Category Archives: HTR Feature Article
The players emerged from the room around midnight and scurried down the hotel escalator past reporters, unwilling to share much, if anything.
The smiles on some of their faces, however, suggested it wasn’t a bad day at all.
As one player would later share via text message to ESPN.com, “There was certainly traction. But I don’t want to say more.”
That cautious optimism — the key word being cautious — was on full display when NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly and NHLPA outside counsel Steve Fehr stood shoulder to shoulder in a joint media availability after the marathon sessions, Fehr calling it possibly the best day in the entire process, while Daly nodded in agreement.
But other than that, both sides were tight-lipped. Like a pitcher working on a no-hitter through six innings, it’s too early to get too excited.
I’d be ready to say this, however: I’m willing to bet there’s a far greater chance of hockey this season than not after Tuesday’s developments.
At the center of this fragile momentum is the presence of the Pittsburgh Penguins, led by reclusive billionaire owner Ron Burkle, who shined brightly in talks Tuesday, according to sources, the players receptive to his tone.
Burkle’s first appearance in labor talks comes at a critical time in the process, with both sides having tried nearly everything else — mediation, large group meetings, small group meetings, etc.
When it comes to lawyers, you must be careful about using the word “offers.” It’s possible no official offers were presented. But, what these two often do is say, “If we proposed this, what would your side think?” or something along that line. So, what you can expect is that Bill Daly and Steve Fehr went through a lot of that, trying to see how far their adversary is willing to go and what really are the cornerstone issues here.
It’s the next meeting that’s going to be critical.
Why? As I checked Sunday morning, there weren’t a lot of details available (if any) to those who were outside the meeting. Over the next 24-48 hours, both the NHL and NHLPA are going to digest what happened and send updates to their constituents. That will determine the true tone of where we are and whether any real traction was made. Once the players and governors get their memos and begin to react, strategy for the next get-together will be shaped.
It’s at this moment both sides will decide how much farther they are willing to bend, if it all. If there’s room for compromise, we’ve got a chance. If there isn’t, we’re in trouble.
The danger is in the toxicity. Make no mistake, a lot of anger remains in the process. It doesn’t take much to ignite those feelings, especially when the lightning rods — Gary Bettman and Donald Fehr — are in the room.
When the Roberto Luongo rumour mill went into full churn, promising Toronto defenceman Jake Gardiner knew who to lean on.
Who better than Luke Schenn?
Wait, a minute, Schenn did get traded.
“Sure, but it took four years,” Gardiner said. “He had rumours from the first time he got to Toronto. He had four years of it.
“I talked to him and he said, ‘Rumours are going to happen. You have to push them off. You can’t can’t ever worry about it.’”
From that point, Gardiner hasn’t, and with good reason.
Since a mid-season sag that saw him sit seven consecutive games in January, there hasn’t been a lot for Gardiner to be concerned about.
Even the rumours have been an ego stroke. The Canucks wanted him in a Luongo trade. His skating and transition game fit Vancouver’s attack like a longboard suits a hipster. The Leafs responded with their position that they can’t possibly give him up.
“I’m happy Toronto wants me, I don’t want to leave,” Gardiner said.
The NHL owners and players may be back at the bargaining table, with the major issue of a 50-50 revenue split complete with fully paying existing contracts in sight, but trouble looms from a couple of surprising groups on each side of the labour divide.
At issue are two changes from the former collective agreement in what goes into the salary cap, in particular the payroll floor. In his last offer, before the previous round of talks broke off on Oct. 18, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said teams would no longer be allowed to count player bonus money on their payroll in order to get to the floor. He also proposed all player salaries above $105,000 (all currency U.S.), even those on a team’s minor-league roster, would now be included under the salary cap.
This alarmed two groups. One is a lot of NHL owners, many of whom were considered moderates, who are not happy that under this proposal they could no longer include on their payroll bonus money that would likely never be paid in order to get to the salary floor, which was $48.3-million in the 2011-12 season. This means they will have to pay real cash to get to the floor, a daunting prospect for clubs operating on razor-thin margins.
The other unhappy group is all of the players in the AHL, who would effectively see their salaries capped at $105,000 under Bettman’s offer. This is alarming because a veteran can make as much as $300,000 on an AHL contract, which is currently not included in the NHL team’s cap payroll.
The unhappy owners may or may not prove to be a breaking point because of an NHL bylaw Bettman smartly instituted before the 2004-05 lockout. While it takes only eight supporting votes from the 30 NHL owners to allow Bettman to reject an offer from the NHLPA, it takes 23 owners to overrule any offer Bettman makes to the players.
No NHL player can be traded during the lockout. But that doesn’t mean nobody is talking trade, or that trade rumours can’t gain life while the players are locked out.
Well, not true. At least not yet.
Yes, the Leafs remain very much interested in securing the services of Luongo, and the talks are very much alive. It’s believed Leaf GM Brian Burke and his Vancouver counterpart Mike Gillis spoke as recently as two weeks ago, at which time the Canucks demands were reduced from the bounty they requested at the draft, but not enough for the Leafs to agree to anything.
At the draft, reports indicated Vancouver asked for centre Tyler Bozak, defenceman Jake Gardiner, a first-round pick and winger Matt Frattin in exchange for the 33-year-old Luongo. The Leafs had no interest in paying that kind of price, largely because there is no significant market for the services of the veteran goaltender.
The Leafs, however, have only James Reimer on their NHL roster, and he’s a goalie in search of bounce-back season himself. So they have a definite need for quality veteran goaltending and the Canucks need to get Luongo out-of-town.
So talks have continued on and off, with Bozak as the centrepiece. Vancouver believes Bozak would be a good fit as their No. 3 centre behind Henrik Sedin and Ryan Kesler. The Leafs might be willing to pay more than Bozak, but how much more is unclear.
The most recent owner’s CBA proposal, meanwhile, may have altered the temperature of talks between the two clubs.
Luongo has 10 years remaining on a contract that comes with a cap hit of $5.33 million per season and expires in 2022. His actual salary is $6.714 million for the next six seasons, including the 2012-13 campaign, but then drops by 50 per cent in the seventh year and to $1 million in each of the final two.
The belief has long been with this contract that he’ll play for six years, then retire, taking the Canucks off the hook for the cap hit in the final four years.