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Haggerty: Things just got real with the NHL labor situation

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Haggerty: Things just got real with the NHL labor situation

Most with an understanding of the NHL labor issues both overt and underlying expected this moment to arrive.

That didnt make it any more disheartening when the NHL and NHLPA both decided to take a recess from CBA negotiations at the end of this week with no further discussions scheduled. Both NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman and NHLPA Executive Director Donald Fehr addressed the media after a brief 90 minute bargaining session, and it sure sounded like the two sides were stuck-fast at an impasse.

Perhaps most interesting of all, each side charged the other with calling for the break in the talks with nothing officially scheduled after the Labor Day weekend.

We have advised the commissioner and Bill Daly that the players and staff will be in New York for the next two weeksand therefore we are available to continue meeting, said Fehr. But at this point the talks are recessed. We will not be discussing these issues again unless or until there is word from the NHL that they are ready to continue. Hopefully that will be soon.

Of course there are still two weeks before the Sept. 15 date when the previous CBA officially expires, and an agreement up until then means the NHL regular season goes on unaffected.

But Bettman stood firm to the NHLs latest meaningful and significant proposal the league claims would give the players back upwards of 400 million in prospective salary while making it close to a 5050 split between the owners and players.

Of course Fehr and the players dont see it that way at all. Theres the rub.

During this period and this is a good thing the league has had record growth. I believe there have been record revenues every year, or virtually every year, with a big revenue jump in each of the last two years, said Fehr. Given those things the players overall feeling has been that they are not prepared to and dont feel its appropriate to see an absolute further reduction in their aggregate salaries.

The owners have the salary cap system that they want and that incorporates already large reductions in players salaries. Then the question is if there are further issueswhere do we look for the responsibility in those. The players made a very forthcoming proposal to the owners in an effort to find an agreement by limiting salary growth to a specified dollar amount over the next three years. The theory is that the player concessions in the first three with revenue growth could allow the NHL to grow their way out of whatever problems they perceive that they have.

The NHLPA contends the second proposal moved their percentage of Hockey Related Revenue (HRR) as its currently defined -- from 43 percent to 46 percent.
Thats still an 11 percent drop from the players current 57 percent slice of the revenue pie. Thats also roughly 363 million in salary the NHL wants back in their pocket books while dropping the salary cap to 58 million to reset player salaries back to what they were in 2008-09.

Under the NHLs latest proposal the NHL salary cap, 16 teams over that amount scrambling to dump salaries and essentially turn back the hockey clock with clubs like the Bruins and Flyers in serious cap trouble. The NHL is essentially looking for a do over after their owners handed out lengthy, exorbitant contracts to superstar players including the Minnesota mega-deals to both Zach Parise and Ryan Suter earlier this summer.
Some might call that cold-hearted business, and others would call it incredibly disingenuous for a league to approve contracts it knew wouldnt be sustainable under a new Collective Bargaining Agreement.

Bettman essentially told the players theres nothing to talk about if theyre not willing to go along with the cost-controlled main objective from the league, and Fehr was adamant about revenue sharing as a viable alternative to slashing player salaries.

Instead Bettman calls the revenue sharing thats insulated all Major League Baseball franchises a distraction and says its got nothing to do with the leagues objective to reduce the NHLs player payroll amount.

There was no counter-proposal or new proposal from the players. There was some discussion of revenue sharing and I dont even know why because that doesnt address the fundamental business issues. We dont believe that revenue sharing fully addresses the issues that we feel need to be addressed, said Bettman. The union was clear on the economics where we moved 460 million on Tuesday that theyre not ready to move anything at all. We both agreed that when one of us has something to say that well pick up the phone.

Were not going to respond further with a proposal based on their non-movement within the economics. We believe we should be paying less to the players. We believe that 57 percent of HRR is less than we should pay.

Bettman wouldnt give reasons why the league should be paying less to the players but its clear the NHL is attempting to help out the 8-10 teams that are losing money each season. Its also clear the owners are looking to cash in more fully with the NHL on the verge of its biggest profit boom in the sports history.

Theyre hoping to create league-wide health with their hard line stance, and line their own pockets at the same time.

The mere fact the NHL watched a record 3.3 billion in revenue stream into their coffers last season betrays that they already hold the solution for their lesser franchises fiscal problems.
Something just seems fundamentally wrong about a league thats broken revenue records nearly every season since their last lockout, and now wants employees to take a haircut on their payroll. Beyond that the two sides cant even come to an agreement on the length of a new deal: the NHLPA wants a four-year deal and the NHL wants something in the six or seven year deal.

