A quick check of the hockey calendar shows that we have a touch less than six weeks to go before the collective bargaining agreement between the NHL and the players’ union gets blown to smithereens Sept. 15.
Pardon the hyperbole, but it’s early August, nearly two months since the Kings won the Stanley Cup, and we here at hockey central are required to deliver such bombast to shake the greenhead flies and melting slush cones from your summer vacation.
Based on last week’s negotiating sessions in New York, little progress has been made in the CBA talks. No surprise there. The union has yet to counter the league’s initial proposal, the one with the ever-so-humble request that players hand back a giant sliver of the revenue pie, reducing their take of hockey-related revenues (HRR) from 57 to 46 percent.
Keep that 11-point spread in mind, because it’s going to be the critical math that influences all of the rhetoric that gets dished out these next few weeks, perhaps months.
In a business that reportedly generated $3.3 billion last season, an 11-point swing in HRR represents a $360 million shift in wealth, from players to owners. And that’s just based on last season’s numbers. If the business were to grow another whopping 50 percent these next seven years — matching its increase since the end of the 2004-05 lockout — then we’re talking an 11-point giveback on a $5 billion business by the end of the 2018-19 season. Take to the bank the fact that not a single NHLPA member will check a box that reads: “Shift $550 million to the bosses’ coffers.’’
The owners want other sizable givebacks and amendments, too, including a 10-year run-up to free agency, the elimination of salary arbitration, five-year entry-level deals, and term restrictions on contracts (no more ridiculous Rick DiPietro/Ilya Kovalchuk/Shea Weber deals).
“It will come as no surprise,’’ union boss Donald Fehr told the media last week, prior to dashing to Europe to meet with players there, “that the players are not enamored with those kinds of limitations.’’
Look, let’s not forget the owners’ posture going into and throughout the 2004-05 lockout. Business was bad. The owners wanted a fixed salary system that set in stone their labor costs, provided cost certainty. Got that. They wanted a 24 percent rollback on existing contracts. Got that. Above all, they wanted a partnership with the stick carriers, one that would grow the game, make it prosper. Got that, with HRR up by more than $1 billion since both sides signed on the dotted line.
Truth is, the existing CBA gave the owners everything they wanted in 2004 and ’05, and now they want more of a good thing — which is to say more of the product they said they needed the players to help grow in a “partnership.’’ But now that the growing has turned bountiful, they want a bigger portion of the harvest and, well, less of a partnership. No surprise. They’re businessmen. They have money, and they want to keep making more and more of it, aided by a dramatic reconfiguration of an existing document that they said seven years ago was essential in producing a better, more profitable product.
There are reasonable, perhaps even essential, tweaks to be made to the 2004-05 CBA. The ebb and flow of business almost guarantees every CBA must change, for a variety of reasons, especially in an age when constant discoveries and innovations in technology provide new business opportunities and potential growth in revenue streams. We weren’t watching NHL games on our wristwatches in October 2005.
What the owners need most today is not a radical new deal with the players, but a new way of dealing with themselves. They need to find a more honest, equitable, dare we say visionary method of spreading the profit and wealth among the 30 guys on their team. The 800 or so union members who play for their teams aren’t the problem, not anymore.
The existing deal guaranteed owners parity on payroll via fixed labor costs. The game itself is balanced, with the playoffs a two-month roulette tournament, offering almost an equal chance among the 16 qualifiers to win the Cup. And the financial growth model works, quite well, considering seven seasons of the current CBA produced 50 percent more in income than the league could build in the years 1917-2004. Amazing growth, when comparing the last seven years with the previous nine decades.
This is a deal that needs to be nipped and tucked. That’s all. The big issues can be pared, middled, modified, massaged, which inevitably means some shift in wealth back to the owners — not unlike what happened in the NFL and NBA.
