Random midsummer thoughts on the NHL, while pondering whether Commish For Life Gary Bettman can coax along a collective bargaining agreement and avoid what would be a third lockout since he took office Feb. 1, 1993:
■ I get that CBAs have an expiration date. And I also get how all parts are connected in collective bargaining agreements. I just don’t get why the two sides (in all sports) have to run down the clock before agreeing how to divvy up the goodies in what is a very robust business — revenues $3 billion-plus. The current CBA was implemented out of Lockout II, which had everyone finally back on the job in October 2005. If the deal needed to be groomed or amended, why not have both sides begin working on significant issues after, say, two or four or five years? Smart, reasonable, visionary leadership on both sides (again, in all sports), shouldn’t need the dread of an expiration date (Sept. 15 in this case) to run a business effectively. Players should demand more of their union bosses. Owners deserve better from their leadership. Hockey is a sport that deals with transition every second of the game. As a business, all the players involved, in both uniforms and suits, fail miserably at governing a working document they often refer to as a marriage. Seems they only get around to caring about, understanding, and working on that marriage when they’re on the steps of divorce court.
■ Tim Thomas went Facebook again on Thursday, boldly stating that he backs Chick-fil-A ownership’s view on marriage, all relating to the flap connected to the fast food company’s desire to open a restaurant near Boston City Hall. Stretch. Yawn. Rub eyes, then stomach. Personally, I was hoping to read Thomas’s musings on free pop refills and those scrumptious waffle fries. A day prior to the Thomas Facebook update, Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli said he had not talked with Thomas for weeks, dating to the goalie’s decision to back out of the pipes for a while, possibly retire. According to Chiarelli, a few clubs have inquired what the Bruins would take in trade for the veteran stopper. All those clubs, said Chiarelli, are those who have yet to reach the projected salary floor for 2012-13, which is approximately $54 million. “But nothing is close on that front,’’ noted Chiarelli. “I suspect some might circle back with me, once we know more about the CBA.’’ If Thomas remains out of pads, the Bruins won’t have to pay the $3 million he is due in 2012-13, but at the moment they would have to count his $5 million cap hit on their books for the upcoming season.
■ Let’s see, Minnesota ponies up $98 million each for free agents Zach Parise and Ryan Suter. Nashville follows that by matching Philadelphia’s gargantuan restricted free agent offer, $110 million over 14 years, to keep franchise defenseman Shea Weber from bolting to Broad Street. All that while Bettman and Donald Fehr, the players’ top negotiator, are waltzing around the Pay Pole in hopes of striking a new CBA — one the owners contend needs a drastic overhaul to scale back player remuneration. Meanwhile, the Jets would like to get their star, Evander Kane, under a new deal worth $29 million over six years. Fine, Kane is not in the Parise-Suter-Weber pay category, but a $29 million deal sure looks almost ECHL-like when other guys are barreling down the aisles in their version of Supermarket Sweep. I’m not going to say the market is bloated, because owners pay what they can afford, linked directly to the fans’ price tolerance for seats. But I am going to say that the Parise, Suter, and Weber deals were prime examples of gross cap circumvention, and that bit of subterfuge is where the owners most need relief. Which means, once again, they’ve got a bigger issue with themselves than they do with the CBA.
■ Dougie Hamilton is big (6 feet 5½ inches) and getting bigger — he’ll report to Bruins training camp at around 205 pounds and his eventual NHL/adult weight should be around 220. Not to drop too much of a load on a 19-year-old’s shoulders, as broad as they may be, but he will enter the picture as the most intriguing backline prospect seen in the Hub of Hockey since Gord Kluzak in 1982 and Ray Bourque in 1979. For that vocal minority of Boston fans who keep banging the how-come-Chiarelli’s-not-doing-anything-this-summah? drum, it’s because, in part, he is about to bring a stud defenseman on line and the core talent up front has proven it can score effectively, at times abundantly. Let’s see what Hamilton can add to that package. If he shows initial signs that he can be as dynamic as projected — his impact in back equal to or better than Tyler Seguin’s up front — then this could be some kind of fun around here. Meanwhile, Hamilton and possibly fellow Boston draftee Malcolm Subban will head to Russia next month with a bunch of stars being groomed for Team Canada’s world junior squad. The Bruins obviously hope that it’s only added conditioning for Hamilton, whom they would prefer to have on their varsity roster when the world junior tournament plays out around Christmas and New Year’s. Games for the upcoming challenge series will be Aug. 9-10 in Yaroslavl and Aug. 13-14 in Halifax, Nova Scotia.
Decisions must be made
As of July 1 next year, provided the Bruins don’t get around to extending contracts before then, a number of core players will become restricted or unrestricted free agents.
Included in the group (with current cap hit):
RFAs — Milan Lucic ($4.1 million); Tyler Seguin ($3.5 million); Brad Marchand ($2.5 million), Jordan Caron ($1.1 million), and Tuukka Rask ($3.5 million).
UFAs — Nathan Horton ($4 million), Andrew Ference ($2.25 million), and Tim Thomas ($5 million).
“It’s a good point, whether we should go ahead with some of these guys,’’ said GM Peter Chiarelli. “It’s something we are debating right now. Among the things we have to consider, of course, is what happens to the CBA — we don’t know the next system.’’
All of the deals could be extended immediately, save for Rask, who just recently, and surprisingly, signed only a one-year deal.