Its as if the NHL and NHLPA are speaking different languages, and they dont seem willing to invest in a translator. One thing is pretty clear from fan feedback: the court of public opinion is strongly and squarely on the side of NHL players that have already admitted they are ready to make sacrifices in order to preserve the health and well-being of the game they love.

A Pro Hockey Talk poll of fans showed that the NHL ownersBettman have little support from the ticket-buying customers.

The fans dont like Bettman or the NHL owners, and they dont trust them either. Its a dangerous game the NHL Board of Governors is playing while continuing to push a loyal fan base that already boos Bettman at every Stanley Cup ceremony with vitriolic luster.

At some point the fans wont come back, and theyre not buying what Bettman and Co. are selling right now on any level.

The NHLPA is looking for a partnership with the NHL to preserve franchises like Phoenix, New Jersey and Florida that seem to perennially find themselves under water financially. Bettman and Co. are still treating it like its a dictatorship and that the players will ultimately bend to their will once things get real in October.

Gordon Gecko found out at the end of Wall Street that perhaps his Greed is Good mantra wasnt all its cracked up to be. Unfortunately the NHL may find the same if they go through with their third work stoppage in the last 18 years that now seems inevitable.

Brutal loss shows Bruins reaching their limit for injuries

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Brutal loss shows Bruins reaching their limit for injuries

BOSTON – It feels like the Bruins might finally be hitting their critical mass with all of the injuries in the first few weeks of the season.

The B’s were down Tuukka Rask, Adam McQuaid, Kevan Miller and David Krejci as the new injuries Saturday night and clearly missed those players, along with the others currently out with injuries in a 5-4 overtime loss to the Buffalo Sabres at TD Garden. The Bruins had a three-goal lead in the second period and a two-goal lead in the third but frittered away both while allowing the hapless Sabres to outshoot them 21-6 in the third and overtime.

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Anton Khudobin battled his rebound control for most of the game while facing 42 shots on net but it was the absence of Miller and McQuaid in the D-zone that made it a little too easy for Buffalo to push Boston when it mattered late.

Torey Krug was on the ice for the last three of Buffalo’s goals and was out penalty killing late in the third period in a spot where he would never have been in if the B’s were healthy on the back end.

“That’s where the appreciation comes in for the Kevan Miller’s and the Adam McQuaid’s of the world. They’re not always flashy, but in those instances, they’re money. They get it done. And that’s why they are paid to get it done,” said Bruce Cassidy. “So yes, we miss them. But, last week we missed other players. So the guys that are out there, it’s up to them to get it done, right?

“It didn’t happen tonight, and hopefully we learned from it and can be hungrier the next time. There’s not much else to analyze that. That was it. Someone had to play in that situation. We pick guys who we figure would get the job done, and it didn’t work out for us. Next time, we’ll keep working at it.”

As part of the injury factor, there are also players that are banged-up and back in who are also clearly not back to full strength. Patrice Bergeron (lower body) and David Backes (diverticulitis) are both back from their early-season issues and Krug continues to play with a healing fractured jaw, but all three key players combined for just a single assist and three shots on net in a game that featured nine goals.

Krug was the most noticeable weak link in the loss as he was overwhelmed in the D-zone on the game-tying goal when an Evander Kane shot bounced on him on its way into the goal. Krug was down on his stomach after losing his balance while battling in front of the net. Krug then was out for an extended period in OT before bumping a Sabres player around the crease who fell into Khudobin just as Ryan O’Reilly was pushing the game-winning goal past him.

Krug spoke on Saturday morning about feeling like things were starting to come together for him but he finished a minus-3 against the Sabres with his big, bad teammates out with injuries. He's a startling minus-8 after the first two weeks of the season.

“Obviously we have to do a better job tonight. Two-goal lead in your own building, it’s got to be the hardest place for the opposing team to come in and overcome that. We’ve got to be better,” said Krug. “I thought I had an opportunity to win a battle in the corner on that loose puck. Just trying to swat away and all of a sudden it comes out the other side, and we just couldn’t overcome. That’s survival mode. “Especially when they were able to make changes like they were. We just got to stay calm, composed, and make sure we’re not getting beat one-on-one. We obviously managed it for a while, but we just couldn’t get the puck back.”

