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Fragile talks, optimistic reports and a tale of two sweaters

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Gary Bettman at CBA press conference

Once again, CBA negotiators thought it best to try to shake the media hounds off their trail. (Mary Altaffer/AP)

By Stu Hackel

NHL and NHLPA negotiators went at it again as the lockout hit 88 fun-filled days. Federal mediators have returned to the process as well, and that can’t be a bad thing as long as both parties really want to reach a deal. If one does not, or insists there is no room for compromise, all the king’s men won’t be able to put a CBA together.

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  • Published On Dec 12, 2012
  • NHL’s owners-players meeting stirs hope and cynicism

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    Boston Bruins owner Jeremy Jacobs

    The gorilla in the room: Boston Bruins owner Jeremy Jacobs (right) is a lockout hardliner who some observers fear will make progress impossible at CBA talks even without Gary Bettman and Don Fehr present. (Elise Amendola/AP)

    By Stu Hackel

    In this corner, meet the six owners who will sit at the bargaining table on Tuesday: Ron Burkle (Penguins), Mark Chipman (Jets), Murray Edwards (Flames), Jeremy Jacobs (Bruins), Larry Tanenbaum (Maple Leafs) and Jeff Vinik (Lightning).

    In that corner: Uhhhh….

    Who will be in the players’ corner? That’s a tricky question. TSN says Sidney Crosby and Jonathan Toews will be in New York, but it’s not confirmed that they’ll be at the talks. Yahoo’s Nick Cotsonika tweeted, “A number of players will be in New York tomorrow. Before the meeting with the owners, they will decide who will attend.” So we wait to find out officially who the NHLPA will select to represent it in this unusual session of these CBA talks to end the 79-day lockout, this time without each side’s lead negotiators, Gary Bettman and Don Fehr.

    Will the union want to mirror the composition of the owners team with some hardliners, some who are more moderate and some who are less interested in principle and want to play now? Will it want players who work for the owners on the other side, like Sidney Crosby sitting across the table from Burkle? Will Marty St. Louis go face-to-face with Vinik while Ron Hainsey pairs up with Chipman, and someone from the Bruins, Andrew Ference perhaps, chats with Jacobs?

    Or maybe the PA would want six enforcers on its side of the table. Can you imagine George Parros, Kevin Westgarth and Paul Bissonette staring down Jacobs and Edwards? That might be fun.

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  • Published On Dec 03, 2012
  • Hard bargaining ahead on owners’ new CBA proposal

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    NHL lockout

    The players have been warned that the NHL’s latest offer contains some serious shortcomings. (Mary Altaffer/AP)

    By Stu Hackel

    UPDATE: Thursday’s collective bargaining session in Toronto has ended with NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman expressing disappointment at the lack of progress. The NHLPA reportedly offered three alternate proposals, none of which were deemed acceptable. A new post on today’s talks will be up a bit later this afternoon.

    The first response from the NHLPA to Tuesday’s new offer by the NHL has been made public and anyone who believed that what the league has proposed — which you can read here — would lead directly to riotous cheers from the players and a quick deal is bound to be disappointed.

    After a meeting by the union’s negotiating committee during which the proposal’s details were evaluated, NHLPA executive director Don Fehr sent a letter to membership and agents outlining the problems. Bob McKenzie of TSN got a copy and you can read it here.

    The two sides will reconvene talks on Thursday afternoon in Toronto. A number of observers are calling this a critical make-it-or-break-it session which may determine whether we have a season or not, but that may be an overstatement, unless what is meant is a full 82 game season. A shortened season remains a possibility. No one on the owners’ side has said what is on the table is a final offer and, in fact, some have reported the NHLPA will make a counter proposal today.

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  • Published On Oct 17, 2012
  • NHL’s storm before the CBA calm

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    By Stu Hackel

    Yes, it’s wonderful imagery, but don’t expect a mob of angry professional hockey players to pick up torches, pitchforks, clubs and ax handles, march to whatever hotel the NHL Board of Governors gathers in on Thursday and demand they be allowed to report to training camp. Still, the twin meetings scheduled for this week in New York City could feel like the storm before the calm.

    The troops from both sides of the NHL’s class war are set to mass in the Big Apple. Around 300 players will arrive for Wednesday and Thursday discussions while a parallel meeting of the NHL owners convenes on Thursday. Part strategy sessions, part pep rallies, they’ll all be talking about the expiring CBA, why the stance they’ve taken is right for them, perhaps come up with some last-minute directions to their negotiators, and provide some sense of what to expect when the clock strikes midnight on Sunday morning…after which a whole lot of nothing could break out. At least in the near term.

    UPDATE: Negotiations resume Wednesday in New York. And here’s video from TSN on the talks.

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  • Published On Sep 11, 2012
  • NHLPA gears up for CBA talks

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    By Stu Hackel

    The NHL Players Association has gathered in Chicago this week to prepare for what many think will be a contentious negotiation with the league’s team owners on a new collective bargaining agreement. Those talks seem set to begin at week’s end. On Montreal’s TSN Radio 990 Monday, Bob McKenzie called the PA get-together, “The last big rally before they officially get underway,” and it certainly seemed like that on Monday with about 50 players, including Jonathan Toews, Alex Ovechkin, John Tavares, Shea Weber, Shane Doan, Alex Burrows, David Backes and Jamal Mayers attending.