“A compromise,’’ Chiarelli characterized the one-year pact for Rask, who is projected as this season’s No. 1. “We tried to go longer in term, but . . . ’’
But Rask, represented by Chicago-based Bill Zito, clearly wanted a better payoff than, say, the three-year, $12 million that Cory Schneider inked in Vancouver. The guess here was that Rask would come in around a $4.3 million average over three years, with payouts of $3.3 million, $4.3 million, and $5.3 million. Now, with $3.5 million his base, both sides must wait until Jan. 1, 2013, if they want to add any term to the deal.
Rask, no doubt, will take out a substantial insurance policy prior to training camp. Only 25, he’ll want to protect against the loss of years of future earnings if he were to be injured on a deal that pays him from October into April.
Luongo isn’t long gone yet
Almost August, and Roberto Luongo remains a member of the Canucks. What gives? With new deal in place, Bobby Lu’s as good as gone. But GM Mike Gillis, the former Boston forward, has shown little urgency in making a deal — perhaps focusing more on whether he can add Shane Doan to his forward mix (a focus of at least a handful of other clubs). Potential lead suitors for Luongo include the Maple Leafs and Blackhawks, both of whom can accommodate his reasonable $5.33 million cap hit (through 2021-22). The total nut, $53 million worth of cap hit, is where it gets a bit sticky, especially for a 33-year-old who sometimes needs his tires pumped.
Better but not back
Recent tweets by the oft-concussed Marc Savard have had the veteran pivot sounding his best in months (based on 140 characters or less, of course). He has made note of his improved golf game and his fiancee. That said, the working assumption along Causeway Street is that Savard, who turned 35 on July 17, isn’t on the verge of a hockey comeback. For now, he remains a $4 million cap hit. Combined with Tim Thomas’s $5 million, theoretically that’s $9 million available in “loose’’ cap space that GM Peter Chiarelli could massage if a prime free agent were to become available or a trade had the Bruins taking on added salary. But as of now, based on what Chiarelli said last Tuesday upon announcing Claude Julien’s contract extension, the roster as constituted is the one that will report to Wilmington to begin camp.
While Canada and Russia square off next month in their challenge series as a prep for the world junior tournament, the Yanks will do the same at Lake Placid, with Sweden and Finland again each sending their best and brightest. The USA camp opens Saturday and wraps up Aug. 11 with a USA-Finland matinee. Charlestown’s Matt Grzelcyk, picked 85th overall by the Bruins in last month’s draft, is among the 46 invited to the red-white-and-blue camp. Ex- of Belmont Hill and the National Development Team, the 5-foot-9-inch Grzelcyk will start his college career at Boston University in September. The world junior tournament this season runs Dec. 26-Jan. 5 in Ufa, Russia.
The two Bruins other GMs most often ask about in trade proposals with Chiarelli? “[Dougie] Hamilton and [Tyler] Seguin,’’ he said. “But to be honest, they’ve stopped asking.’’ . . . Clubs known to be in on the Doan bidding include Pittsburgh, Vancouver, Philadelphia, the Rangers, Montreal, Detroit, and San Jose. Oh, and Phoenix, which is where the 36-year-old Doan would prefer to stay and play, but the Coyotes’ ownership transition has left him with an uncertain future in the desert. He’ll likely get a four-year deal, or at least the value of a four-year deal ($25 million?), but with cap circumvention the standard practice he could get it averaged out over, say, seven or eight years . . . Now that Rick Nash is a Ranger, don’t be surprised to see the Blueshirts make a real play for Jumbo Joe Thornton. Nash and Thornton were magic together in Davos, Switzerland, during the last lockout, and have paired like hand and glove in the Olympics for Team Canada. Thornton would have to allow the Sharks to make the deal, but it’s probably a good time for him to go. He has played 1,077 games — 545 with the Sharks, 532 with the Bruins. Still without a Cup . . . The Senators on Friday bought out Bobby Butler’s contract, the UNH grad still young enough (25) that they were able to cut him free for only $400,000, a two-thirds reduction of the $1.2 million he had coming this season. Signed out of Durham as a free agent in 2010, he played 56 games last season, collecting six goals and 16 points . . . Best of luck to Kelly Mohr (a.k.a. KelMo), who on Thursday wrapped up a four-year stint in the Bruins’ media relations department and is trading in hard ice for the more flavorful, creamy stuff at Ben & Jerry’s in South Burlington, Vt. Tough loss on Causeway Street, and a great addition on the PR staff for the folks who gave us the flavor Don Cherry Garcia . . . Now five years after the Bruins traded Hannu Toivonen for him, still no promise that Swedish center Carl Soderberg will be here for his first training camp in September. Now 26, the 6-3 pivot hinted earlier this year that he might finally be ready to take a stab at the NHL, but headed into the weekend Chiarelli had yet to hear confirmation that he’ll be here next month. Soderberg played for Linkoping in the Swedish Elite League last season, collecting 35 points in 42 games . . . The current CBA has players skimming a hefty 57 percent of the gross take (a bit over $3 billion), and the owners’ proposal has that scaled back to 46 percent — a shift of about $330 million ($11 million per team). The players have yet to make a formal counterproposal (maybe this week). Don’t be surprised to hear them say they think the owners can do a far better job with revenue sharing. And they would be correct.