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A grim update on the NHL lockout

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A grim update on the NHL lockout

From Comcast SportsNetDie-hard hockey fans might need to invest in some classic NHL games on DVD.It might be the only taste of hockey for months.There's no telling when the NHL lockout will end, especially when neither the league nor the NHLPA has committed to face-to-face negotiations to end the labor unrest. There were no formal talks Sunday on the first day of the lockout, the league's fourth shutdown since 1992, including a year-long dispute that forced the cancellation of the entire 2004-05 season when the league successfully held out for a salary cap.And there are no formal talks planned.The league issued a statement to fans on its website that it was "committed to negotiating around the clock to reach a new CBA that is fair to the players and to the 30 NHL teams."The clock is ticking and there's no new collective bargaining agreement in sight. The league could start to announce this week the cancellation of preseason games and there's little chance training camps will open on time. The regular season is scheduled to begin Oct. 11, but that obviously is in peril.Day 1 of the lockout could serve as a preview for the next several cold months: Empty rinks, empty talk."This is a time of year for all attention to be focused on the ice, not on a meeting room," the league said. "The league, the clubs and the players all have a stake in resolving our bargaining issues appropriately and getting the puck dropped as soon as possible. We owe it to each other, to the game and, most of all, to the fans."Pittsburgh's Sidney Crosby, Chicago's Jonathan Toews and Colorado's Gabriel Landeskog were among the players participating in an NHLPA video to fans that was posted on YouTube. With black-and-white photos of each player as a backdrop, they talked about how much the game meant to them, and thanked fans for their support."We understand the people that suffer the most are the fans," Crosby said.Some players won't wait for labor talks to pick up -- they've already packed up.As of Sunday morning, all NHL players were free to speak to other leagues. Many will land in Russia's KHL, and two big names already signed. Pittsburgh center Evgeni Malkin and Ottawa defenseman Sergei Gonchar agreed to deals with Metallurg. More will surely follow.Malkin, a 26-year-old center with the Penguins, is the NHL's reigning MVP. The 38-year-old Gonchar is a defenseman who helped lead the Senators to the playoffs last season.Although the club provided no further details of their contracts, it said that they would comply with KHL regulations on signing NHL players during the lockout. Under these rules, KHL teams can sign a maximum of three NHL players above their limit of 25.The KHL also sets the ceiling for the salaries of NHL players at a maximum of 65 percent of what they earn under their NHL deals. Malkin has two years and 16.5 million remaining on his deal with Pittsburgh. Gonchar has one year and 5.5 million left with Ottawa.Philadelphia Flyers defenseman Kimmo Timonen and forward Scott Hartnell are part owners of a team in the Finnish league. Timonen, a father of three children, said it would be hard to immediately consider playing overseas unless the entire season was wiped out. But Timonen returned to his native Finland to play in 2004, and clearly understands why some young players are interested in finding a roster spot in Europe."A lot of young guys are asking if there's a spot to play," he said. "I'm sure our team can take a few of the guys, but not many."Many of the players, 25 years and younger, could end up in the AHL, the NHL's primary minor league. No matter where they play, the players are prepared for a lengthy wait to return to the NHL.The core issue is money -- how to split a 3.3 billion pot of revenue. The owners want to decrease the percentage of hockey-related revenue that goes to players, while the union wants a guarantee that players annually get at least the 1.8 billion in salaries paid out last season.While the NHL lockout might not destroy the whole season -- like in 2004-05 -- a sizable chunk of games could be lost without any productive talks on tap."I'm sure we will remain in contact," NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly said. "But there are no negotiations planned or scheduled at this point."Teams are prepared for the likelihood the season will not start on time. And so they are making economic plans on several fronts. At the end of each month, for instance, the Buffalo Sabres will refund any games that are canceled by the NHL.The Minnesota Wild, meanwhile, fresh off a free-agent spending spree that landed them forward Zach Parise and defenseman Ryan Sutter, will send out ticket policies on Monday."We support the league's position and trust our NHL negotiating team is looking out for the long-term interests of the game," the Wild said in a statement. "Even as NHL games may be missed, the Wild will continue to support the great sport of hockey at all levels through our grass roots partnerships with amateur hockey associations."Minnesota defenseman Steven Kampfer was fired up to report for training part in part to see what it would look like to have those prized free agents -- Parise and Suter -- in uniform to ignite a franchise that missed the playoffs last season."It was going to be really exciting to see our lineup with those two acquisitions," Kampfer said. "I guess we'll just have to wait a little longer."Parise and Suter signed on the same day in July as the Wild made a statement to the rest of the league that they wanted to be true players in the Western Conference. But that will have to wait."It's a frustration situation to go through because you never want a work stoppage," Kampfer said. "But we're trying to fight for what's fair for both the owners and players. Everybody wants more money. The owners want to keep more of their profits and the players want their fair share of the profits. As players, we have full confidence that (NHLPA executive director) Donald Fehr will do his job to get us the best deal that he can."For now, most teams seem to be stable financially. The cancellation of games may change that, but for the time being, the panic button has not been pushed. Penguins spokesman Tom McMillan, for example, said the team has no plans on layoffs "at this time."In jeopardy are some key dates on the calendar: the New Year's Day outdoor Winter Classic at 115,000-seat Michigan Stadium between the host Detroit Red Wings and the Toronto Maple Leafs; and the Jan. 27 All-Star game hosted by the Columbus Blue Jackets, one of the league's struggling small-market teams.The Blue Jackets put out a statement Sunday supporting the league, but did not mention the All-Star game."The league, the clubs and the players all have a stake in resolving our bargaining issues appropriately and getting the puck dropped as soon as possible," the team said. "We owe it to each other, to the game, and most of all, to the fans."NHL players struck in April 1992, causing 30 games to be postponed. This marks the third lockout under Commissioner Gary Bettman. The 1994-95 lockout ended after 103 days and the cancellation of 468 games."Like any partnership, you want both sides to benefit," Crosby said in the video. "I think that's the case here. As players we want to play."But we also know what's right, what's fair."