To find the reasonable “middle’’ now, it’s up to the owners to find a better way of sharing the cigars, cognac, Lamborghinis, and private jets, all the spoils that come with a thriving business. If they shut down the game again, it’s truly on them this time. The current deal proved them right. They’ve both grown the game’s popularity and lifted the tide of revenue. They got their business in order and now they need to prove to be equally astute in sharing and managing their profits. That’s really not a labor issue. It’s an ownership, greed, avarice issue. They asked the workers to fix it last time, and they capitulated. Now it’s their turn. Time for the owners to stop pointing fingers at the players, get a mirror, and add a little creativity to their look.
THE GOOD FIGHT
Teeing it up with Thornton
Bruins strongman Shawn Thornton tees up his third annual charity golf tournament Monday at Ferncroft Country Club in Middleton, with proceeds to benefit Parkinson’s research. Thornton’s family knows too well the often devastating impact of the disease — it claimed his grandmother — and this year legendary trainer Freddie Roach has sent along a bunch of boxing-related goodies from Manny Pacquaio’s camp to be auctioned at the tournament. Roach, who was born in Dedham, also suffers from Parkinson’s.
“Freddie’s been terrific, sending all sorts of stuff,’’ said the appreciative Thornton, a devotee of canvas and ring. “The Red Sox donated a meet-and-greet with Big Papi [David Ortiz]. Keegan Bradley sent along an autographed PGA Championship flag. And my pals at Caesar’s Palace contributed a bunch of comp hotel rooms. And the support locally has been tremendous. We sold out 24 foursomes, and I bet 80 percent of those were Charlestown guys.’’
Teammate Tuukka Rask, just back from Finland after agreeing to his one-year, $3.5 million contract renewal, will join the festivities. Daniel Paille also could be there.
Thornton was in Las Vegas two months ago to see the controversial bout between Pacquiao and Timothy Bradley, won by Bradley on a split decision.
“Like everyone else, I thought Manny got robbed,’’ said Thornton. “I’m a little happier about it all, I guess, because at least it was a good fight. It was great. They both slugged it out. So, even though I thought Manny should have won, it wasn’t like I left there thinking that I wasted money on the ticket.’’
As for what his crystal ball tells him about CBA negotiations, the always-frank right winger reduced it to a blunt, “No idea!’’
“I hope we start on time,’’ he added. “I mean, I don’t want to lose any time, that’s for sure. Their [the owners’] first offer, well . . . what is the right word? . . . I guess all you can call it is a starting point.’’
Ftorek family suffers loss
Sad news from New Hampshire, where Anna Victoria Ftorek, 23-year-old daughter of ex-Bruins coach Robbie Ftorek, died unexpectedly July 21 at the family’s longtime summer home in Wolfeboro. The “Bean’s’’ life was celebrated five days later in a ceremony there, with attendees urged to bring their memories, flip flops, and bathing suits — a sure sign that Anna knew the important things in life. She is survived by father, mother Wendy, and siblings Sam, Lucie, and Casey, as well as grandparents Stephen Ftorek and Nancy Bray. If you’d like to make a donation in her name, direct it to Up With People at Lexington Christian Academy, 48 Bartlett Avenue, Lexington, MA 02420. A poignant line from the Ftorek family in Anna’s obituary: “Please call your children and tell them you love them.’’
Not yet a Doan deal
Coyotes star Shane Doan remains an unrestricted free agent, with the Canucks last week the latest to try to woo the 35-year-old right winger to their camp. They’ve also put out feelers to aging pivot Jason Arnott, who worked for $2.875 million last season in St. Louis. Doan is believed to be looking for upward of $30 million over four years, too high for most clubs, especially the Canucks with their “Sedin’’ ceiling of $6.1 million. That’s a little deceiving, because Henrik and Daniel Sedin play as one, so it’s really one player stuffed in two suits for $12.2 million. Look for someone to fork over the $30 million to Doan, but with the payout spread over six seasons (example: $8 million, $8m, $7m, $3m, $2m, $2m). In that kind of model, he would pocket $26 million over four years (right in line with Sedin average dough), and then decide if he wants to work the last two years for a total of $4 million — less than 14 percent of the deal’s total worth.
