the World Championships, on May 21st, he got down to the business of training for the upcoming season, and while he’s taking a 4-day break to vacation in Croatia, he tells Stulajter that he’s got at least six weeks of training to go to make sure that “everything is in tip-top shape” before he heads to North America;
• He’s got a new trainer, Roman Svantner, the Slovak national team’s strength and conditioning coach, and he’s changed up his fitness regimen;
• Tatar understands that with 16 forwards on the roster, he’s not likely to play very much for the Wings because he’s waiver exempt until the 13-14 season, and so he gets the feeling that he might be trade bait in the Wings’ attempts to replace Lidstrom;
• He thanked Slovak fans for their reaction to the team’s silver medal and recognition of his contributions as a third-liner;
• And on August 17th, he’ll be playing in a charity hockey game in Zvolen, Slovakia.
Also of Red Wings and CBA-related note:
While the hockey world is waiting on Coyotes captain Shane Doan to pick a team, Doan is waiting on potential buyer Greg Jamison to determine the likelihood his bid to purchase the Coyotes will be completed.
“We’re waiting to see what Mr. Jamison is going to do, now that it seems like the path has cleared to take ownership of the team,” agent Terry Bross said. “It’s been a little quiet from that camp.”
Bross hopes to hear from the Jamison group by Friday to receive some reassurance that a sale is coming. If that doesn’t happen, it’s likely that Doan would begin to examine the list of 16 teams that have expressed interest in the 35-year-old winger.
“I hear tidbits back and forth in some of the NHL circles that it’s going to get done and it’s moving forward,” Bross said. “I just haven’t heard it from them yet, so I hope to hear something like that sometime before the end of the week.”
Doan is in the midst of his third week as an unrestricted free agent, and his patience hasn’t scared away suitors. He has received six official offers. Bross anticipates that Doan will explore his options soon.
“Let’s narrow this list down and take a hard look at a few of the ones that you really feel like there’s a really good fit now that you know who’s interested and be fair to the clubs that you might not have as much interest in and let them know that they should go a different direction,” Bross said of what he plans to tell Doan. “That’s probably the next step, and I’m hopeful that Shane will be open to going down that path by the weekend.”
“We’re just kind of on hold with the Coyotes until we know who exactly we’re negotiating with,” Bross said.
And that is why the Wings and every other team waiting on Doan find themselves in a holding pattern….
• And in CBA news, abridged version:
1. I thought that Donald Fehr’s comments to the Associated Press, made at the conclusion of the first of three days of negotiations with the NHL, were incredibly astute, suggesting that the NHLPA need not submit a counter-offer to the league without further information regarding the bombshell they dropped on the PA at the close of Friday’s meetings:
“We requested further information,” Fehr said. “The initial proposal we are looking hard at. “We’re not at that stage (to submit a counter) yet. At the appropriate point in time, we’ll make our proposal.”
There were multiple reports coming out of the last round of talks that the owners’ offer included players’ hockey-related revenues get slashed from 57 per cent to 46 per cent. It also was reported that players would be forced to wait 10 years before becoming unrestricted free agents and that contracts would be limited to five years.
Fehr said the NHLPA would submit a proposal “at the appropriate point in time.” He did not specify when that would be.
NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said the league’s offer last week was a “serious proposal.”
“We have a lot of work to do,” Bettman said, “and a relatively short time” to get a deal done.
The two sides will meet again Thursday and Friday in New York. They are also scheduled to meet Tuesday, Thursday and Friday in Toronto at the NHLPA offices next week.
“There is a dialogue going on,” Bettman said. “(We’re) focused on making a deal. Focused on getting a deal done.”
2. Cue near genius in his maneuvering delicately through a minefield, per ESPN’s Katie Strang:
“The purpose of the meeting was for them to give us a more detailed explanation of the proposal they made last week,” Fehr said outside the league offices in midtown Manhattan. “They did that. We got certain additional information. We indicated there was some further information that we’ve requested. Hopefully, we begin to get that tomorrow and begin to talk about some of the aspects of it.”
Fehr declined to divulge the specifics of the NHL’s plan, which sent reverberations across the league by the concessions it would require. But Fehr confirmed the NHL asked the players to reduce their share in hockey-related revenue.
“Yeah, I think that’s fair,” Fehr said. “They certainly were.”
However, Fehr did not say whether he thought the negotiations will hinge solely on givebacks.
“That remains to be seen,” he said. “I hope not.”
“I don’t want to categorize the published reports as to what is in it with any degree of specificity,” Fehr said. “But I think that the overall reaction to the kind of reductions that are contemplated ought to be obvious.”
“There wasn’t much of a reaction,” said Rangers forward Brandon Dubinsky, who joined teammate Henrik Lundqvist and others including Manny Malhotra, Scott Hartnell, Kevin Westgarth, Jason Chimera and Kyle Okposo. “I think everybody’s expecting us to say how upset and disappointed we were, but it’s a negotiation and that was our starting point. We’ve just got to try to work through some of the issues and stick together and make sure we go back and take the numbers and find out where exactly they come from and the reasons they’re asking for what they’re asking for and come back and try to form an opinion on it that way.”