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Wizards GM reset: Blazers' Neil Olshey, Warriors exec potential targets?

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Wizards GM reset: Blazers' Neil Olshey, Warriors exec potential targets?

The Washington Wizards remain without a President of Basketball Operations since firing Ernie Grunfeld April 2. While several candidates met with owner Ted Leonsis, including Denver’s Tim Connelly, the pursuit continues though largely in silence.

The vibe coming out of the organization is that of patience even with the fan base growing restless as the June 20 NBA Draft looms and prospect workouts starting a week or so out.

There have been no reports of candidate interviews since Washington met over the weekend with Connelly. Speculation and logic have the Wizards considering candidates beyond the previously reported group already brought in for interviews.

We can connect some dots and land on one executive whose team is still in the playoffs: Golden State assistant general manager Larry Harris.

As for the rumor mill, one name stands out: Neil Olshey.

Numerous sources told NBC Sports Washington of the Wizards’ interest in Blazers President of Basketball Operations, the architect behind the Portland squad that reached the 2019 Western Conference Finals.

Before we explain both scenarios, one more thought on Connelly specifically the pursuit and big swing.

While Connelly wasn’t the first candidate meeting, it’s clear the Wizards waited for him. The 54-win Nuggets were eliminated from the second round of the playoffs May 12. Connelly flew to Washington for a meeting with Wizards owner Ted Leonsis five days later.

The Baltimore native sincerely weighed a contract offer from the Wizards before choosing to remain in Denver, sources told NBC Sports Washington.

The Wizards previously interviewed former Hawks general manager Danny Ferry, Thunder assistant general manager Troy Weaver and Wizards interim front office leader Tommy Sheppard.

While all three are considered credible candidates, none is an active GM or team president. None represents a big swing, the kind Leonsis hinted he would pursue in his first comments after dismissing Grunfeld.

“One thing I will say: I think this is the best job in sports,” Leonsis said. “I don’t think we’re going to have any issues in attracting really, really great people.”