What a bargain
I’ll take “Gifts From Above for $200,” Alex. Daniel Alfredsson, due to earn a paltry $1 million this season on the dummy year of his long-term deal, told the Senators last week to ink him to the 2012-13 roster. That makes “Alfie’’ the deal of the season. His agent chatted briefly with general manager Bryan Murray about adding a one-year extension, but the classy, still-prolific winger opted to play out the season, noting that he very well might play in 2013-14. Which, of course, sets up the possibility that he hits the free agent market next July 1. Raise your hand if you are aware that Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli was Ottawa’s assistant GM for most of Alfredsson’s most productive seasons.
Ex-Bruins defenseman Kyle McLaren, still represented by longtime Boston agent Neil Abbott, is looking to make a comeback — but as a coach. “He’s done everything humanly possible to get his knee to a point where he can play, but that’s not in the cards, time to move on,’’ said Abbott. “And look, he made it into his 30s as a player. For a kid who entered the NHL at age 18, that’s pretty good. I tell kids all the time, enter the big leagues early and you’ve got a better chance of getting hurt, and those are the injuries that almost guarantee your career is going to be shortened. It’s a big difference entering at age 22 or 23 . . . you’re not a kid in a man’s league anymore.’’ McLaren, 35, is living in San Jose, Calif., where he played his last NHL games, and would like to return to the game as a coach in the American Hockey League or with a US college team. “We’ve had a few feelers, even a couple of close misses,’’ said Abbott. “He’s OK. He did well financially. He’s set there. He can golf, play tennis. He can run around with his kids. Now it’s just time to move on with the next phase of his career.’’
Arnott would be a good fit in Vancouver, offering second-line insurance should Ryan Kesler recover slowly from shoulder surgery, and third-line size, grit, and versatility at the very least . . . Bruins Patrice Bergeron and Jordan Caron are working out together at a rink just outside of Quebec City. Both are expected to make their way south in the next 3-4 weeks as more veterans return to the Hub of Hockey. Provided the NHL doesn’t order a lockout, rookies will report here Sept. 14 (setting up shop in Wilmington) and the big boys will report a week later (with camp moving back and forth between Wilmington and the Garden) . . . Word from the Bruins box office is that full-plan and half-plan season tickets are sold out for 2012-13. However, a few 10- and 11-game packages remain . . . Peter Gabriel plays the Garden on Sept. 24. If there is no NHL deal in place, his “Red Rain’’ could prove prophetic . . . The Bruins are scheduled to open their exhibition schedule Sept. 25 in Washington, followed by a visit the next night to Buffalo, where the Sabres have added tough guy John Scott and edgy, weaselly Steve Ott. Sabres ownership has lobbied the NHL to break from the institutional three-period format and make all games the best-of-three falls . . . If the Summer Olympics can accommodate the NBA’s best, why not bring in the NHL’s best? From the NHL business perspective, hockey would be a much better fit in the summer, Olympus acting as a tuneup ahead of September training camp. Shutting down the league midseason every four years for an Olympic break forever will be a tough fit for the NHL, and especially difficult on players who still must play an 82-game regular season on their “day job” . . . Teemu Selanne, 42, picked up a $500,000 raise, to $4.5 million, last month when he agreed to return to the Ducks. Might be the only non-CEO in North America to pick up that kind of bump at his age. Provided Dwayne Roloson (nine months older) doesn’t find work, and 47-year-old Dominik Hasek doesn’t make an NHL return, Selanne will be the oldest guy on blades this season. With 1,406 career points, he will enter at No. 19 on the all-time scoring list, 12th in goals (663). Teammate Bobby Ryan’s tweet when the Finnish Flash re-upped: “That ageless wonder number 8 still doing it for one more year! What a beauty to be around. He’s not bad either.” . . . Another week gone, another week Roberto Luongo remains on the Canucks’ roster. The Panthers have interest in a Roberto Redux, but not if it means surrendering star 6-foot-4-inch forward Nick Bjugstad, a University of Minnesota standout picked No. 19 overall in 2010. Entering his junior year, he went 25-17—42 in 40 games last season.