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Haggerty: NHL, NHLPA need encore to optimistic weekend

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Haggerty: NHL, NHLPA need encore to optimistic weekend

There appears to be a wide-held notion the NHL owners are about to pack up their hockey nicknacks and call it a season because their Winter Classic cash cow has now been slaughtered.

On its face that might hold some logic with a National Hockey League that wont be enjoying the benefit of the doubt on collective bargaining anytime soon. But its actually had quite the opposite effect.

The NHL used the long-range marketing, advertising and planning needs required for a logistically imposing event like the Winter Classic as an excuse to whack the Jan. 1 outdoor hockey game, but its not nearly that simple. The league could have pushed things back until the Nov. 15-20 range before truly being forced to cancel the New Years Day game. But that wasn't the plan in the Bob Batterman "How to run a lockout" playbook.

Instead the 30 Lords of the Boards used the centerpiece event as a leverage point in CBA negotiations with the NHLPA, and erased the game before the players could wield it as a negotiating hammer against the owners.

Interestingly enough the cancellation of the Winter Classic opened things up for both sides to have open, frank discussions about a wide range of topics on Saturday night. Bill Daly and Steve Fehr, the No.2 in command for the NHL and NHLPA respectively, met at an undisclosed location for a wide-ranging conversation, and according to one source met continuously for 13 hours until long after midnight had passed on Sunday morning.

Thats by far the longest face-to-face meeting thats taken place during this CBA negotiation and indicates that a number of different subjects and concepts were broached in much greater detail. In other words two sides probably had to agree on a few things if they were chewing the fat for 13 hours.

That means inclusion of the make whole provision so important to players that want to be paid to the letter of their current contracts, and that means a drop to a 5050 split in Hockey Related Revenue between the owners and players. The middle ground on those two doesn't seem all that difficult to attain given where the players and owners currently stand, and it doesn't figure to be a very gnarly negotiation once the two sides begin trusting each other even a little bit.

The players know the two sides are slowly crawling closer to an agreement, and pushed their union leadership to get back into the negotiating room after an NHLPA conference call to action last weekend. Thats the kind of ripple of concern that can flow through the NHLPA rank and file when the NHL blows up their most beloved midseason event.

The Winter Classic cancellation left the players with the belief that the entire season could be cancelled in December, and that Gary Bettman was just crazy enough to do it again for the second time in eight years. So it appears that strategy might just have worked for the league.

Interestngly enough, however, the NHL is enacting one of several contingency plans for a shortened season, and looks poised for a 64-game shortened regular season set to begin on Dec. 1. The expectation is that a shortened schedule would also include a reduced travel schedule where Eastern and Western Conference teams dont play any non-conference opponents in the 2012-13 regular season.

That's a blow to some Western Conference teams that enjoy some of their largest crowds when the Bruins, Canadiens, Maple Leafs, Flyers and Rangers come to town, but that's also the reality of a shortened season.

Stay seated for the next part.

There are even some wild whispers in the hockey world that some kind of Winter Classic could be reinstated after the fact once a CBA is completed. It might not be the Red WingsMaple Leafs game on the University of Michigan campus that was supposed to take place on Jan. 1, but could instead pit a pair of popular American teams to be announced in an outdoor event cobbled together in the month plus leading up to the Jan. 1 date.

Think about it: the NHL and NHLPA would be given credit for both saving the regular season and finding a way to save the Winter Classic if they can utilize Saturdays gathering momentum to broker a deal. That's a nice little reward for a union and league that have been behaving pretty badly toward each other since the LA Kings hoisted the Cup.

Much of the current bad mojo and harsh words directed at the NHL will be long forgotten if the NHL can still produce a 60 plus game regular season, a suitable Winter Classic and a full Stanley Cup postseason that manages to resolve before July. A long conversation between Daly and Fehr on Saturday night is a nice start to those things becoming reality, but it now needs to be matched by a pair of adversarial groups intent on closing a deal.

The NHL will need to bring Gary Bettman, Bruins owner Jerry Jacobs and some of his hawk brethren willingly into the mix, and the Fehr brothers will have to find a deal that over 700 disparate NHLPA members can agree on.

Neither is an easy task, but at least theres some traction in the talks for the first time in weeks. Daly and Fehr have built the groundwork for this weeks discussions and theyll expand things with another face-to-face negotiation session on Tuesday in New York City. That's one of the few known details and that's a very good thing.

One of the really encouraging signs of negotiations over the last few days is that very little information has leaked out from either side of the aisle. That's usually when one knows things have gotten serious in the CBA negotiations.

Instead both the NHL and NHLPA finally appear intent on making a deal rather than winning the PR war, and that means a new CBA should be in the offing within the next few weeks provided things spin forward.

That seemed almost impossible 72 hours ago, but dont ever underestimate two negotiating parties that are finally seeing the light. There was optimism for the first time in weeks after the Saturday's late night DalyFehr meeting, and theres nobody but the NHL and NHLPA to blame if they cant somehow build on all of it now.

