Once again, little progress made in NHL negotiations


Once again, little progress made in NHL negotiations

The NHL and NHLPA finally continued formal negotiations in New York City Wednesday, but an hour-long discussion among the four power players in the talks Gary Bettman, Bill Daly, Donald Fehr and Steve Fehr yielded little progress.

The sides are supposed to engage in a full day of talks on Thursday, but once again they wont be hitting on the core economic issues of the lockout. Instead theyll continue discussing things like player safety, ice surfaces, and which side is responsible for picking up the tab for additional trainers placed on each teams medical staff.

In other words, the kinds of things that wont come close to getting a new deal done.

As long as the NHL and NHLPA clash over the basics of economic outlay for the 2011-12 season, all negotiations are merely perpetual laps around a track. According to multiple sources with knowledge of the proceedings, the NHL has essentially said theres no reason to speak about core economic issues until the players are ready to absorb pay cuts for next season.

That means the players would have to agree to less than the 1.87 billion slice of the Hockey Related Revenue pie they earned last year, and also means the salary cap ceiling would drop across the league.

The message continues to be that theres nothing to talk about until the players are willing to give back from their contracts, said one source with knowledge of the proceedings. Until it changes its difficult to see how there could be a deal, and there isnt going to be any NHL.

The NHLPA is refusing to budge off the 1.87 billion figure earned by the players last season and its not difficult to see why. How would Fehr explain to his players they need to take an 18-20 percent cut in salary when the 30 NHL owners are swimming in 3.3 billion of hockey revenue earned last season?

Meanwhile the NHL has cancelled the first 14 days of the regular season already, and that amounts to 6.8 percent of a player's annual salary. Two more 14-day cancellations and the owners will have their 20 percent worth of salary cuts. Even at that, theres a pretty good chance the league could still get in a 70-plus game schedule starting in November if there was a sudden settlement.

Clearly the NHL owners put up the money for the business and should reap the profits since they assume all of the risk. Its difficult to argue that point. But the Board of Governors is going to need to make the first move if a middle ground is to be found.

The NHL started the negotiations by submitting an initial proposal that was punitive at best and draconian at worst, in both sharing revenues and restricting player contract rights.

The NHLPA made a pair of proposals following the leagues first "offer", with a fair amount of thought and compromise built into the proposals. The NHL responded to the unions efforts with what it called a meaningful counteroffer less than 24 hours later, but it was one that barely budged from its first proposal.

It probably made Bruins owner Jeremy Jacobs nod approvingly, but it did nothing to make the players feel like this was a good-faith negotiation.

Give the NHL credit because they did the savvy PR thing and sent out a token offer that allowed them to say they put in the final offer on the table, said the same source. But there was very little movement in that second offer, and really very little effort to try and get a deal done.

So now the sides are essentially ignoring the most important gulf between them and are focusing on little details in the hopes that the momentum of agreement on minor points will carry over into the bigger issues.

Perhaps the NHLPA has some willingness to create an escrow account that will link some of its revenue share into continued growth of the league. But Fehr isnt going to show those cards while Bettman is sitting on a straight flush hand with the most cloying poker face in North America.

In simple terms: It appears the NHL is standing pat and waiting to see what concessions it can get from the players (more years until free agency, escrow or salary rollback, the abolition of arbitration etc.), while the NHLPA is hanging together waiting for a big escrow check from last season. That escrow will tide the players over and help them pay their bills in the short term.

It all continues to point toward little to no progress on a new deal until the calendar hits November. At that point the NHL owners making money in the current system will want to start playing games, and the players will be hard-pressed to sustain their current lifestyles without NHL-sized paychecks.

Many people look at Europe as a threat to the NHL if players enjoy their time overseas, but the reality is most players are banking next-to-nothing in salary after paying hefty insurance costs on their NHL contracts. Shawn Thornton, for example, cant find work in Europe because hed have to pay thousands of dollars out of his own pocket to play due to high insurance rates.

What if there is no serious middle ground reached by November?

Then the NHL will begin making noise about cancelling the entire season and perhaps threaten to carry things over into next year, as well. The NHLPA will call for a end to the salary cap -- which it hates, but which the owners claim is the foundation for the league's economic survival -- and that will complicate negotiations ten-fold.

There is still hope because the negotiations havent turned into a staring contest for three months, like they did in 2004-05. But if those two doomsday hammers get brought to the bargaining table, then the NHL is in deep, deep trouble.

Only five games into season, Bruins already sending off bad vibes


Only five games into season, Bruins already sending off bad vibes

LAS VEGAS -- Even though it's only five games into a new regular season, it feels like the Bruins are in danger of going off the tracks.

They finished their three-game Western road swing Sunday with an aimless 3-1 loss to the expansion Golden Knights, which came on the heels of a wretched defeat in Colorado and a victory over the winless Coyotes. Sunday was particularly disheartening, as they never tested their ex-goalie, Malcolm Subban, putting only 21 mostly harmless shots on net against a player they gave away on waivers just a few weeks ago,

They may only have three losses in five games, but it sure feels like there's trouble starting to brew in Bruins land.