It was also clearly about Khudobin, who had a big chance to put the Bruins team on his back with Rask out with a concussion. The Russian netminder made 37 saves and at times looked energetic and ready to battle between the pipes but at other times couldn’t make the clean save that the Bruins needed in order to get a whistle and calm things down. In OT, Khudobin couldn’t make a clean glove save on a Rasmus Ristolainen tester from the high slot that would have allowed the Bruins to get some tired players off the ice in the 3-on-3 OT.

Instead, Krug, Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak were out on the ice for 2 minutes, 15 seconds and eventually got beaten on O’Reilly’s play that took the puck straight to the Boston net. Cassidy called it an “erratic” night for Khudobin when they needed calmer, more poised play from their goaltender and that was clearly a reflection of the Black and Gold missing Rask.

“[Khudobin] was erratic. He battles. We love that about him. He battled to the end. [He] certainly made his share of saves. We need to be better in front of him,” said Cassidy. “But there were times that, there were fires that needed to be put out [on plays] that shouldn’t have been necessary. But that happens sometimes.

“[There were instances] in the third period, plus overtime, where we needed to calm the game down. Whether it’s a face-off, even right before the overtime goal, we had opportunities to get possession out of that pile. They came out with it. And that’s what I said. They were hungrier than us. Late, they won more pucks. If we win that puck out of that pile, we might not be talking about losing. Maybe we get out of trouble and it goes our way. We’ll never know.”

Maybe things would have gone the Bruins way if they had more of their walking wounded back and contributing. Instead, it feels as if the B’s are being tested with new, damaging injuries with each passing day. A number of those had a direct impact on a brutal loss to the Sabres on Saturday night. One has to wonder if there are more of those coming until the Bruins can start stabilizing their medical situation. 
 

Pastrnak on B's loss: "We kind of stopped playing"

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Pastrnak on B's loss: "We kind of stopped playing"

BOSTON – At the end of the day, it was simply a game where the Bruins allowed themselves to get outworked in the third period and overtime. 

The B’s held a three-goal lead in the second period and still enjoyed a two-goal lead in the third period, but eventually dropped a frustrating, futile 5-4 overtime loss to the Buffalo Sabres at TD Garden on Saturday night. It was clear to most speaking after the game that the Bruins eased up on the gas pedal once they’d scored their fourth goal of the game in the second period, and simply watched as the Sabres stomped all over them in the game’s second half. 

“I think we might have been a little bit too scared to play [in the third period], you know? We tried to just flip the pucks away, and didn’t make any plays trying to get it in the zone. Instead we should have just kept going like we did in the first two periods,” said David Pastrnak, who scored a pair of goals early in the loss to allow the Bruins to build up the three-goal lead. “Obviously we’re disappointed. We got one point. I think we didn’t play our game in the third period. We kind of stopped playing and they were all over us, and you know, it’s on us. We were the ones that gave them their point, but the first two periods were good. It’s just another learning session.”

To Pastrnak’s point, the Bruins were outshot by a 15-6 margin in the final 20 minutes of regulation and 21-6 overall in the third period and overtime prior to Ryan O’Reilly’s game-winner during 3-on-3 play. It was at this point the Bruins certainly missed stalwart stay-at-home defensemen Adam McQuaid and Kevan Miller in the D-zone, and fell short of qualified penalty killers while trying to burn off a Brandon Carlo interference call at the end of the third period. 

All of that caught up to them once the Bruins loosened their grip on the Sabres, but certainly the feeling is that the loss should’ve been avoidable even if some of the circumstances made it difficult for the Black and Gold. It also should have been avoidable against a Sabres hockey club that was dreadful last season, and is again one of the doormats in the Atlantic Division in the early going thus far. 

“Those are the games you can’t lose. We obviously didn’t do the job there in the third and close it out, but we’re going to have to regroup and work on our game and be better for the next one,” said Brad Marchand. “We didn’t play the game we needed to play. We relaxed a bit and we started losing a few battles in the wrong areas, and you know, they just played better than we did.”

It’s mystifying that any team would need a crash-and-born loss like Saturday night in order to learn any lessons moving forward, and it certainly might have been a different story for the Bruins if they weren’t missing a few big defensive pieces. But that’s not how it went down for the Black and Gold as they sagged under rising pressure from the Sabres, and simply stopped working when the chips were on the table late in Saturday night’s game.