“[The NHL’s proposal] wasn’t very shocking,” Malhotra said. “It was no surprise. I think the union as a whole, we’re in far better shape than we were in the past—the unity that we have, the education we have as a whole, and the way that information is being passed around. So I guess there’s a general sense of ... no one really flew off the handle. No one got too wrapped up emotionally. We knew it was coming.”
3. Cue more clever commentary from the players, per the Sporting News’s Jesse Spector:
“It’s a long process,” said Vancouver Canucks center Manny Malhotra. “So instead of getting wrapped up emotionally and going off the handle, it makes far more sense to be educated in what they’re trying to propose and understanding in great detail, to make sure we know what to counter with.”
Wednesday was the first of three straight days of bargaining sessions at NHL headquarters, and the union is still deciding how it wants to respond to an offer from the league that was reported to cut the players’ share of hockey-related revenue from 57 percent to 46 percent.
“I think everybody’s expecting us to say how upset and disappointed we were in there, but it’s a negotiation,” said New York Rangers forward Brandon Dubinsky. “That was their starting point.”
Eight years ago, when negotiations broke down, the league broke the union. Following a cancelled season, the NHL won just about every major point, from the institution of a salary cap on down the line. After years of chaos at the end of Bob Goodenow’s reign as union chief, followed by short stints under Ted Saskin and Paul Kelly, the NHLPA has rallied around Fehr, with improved communication throughout the ranks. If the NHL’s first proposal was a trial balloon to gauge the NHLPA’s reaction, and more than one observer felt it was, the league got its answer on Wednesday from the 15 players who attended the negotiations.
“I don’t know if it was a test or it wasn’t a test,” Dubinsky said. “I’ve been in a couple of these, and this is the most players that we’ve had. So I think that the players are together, and I think that we all want to play hockey this year.”
That is what everyone wants, including the leaders of each side in the negotiations. Some of the most expansive comments from the poobahs were about making sure that the 2012-13 NHL season opens, as scheduled, with games in four cities on Oct. 11. The current collective bargaining agreement expires on Sep. 15.
“We just wanna find a way to make this right, between the players and the league, and I’m confident that we’ll do that,” Dubinsky said. “There hasn’t been any hostility or anger or anything like that in the meetings that we’ve had. It’s all been cordial and informational and just about the two sides taking the information from one another, and trying to work toward one common goal. And that’s making a deal that we don’t lose any hockey.”
4. The chairman? Well, he’s impatient, as you might expect, per NHL.com’s Dan Rosen:
“I’m focused on making a deal,” Commissioner Bettman said after a collective bargaining session with executives, legal counsel and players from the NHLPA that lasted a bit longer than two hours. “I’m not even exploring right now what we might or might not do on Sept. 15. That’s not something we’re focused on. We’re focused on getting a deal done before the current Collective Bargaining Agreement expires.”
In comments after the meeting adjourned Wednesday, NHLPA Executive Director Donald Fehr said business can be conducted normally after the deadline even without a new CBA in place.
“The law doesn’t require that the industry shut down if you don’t have an agreement,” Fehr said. “Somebody has to choose to shut it down. At the moment I see no reason to do that on the players’ side. Hopefully they won’t either.”
Prepare the laugh track:
Commissioner Bettman led the NHL’s group, which included deputy commissioner Bill Daly, senior vice president of player safety and hockey operations Brendan Shanahan, Minnesota Wild owner Craig Leipold, Boston Bruins owner Jeremy Jacobs, Toronto Maple Leafs president and general manager Brian Burke, and legal counsel.
That legal counsel likely consists of Bob Batterman and some of Proskauer Rose’s best attorneys…
“There is a relatively short window based on when the Collective Bargaining Agreement expires and based on when the union was prepared to begin negotiations,” Bettman said. “But, having said that, we’re devoting as much time as the union wants in this process and we’re going to work very hard to work it through.”
Fehr confirmed that in the League’s initial proposals they have asked for the players to reduce their share of revenue, which is currently 57 percent.
“They have asked for a reduction in the players’ share,” he said.
5. So what will the NHLPA do going forward? move prudently, as they told the New York Times’ Jeff Z. Klein…
Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist said: “Well, there’s so many question marks. You know there’s a lot of numbers, but it’s still hard to know exactly what it means. That’s why we need more information before you can evaluate. But yes, everyone’s paying attention,” he continued. “It’s our future. It’s important for everybody.”
Fehr said the meeting’s purpose was “for them to give us a more detailed explanation of the proposal they made last Friday.” He said it would take some time before the union made its own offer.
“We’re not to that stage yet,” Fehr said. “We will make our own proposals — whether it’s a counterproposal to something they said or something of our own — when we’re ready, after we have fully digested what they’ve done, are sure we understand it, have had all the discussions with them we need to have and have had all the internal discussions we need to have.”
One potential offer the union could make involves a significant expansion of revenue sharing among the clubs as a way of shoring up the finances of troubled teams.