Olshey, 54, began running Portland’s front office in June of 2012. Over the next 12 months, he drafted guards Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum and hired head coach Terry Stotts. The quartet created the culture that fueled the current streak of six consecutive playoff appearances.

The 53-win Blazers advanced to the franchise’s first WCF appearance since 2000 before losing the series to Golden State 4-0.

It's uncertain the level of pursuit for Olshey from Washington, but the Wizards could face another uphill climb trying to lure the proven executive considering the similar contractual and team success to Connelly's situation. 

The general interest in Olshey began several weeks back, but the Wizards had yet to ask the Blazers for permission to interview Olshey as of Wednesday according to a source. Portland's season ended Monday with the Game 4 loss to Golden State. 

Olshey agreed to an extension in 2017 that carries his contract through the 2020-21 season. Sources believe he is open to considering other options including Washington after seven years with the Blazers.

Reporting from Portland has the franchise likely to be sold following the 2018 passing of team owner Paul Allen. 

Lillard received All-NBA honors Thursday and with it a supermax extension for four-years, $191 million dollars. If offered and signed, the contract would put constraints on Portland's salary cap structure.

As for Harris, the former Bucks GM joined the Warriors in 2008 as an assistant coach before eventually moving into the front office. He was named assistant GM in 2016.

ESPN reported Harris interviewed for the Pelicans opening in April before the NBA Playoffs began.

Note the familiar names. Gersson Rosas, who subsequently became the Timberwolves President, also interviewed with the Wizards.

The connection with the Wizards and Pelicans is Mike Forde, an outside consultant who helped both teams during their respective searches.

It’s no leap imagining Forde pushing the Wizards to meet with an executive who just spent the past five years in the NBA Finals (The Bucks never finished above .500 in five seasons with Harris, however). Waiting could mean until after Game 4 of the NBA Finals (June 7). Going the full seven games means June 16.

Another front office headliner still in the postseason is Toronto’s Masai Ujiri. NBC Sports Washington previously reported Ujiri showed interest in Washington. Expectations of high salary demands and compensation from the Raptors for their President of Basketball Operations stunted any serious movement, according to a source.

For now, Sheppard runs the show. He led the Wizards’ contingent at last week’s NBA Combine in Chicago. As for Ferry or Weaver, as of Wednesday it was considered unlikely either heard from Washington since the organization ramped up the pursuit of Connelly or learned of the Denver executive's decision, according to sources familiar with the situation.

 For now, all anyone on the outside can do is wait patiently just like the organization and see which name bubbles up next.

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'I started to realize that I’m not broken': Steve Smith opens up about mental health and depression

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'I started to realize that I’m not broken': Steve Smith opens up about mental health and depression

Former Carolina Panthers' star receiver Steve Smith spoke in front of a crowd of over 400 people at the fifth annual Wake up for Wellness breakfast that was sponsored by Mental Health America of Central Carolinas.

The 16-year veteran and current NFL Network analyst touched on the importance of seeking help for bouts with depression and spoke of battles that he has faced with the disease.

“On the outside you’ll see a tough exterior. But on the inside, I’m just broken or I believe even more broken than the average man. ... Because when the stadium goes dark and the cheers stop, you’re still looking for that pat on the back,” Smith said. “Throughout my whole career, I struggled with that.”

Smith discussed that in the beginning, he was so concerned about the stigma regarding mental health, that he opted for the professional to meet him for housecalls, and as time passed he realized the importance of speaking up.

“I started to realize that I’m not broken,” he said. “I’m not being sent back to the manufacturer ... I get up every morning and figure it out.”

Smith's comments on the issue came to light just a day after the NFL and NFLPA announced new legislation that focuses on mental well being.

The newly formed Comprehensive Mental Health and Wellness Committee will develop programs for members of the NFL in addition to collaborating with local and national mental health and suicide prevention organizations. Each team will be mandated to retain a Behavioral Health Team Clinician for assistance that will be required to be available to players at the individual team facilities for at least 8-12 hours per week and must conduct mandatory mental health education sessions for players and coaching staff.

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