“It could be a lot of different things,” said Brad Marchand about the loss to Las Vegas. "We may not have been as mentally prepared for that game as we thought we were. They wanted it more than we did. They out-battled us in a lot of areas and they were the better team. We were making it hard on ourselves. We were trying to do too much with the puck, and not directing enough of the pucks toward the net. You can’t get rebound and you can’t get bodies there if the puck isn’t going there.”

That is a lot of different things. A lot of different problems:

-- They couldn’t fight to get to the front of the net against a rugged Vegas defensive group that was going to make them battle to get there.

-- Once again they had too many passengers along for the ride, with both Ryan Spooner and Frank Vatrano failing to even be a blip on the game’s radar screen. Spooner suffered a lower body injury midway through the game, but while he was out there he was a non-factor once again. 

-- It felt like there was no flow at all to Boston’s game, with breakouts dogged by sloppy passing and players who weren’t hard enough on the puck.

-- When they did get a chance to create something they either missed the net with their shot, or opted not to even take the shot in the first place. 

-- They lost 67 percent of the 57 draws taken during the game, and saw Spooner, Riley Nash and David Krejci and Ryan Spooner go a combined 8-for-29 in the face-off circle.

-- They chased the puck for long stretches and certainly didn’t ever put together anything approaching a consistent, driving pressure in the offensive zone.

Missing stalwart veterans like Patrice Bergeron and David Backes certainly isn’t helping. It makes the Bruins a much smaller group up front that can be pushed around by bigger, stronger defensive units.

But even so, there’s a sense the Bruins can’t consistently bring their 'A' game to the rink with them and don’t seem to have much fight when they fall down by a couple of goals. Trailing by just two goals going into the third period, the Bruins had four shots on net for most of the final period until a late flurry produced a score by David Pastrnak.

Perhaps of more concern, though, is the growing feeling that the Bruins aren’t all on the same page.

Marchand vaguely referenced that the Bruins weren’t prepared to play Sunday, and Tuukka Rask said he’ll no longer comment on anything except his own goaltending. Rask has always been candid and willing to be frank about any shortcomings after Bruins losses, but it appears that’s not something that is any longer welcome inside the B’s dressing room.

“I just try to go out there and give us a chance to win every night. That’s what I’m focused on,” said Rask. “I’m not going to comment anymore on team play that much. We can just talk about goaltending. That’s just the way it is. Sorry.”

Meanwhile, Krejci was similarly short in his postgame thoughts and started talking about avoiding pointing fingers after a frustrating loss.

“There’s no reason to point fingers," he said. "Yeah, we lost a game and it was a frustrating loss. But it’s just the fifth game of the season, so we don’t need to make a big deal out of it. We’re going to back to Boston, we’re going to work hard in practices and we’re going to get ready for the next game.”

Clearly, the fact this stuff is coming to the surface just five games into the season is a cause for concern. But it makes sense, given the way the Bruins are letting an easy portion of the season slip through their fingers.

In their first 10 games of the year, they're facing only one team that made the playoffs last season and they've got plenty of spaced-out stretches in the schedule to get off to a strong, healthy start. Instead they’re losing to subpar teams and highly unproven goalies, and doing so with a real lack of energy or purpose on the ice.

Certainly management would be smart to think about shipping underperforming players like Vatrano back to the AHL in place of Peter Cehlarik or Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson. And a few more games like Sunday’s snooze-fest could advance trade talks for a player like Matt Duchene.

But there aren’t going to be any easy answers. It comes down to hard work and hunkering down together as a team, and Sunday’s pitifully inept loss in a very winnable situation was yet another sign the Bruins aren't even close to being there yet.


Spooner, McQuaid injured in Bruins' loss to Golden Knights


Spooner, McQuaid injured in Bruins' loss to Golden Knights

LAS VEGAS -- The Bruins are already missing a handful of players to injuries, and they may have lost a couple more in Sunday’s loss to the Vegas Golden Knights.

Ryan Spooner was knocked out in the second period with a lower body injury, and Adam McQuaid was lost in the closing seconds of the third period when he was hit by a Colin Miller rocket from the point in his leg. McQuaid had to be helped to the dressing room after staying down on the ice for a few long moments, and the hope is that it’s the same kind of mostly harmless “dead leg” hit that allowed Kevan Miller to bounce back immediately from his Friday incident in practice.

McQuaid was spotted up and walking around in the visiting dressing room area postgame, so hopefully it’s nothing serious with one of the few Bruins giving everything he has on the ice each and every night.

Spooner finished with just eight shifts and 6:42 of ice time while failing to generate much offense, and went 1-for-4 in the face-off circle before getting shelved for the rest of the game. He just has a single point and is a minus-3 in four games this season and is once again has been pretty hard to notice on the ice during 5-on-5 play. It perhaps wasn’t a huge loss for the Bruins, given how much Spooner has been struggling to find baseline consistency, but the Bruins can’t continue to sustain injuries to their center men without those missing bodies beginning to take a toll.

The Bruins already have Paul Postma on hand if they take any injuries on the back end, but any more losses up front could mean the B’s dip into Providence where Peter Cehlarik, Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson and Kenny Agostino are all off to hot offensive starts.