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  • Published On Jun 26, 2012
  • Kings and Devils thrive in Game 2s

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    The Kings were able to keep Ilya Kovalchuk in check in Game One. (Andy Marlin/NHLI via Getty Images)

    By Stu Hackel

    After an underwhelming opening night performance by both teams, the stakes have suddenly gotten quite high for Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Final. Two opposing trends will be on the line when the teams face off in Newark on Saturday evening.

    The Kings have taken a 2-0 series lead on the road in each of the three rounds they’ve played so far. Their Game 2s have been strong outings all spring.

    The Devils, conversely, have lost the first game in the last two series they’ve played and come back to win the second and the round. They say they are quite comfortable being down 0-1 and they’ve played well in their Game 2s.

    Both trends can’t continue. One will end on Saturday and that should have a lot to do with the course this series takes. A win by L.A. in this one will send the Kings back home for the fourth straight series with a chance to make this one a quick affair and hoist the Cup on home ice.. A win by New Jersey could at least mean that what many prognosticators expected, that we’re in for a six- or seven-game series, will indeed ensue.

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  • Published On Jun 01, 2012
  • NHL tries to restore order

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    Refs seem to have rediscovered the idea that sending a player to the box and leaving his team in a potentially costly penalty-kill is one of the best ways to curb on-ice mayhem. (Mark Goldman/Icon SMI)

    By Stu Hackel

    Perhaps Wednesday will go down as the day the NHL regained some control over the Stanley Cup playoffs and did it in the most logical manner – having the referees call penalties rather than “let the boys play.”

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  • Published On Apr 19, 2012
  • Will NHL’s Spring of Shame continue?

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    Blackhawks star Marian Hossa was hospitalized by a dangerous illegal headshot of the kind the NHL has been trying to eliminate, not a fight or a clean, hard check. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

    By Stu Hackel

    What threatens to become the NHL’s Spring of Shame continued on Day 7 of the Stanley Cup playoffs when Marian Hossa was stretchered off in the first period of the Coyotes-Blackhawks game on Tuesday night, the result of a clearly illegal but unpenalized hit by multiple offender Raffi Torres. It was the lasting image on another compelling night of playoff hockey and it overshadowed all else, just as each daily episode of brutal play has done.

    This has to be viewed as a crisis for the NHL. The league was prepared to make this its greatest playoffs ever, especially in the U.S., with NBC and its family of channels pumping every game of every series into homes for the first time. But what will likely be remembered by its growing audience is not the best hockey of the year, but perhaps the most barbaric. Who knows what that will mean in the long run? More on that later.

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  • Published On Apr 18, 2012
  • Mayhem reigns in Stanley Cup playoffs

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    By Stu Hackel

    After watching too much go too far during the last five days, I think it should be obvious to anyone who has any sense of proportion that the Stanley Cup playoffs are out of control. There have been head-rammings, sucker punches, maulings and ambushes, all of which is apart from the more commonplace vendettas, elbows, crosschecks, spearing, charging, knee-to-knee shots and line brawls that we’ve come to expect each spring.

    This isn’t just hard hockey. It is, as one of the sport’s prominent personages called it during the first phone call I got on Monday morning, “a disgrace.”

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  • Published On Apr 16, 2012
  • Weber’s attack deserved suspension

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    Shea Weber’s value to the Predators enabled him to escape serious punishment for his reckless act in Game 1 vs. the Red Wings. (Mark Humphrey/AP)

    By Stu Hackel

    Earlier this week, I spoke with a friend who is employed in hockey and heard him grouse about some of the pre-playoff stories he’d read in the media. He singled out Michael Farber’s essay on this site along with some others, and complained that they shifted the focus from the purely competitive part of the game, the Xs and Os, to the specter of how a concussion or two might impact the tournament.

    “The Concussion Lottery, 2012,” Comrade Farber called it as he pondered the vast uncertainty and the timing of when and for how long marquee players might be lost to their clubs due to brain trauma. A team could be lucky like the Penguins and get stars such as Sidney Crosby and Kris Letang back for the playoffs, or unlucky like the Flyers and lose Chris Pronger for the duration. It’s a crapshoot, as so much of the playoffs can be.

    My friend, who is a very bright man, wanted to make the point that we pukes in the media just love to take the focus off the game and smash the NHL at every opportunity.

    Well, after watching Shea Weber use Henrik Zetterberg’s head to test the firmness of Nashville’s plexiglass in Game 1 of their playoff series last night, hearing a number of commenters justify and excuse this deranged attack, and then learning that Weber was only being fined $2,500, it occurred to me that if the NHL was truly serious about punishing unhinged behavior like Weber’s, perhaps we pukes wouldn’t be so rude as to actually write and talk about it.

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  • Published On Apr 12, 2012


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