Even in their struggles, Bruins have reason(s) to be thankful

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Even in their struggles, Bruins have reason(s) to be thankful

Thanksgiving in the United States has become an important holiday in NHL circles because it provides a regular-season marker that allows teams to gauge their playoff viability. Roughly 75 percent of teams in a playoff spot at Turkey Day end up qualifying for the postseason, and teams within a handful of points of a playoff spot retain a pretty decent chance of pushing their way in. 

But Thanksgiving is also a great time for teams like the Bruins to also give thanks, just like everybody else, while they’re passing the turkey, the stuffing and the mashed potatoes.

Given that it’s the time of being thankful ahead of the holiday season, here is this humble hockey writer’s annual list of things that each member of the Bruins has to be thankful for as they sit down to enjoy a tryptophan-induced nap:
 
David Pastrnak – The 21-year-old is still thankful for the big bucks he signed for this fall . . . $40 million, to be exact. That should keep him in $8 sushi meals at the mall food court for as long as he wants them.
 
Brad Marchand –Marchand is thankful he finally got bumped up to the top power-play unit over the last couple of seasons, after Claude Julien really dragged his feet putting him there. Eleven power-play goals and 29 power-play points in his last 94 games certainly tell the story.
 
Patrice Bergeron – Bergeron is happy and thankful that he’s regained his health after missing the start this season, and that he’s been able to adequately handle the 21:01 of ice time he’s averaging per game.
 
Torey Krug – Krug is thankful he can again eat a nice steak dinner after being forced to have his food come out of a blender for months after fracturing his jaw during the preseason. Of course, that goes for a nice turkey dinner on Thanksgiving as well.
 
Danton Heinen – The 22-year-old is thankful for second chances after he whiffed during an eight-game audition last season in his first year of pro hockey. He’s making up for it by cementing a role with the Bruins this season now that he’s stronger, faster and a little more confident with the puck.
 
Charlie McAvoy – The 19-year-old defenseman is thankful he decided to leave BU after his sophomore season, making the very correct deduction that he was way more than ready for the NHL. If he plays his cards right, he may be thankful at the end of the season for a Calder Trophy.
 
Anders Bjork – The rookie is thankful that the B’s will be playing the Chicago Blackhawks in the Winter Classic at his alma mater, Notre Dame, next season. He may get to live out a lifelong dream of playing a hockey game on that iconic football field.
 
Jake DeBrusk – The rookie left winger is thankful that he got to score his first NHL goal in front of his family and his teary-eyed dad, Louie, during a pretty cool opening-night win over the Nashville Predators.
 
Tim Schaller – The New Hampshire native is thankful to be playing for his hometown hockey team, of course, but he’s more than just a local boy made good. Tim Schaller has been a positive factor for the bottom-6 with his size, speed and intermittent offense.
 
Zdeno Chara – The captain is thankful that both he and his employer agree that the 40-year-old D-man should continue playing for the Bruins beyond this season. Now it’s just a matter of agreeing on a contract at some point.
 
David Krejci – The playmaking center is thankful his cranky back has loosened up enough for him to get back in the lineup. Now the Bruins and their fans would be thankful if the points would start to follow now that he’s healthy enough to play.
 
Riley Nash – The forward is thankful that the B's thought enough of him to protect him in the expansion draft last summer, a show of commitment to a versatile, smart player who does a lot of little things well.
 
Sean Kuraly – The young center is thankful that he hasn’t yet hurt himself taking the jumping, flying and leaping goal celebrations that he’s quickly becoming known for.
 
Kevan Miller – The defenseman is thankful he’s back playing his natural right side for the most part after being pushed into left-side duty for much of the first couple of months this season.
 
Brandon Carlo – The second-year defenseman is thankful to still be on the Bruins, and not used as possible trade collateral in a possible Matt Duchene deal that was discussed quite a bit last year and through the summer.
 
Jordan Szwarz – The 26-year-old forward is thankful for another NHL opportunity in Boston after he’d gone a couple of years without a sniff during his time in the Arizona Coyotes organization after some early games with them.
 
Frank Vatrano – The Bruins forward and East Longmeadow native should frankly be happy that he’s still in the NHL given the training camp and early season he had with the Bruins. He’s scored a couple of goals and played well lately, so he has to hope that he’s pushed through the bad times.
 
Noel Acciari – The Providence College alum is happy to be healthy again after missing a month with a broken finger, and he’s proven that by going right back to the heavy hitting, shot-blocking tough kid that he’s always been.
 
Ryan Spooner – The speedy playmaker is thankful to be over his torn groin. He needs a strong season in order to once, and for all, show exactly what he could be to the Bruins, or some other team, at the NHL level.
 
Adam McQuaid – The veteran defenseman is thankful that he wasn’t selected by the Vegas Golden Knights in the expansion draft last summer, and instead continues to be a strong, robust presence in the D-zone when healthy.
 
David Backes – The 33-year-old forward is thankful to be back skating again after a couple of painful  bouts with diverticulitis that left him in surgery with 10 inches of his colon being removed. I'm still amazed that he returned to practice as quickly as he did, but he is a hockey player after all.
 