Bettman denied that the owners’ initial offer was confrontational. “I’m not buying into the characterizations,” he said.
“We made some proposals,” Bettman said. “They’re proposals that we believe need serious consideration for us to move forward. This deal will ultimately be made across the table, as it needs to be, and we’re going to work at it very hard to do this as quickly as possible,” he said.
6. Sportsnet’s Michael Grange is doing a fantastic job of covering these negotiations, and while he suggests that the sides are on different planets in terms of their expectations, this NHLPA supporter is nothing less than impressed by the PA’s refusal to panic:
Fehr and the players have said little directly with regard to the owners’ opening position, which includes measures like cutting the players’ share of hockey related revenue from 57 per cent to 46 per cent; adjusting HRR so that the pool of shared revenue was smaller; pushing back free agency, limiting contract lengths to five years; eliminating salary arbitration and signing bonuses and extending entry level contracts from three years to five.
“We expected that kind of offer to come across the table,” said Vancouver Canucks forward Manny Malhotra, who was one of 15 players at the bargaining session. “But we’re learning this is a very long process and this is the beginning step in the negotiations of where we need to get to …. it’s not really a shock.”
It’s not an offer that will be palatable to the players in that form, though the furthest Fehr would go Wednesday was to say “the overall reaction to that kinds of reductions contemplated ought to be obvious.”
Not so obvious is what the players can do from here, though some clue was provided when Fehr said that the players didn’t make a counterproposal and may not make one at all. Instead they may simply ignore an offer they feel beneath them to carve their own path and give the owners their own vision of what the NHL should look like.
“At the appropriate point in time we’ll make our own proposal,” Fehr said. “Whether it’s a counter to this or something fundamentally different.”
7. And, as the Hockey News’s Ryan Kennedy suggests, if the owners are indeed driving negotiations, they are anything but united:
“The bigger problem is between the have and the have-not owners,” said the ex-exec. “That’s going to be Gary’s biggest challenge.”
We all know the owners got the CBA they thought they wanted in the last labor dispute, then gave their GMs the company credit card to sign huge deals that flew in the face of fiscal sanity. And of course Minnesota Wild owner Craig Leipold has been raked over the coals for crying poverty and then turning around and signing Zach Parise and Ryan Suter to deals that added up to nearly $200 million overall. But it’s those teams that barely peek over the cap floor that are griping the most. As the former exec noted, there are a lot of teams right now way under the new floor of $54.2 million (based on a $70.2 million cap for next season) and they’re not scrambling to sign up talent in the way a team like the Florida Panthers did last summer. The Cats brought in a slew of talent and weren’t afraid to spend dollars on free agents such as Ed Jovanovski and Scottie Upshall, while also taking on Brian Campbell’s big contract in a trade with Chicago. But right now, even Detroit is technically under the floor (Nashville needs to spend at least $13 million, though Shea Weber will take up a good chunk).
One of the tenets raised in the NHL’s first offer was the clawing back of hockey-related revenues that players receive from 57 percent, where it currently stands, to 46. That will most likely get negotiated down, but for the ex-exec, the question of revenue sharing rears up here.
“Say it’s 50 percent,” he said. “Where does that other seven percent go? Is it divided between every team, or just the bottom 10?”
To be sure, there are franchises losing money. For me, I’ve never denied that – I just don’t really care. My philosophy has always been that people buy hockey teams for reasons other than profit. These are largely multi-millionaires and billionaires who were really good at something else – oil and gas, big pharma, media – and used their corporate genius to buy a fun toy. But obviously they don’t see it that way.
“At some point you have that moment in the shower where you say, ‘why am I spending (i.e. losing) $25 million to be a hockey fan?’” the ex-exec said. “Plus, you’re competitive. This is a group of people who aren’t used to defeat.”
The former exec’s two cents involve the cap floor, which right now is tied to the ceiling by about $16 million. For the have-not teams, the increasing “ante” to be in the league is what’s straining their finely tuned financial spidey senses. For example, the floor during the first capped season in 2005-06 was just $23 million – that’s $31 million less than what it will be for 2012-13.
“If the floor was lower, you wouldn’t have so many problems,” he said. “There’s not enough players to get teams up to the floor right now.”
And there’s some irony in the fact that while the PA probably doesn’t like the concept of lowering the floor as it would guarantee the players less revenue overall, by suggesting that the floor should be lowered, if only to reduce escrow payments, is something that Gary Bettman would despise given his desire for pure “parity” between teams, but it’s something that smaller-market owners would heartily welcome.
As we witnessed regarding Bettman’s somewhat half-baked realignment proposal, the man can shove nearly anything toward the Board of Governors and receive a majority vote, but with the NHLPA being much more intent upon reshaping the revenue-sharing system to make it more effective, the players may have more in common with the owners than they’re ready to admit, and one wonders whether some sort of meaningful first NHLPA proposal might cut into the Board of Governors’ lock-step compliance with anything Chairman Mao suggests is in their best interests.
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