Paul Postma – The  D-man is thankful to be getting a second chance with another organization after spending his entire career with the Atlanta Thrashers/Winnipeg Jets.
 
Matt Beleskey – The winger is thankful that he’s getting a chance to bounce back from last year’s down season, but so far the zero points and minus-7 rating in 13 games leave lots of room for improvement.
 
Tuukka Rask – The No. 1 goaltender is thankful for all the rest he’s getting in the first half of the season, which should presumably make him healthy, fresh and strong down the stretch this season. That is, if he can actually get back in touch with a game that sees him with a turkey-like .897 save percentage right now.  
 
Anton Khudobin – The backup netminder is thankful he’s been given a chance to run with things this season as he’s already twice had a chance to start three games in a row after struggling to gain regular playing time last season.
 
Bruce Cassidy – The coach is thankful for another shot behind an NHL bench 13 years after the first one, and he’s making the most of it with a rag-tag group beset by injuries and youth right now.
 
Don Sweeney – The general manager is thankful the team is still within a handful of points of a playoff spot after everything that went wrong in the first couple of months.
 
Cam Neely – The tean president is thankful for the overwhelming talent within their youth movement and the strong, loyal fan base that backs this team no matter what. But it could be a bit of a rough ride ahead, as the B's rank fourth among the big four Boston sports teams, given how good, deep and close to championship-caliber the others are right now. 

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Celtics' cup has runneth over so far this season

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Celtics' cup has runneth over so far this season

BOSTON -- The Boston Celtics are no different than the rest of us. They have a lot to be thankful for.
 
There’s the usual good health, family and friends. But they have a few more things to be thankful for, as well.
 
So as you take a brief time-out today from the turkey, stuffing and cranberry sauce, here’s a look at five things the Celtics are thankful for this season.


 
KYRIE IRVING
 
The Celtics have had some solid players in recent years, but the addition of Kyrie Irving was a game-changer. He provides Boston with an unmistakable superstar who has a proven track record of success on all levels -- he's won an NBA championship and an Olympic Gold medal, and is also a four-time All-Star. Did I mention he’s just 25 years old?


 
AL HORFORD
 
His numbers will never adequately measure the impact Horford has had on the Celtics. The big plus with Horford was him simply agreeing to be a Celtic. For years this franchise has been built on the success of developing draft picks or trading for talented players. But rarely have they had the financial flexibility or, to be frank, the kind of appeal to free agents to go out and acquire a proven All-Star like Al Horford. His arrival has enhanced an already-established winning culture, one that has become a player on the free agency market ever since.


 
DANNY AINGE
 
Other than Oklahoma City’s Sam Presti, it’s hard to imagine another front office executive having as good an offseason as Ainge. He rolled the dice to go down two spots in last June’s NBA draft, and wound up with arguably the most NBA-ready player (Jayson Tatum) among those selected in last June’s NBA draft. (Remember, the likely rookie-of-the-year Ben Simmons did not play last year after Philadelphia drafted him with the top overall pick in 2016.) The free-agent pickups of Aron Baynes, Daniel Theis and Shane Larkin have all had moments where they carried the team to victory. Even second-round picks like Semi Ojeleye and two-way players like Jabari Bird have contributed to wins this season. Fans may not like some of Ainge’s decisions in the moment but he deserves a lot of credit for the team we see today, one that has played at a level few envisioned they'd reach this quickly.


 
BRAD STEVENS
 
And to think, the Big Three (Kyrie Irving, Gordon Hayward and Al Horford) Boston was planning to build around this season has played less than five minutes together. Stevens has been pushing all the right buttons, putting guys in unexpected positions to succeed with a cast that’s long on talent and well, well short on experience. Boston’s first win of the season came at Philadelphia, a game in which the Celtics played six different rookies. It’s not unusual for teams to use first-year players frequently, but for a team that was built to contend for a championship? That’s highly unusual. The biggest thing is despite the lack of experience on the floor, Stevens hasn’t allowed them to use that as a reason to fail. Instead, Stevens has had them lean heavily on film study and the wisdom of veterans, as well as empowered them to have a “next-man-up” mindset with one goal regardless of what they are tasked with doing: Get it done. No excuses.


 
ROOM FOR IMPROVEMENT
 
Boston has spent most of this season atop the NBA standings, fueled in large part by a 15-game winning streak -- the longest of the Brad Stevens era and the fifth-longest ever by a Celtics team. But within that winning streak, there have been some noticeable areas of concern (i.e., bench scoring) that have made games more challenging. And that's what makes these Celtics so scary to the rest of the league. If they’re beating teams consistently now, how much better will they be when the offense catches up or, at a minimum, gains some ground on what has been an impressive stretch of play defensively? That’s why as good as this first full month of the season has been, there's reason to believe they’ll only get better. The Celtiheircs have seen  share of adversity. They've played without their All-Stars. They have fought back from double-digit deficits to emerge victorious. This is a young squad, but battle-tested already. Because of all that, they have a certain level of confidence that regardless of the situation, regardless of the score, they feel they will find a pathway to success. And that, Celtics Nation, is something to be thankful for.

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