With his two-word characterization — “meaningful gulf’’ — NHL Players Association boss Donald Fehr finally and officially set the tone of contract talks between the NHL and its players Thursday.
The tone, in short, is troublesome.
Just back from a whirlwind jaunt to Moscow and Barcelona, where he apprised a contingent of Euro-based NHLers on the CBA deep discount the league would like to enact, Fehr and his freres informed owners that the players aren’t all that intrigued or otherwise motivated by being the agents by which owners divvy up their side of the income ledger. No one should be surprised. The players believe they gave up their shirts in the last go-round, and now don’t want to surrender suspenders and short pants.
Again, let’s not forget, league revenues have grown by 50 percent since the New NHL opened for business after the 2004-05 lockout. That 50 percent gain represented a $1 billion growth spurt, which translates to astounding financial health and welfare, especially considering how the rest of us have feasted on lettuce sandwiches since the 2008 start of the Great Recession. Imagine how much greater things would have grown if this were the Roaring ‘90s. Take me back to that North American fruited plain. Now.
“We have a wide gap to bridge on a whole host of issues,’’ said NHL commissioner Gary Bettman, who also reiterated the obvious — that he will impose the third lockout of his term on Sept. 15 if there is no deal in place.
From the owners’ side, the lament is that not enough of the new $1 billion trickled into their pockets, despite the fixed salary system that guarantees the players no more than 57 percent of the overall take (defined as Hockey Related Revenues). However — and this is a big however — the league is trying to explain to Fehr et al that owners have been left with only 29 percent of the new dollars created over the last seven seasons. That’s right, even with cost certainty, as defined by that 57 percent “take” limit from gross revenues, owners claim that nearly three-quarters of those new billion dollar bills have ended up as “player’” dollars and not “owner’’ dollars.
Summation: This process will be glacial, in terms of size, speed, and chill.
This week (likely Tuesday), the NHLPA is expected to make a formal response/counterproposal to what the league dropped on the table last month. In short, what I expect the players to propose, as said in this space a week ago, is that the owners develop creative ways to balance out their rich and poor franchises. They’ll suggest that the well-heeled likes of Montreal, Toronto, Vancouver, and Boston get more serious about sharing the wealth with shoeless souls such as Nashville, Phoenix, Florida, and Columbus. Hard to envision Jerry Jacobs writing a check for Owner X in Arizona, isn’t it?
While all that bit of socialism no doubt will offend the senses of most capitalist-thinking owners, let us not forget that a salary cap at its core is a brand of socialism. Understandably, the owners (read: gander) might not want what’s good for the players (read: goose), but that’s precisely the world they bargained for, in fact insisted upon, when they capped the players’ wages seven years ago.
If the owners don’t want to come up with something similar for themselves, then labor’s best retort would be to dump the cap, bring back unfettered wages, and open wide the casino doors once again.
The middle ground, of course, is for the players simply to say that they are willing to adjust the numbers here and there, then leave it to the 30 club owners to make nice with their share of the billion-plus and growing. With that cap in place, it’s really all they are obligated to say. At least for the moment.
Social activity is on the rise
The Twitter world grows bigger by the second, and as of late last week, according to NHL headquarters, 241 NHLers (approximately eight per team) held Twitter accounts. For those still unfamiliar with this part of the cloud, my @GlobeKPD address at the bottom of this piece is my own stamp of the social media addiction. Warning: Once you go down that rabbit hole, it’s just you, your keyboard, and your therapist’s co-pays.
The Bruins only have two players — Tyler Seguin (@tylerseguin92) and Andrew Ference (@Ferknuckle) participating on Twitter — according to Matt Chmura, the club’s communications boss. The injured Marc Savard (@MSavvy91) still tweets, but most of his mini-missives these days are about golf and other facets of life away from hockey.
Chmura figures more of Boston’s varsity roster will get involved over time, based simply on the fact that, by his estimate, nearly three-quarters of the club’s prospects maintain Twitter accounts. For instance, newcomer Malcolm Subban keeps busy with his @SubbZero30 addy.
From the league’s standpoint, based on an e-mail response, it encourages players to reach out to fans via social media. Yet it also offers this caveat:
“We want them to recognize that social media communications are all on the record, even if erased or deleted, and have the ability to resurface. Players are responsible for their comments and need to remember that at all times.’’
Some recent examples of NHL Twitter-related activity:
■ Players tweeted during the 2012 All-Star Skills Competition in Ottawa.
■ Live-tweeting sessions with the 2012 NHL prospects, following them from combine through draft. The league promoted Twitter handles and had players answer questions from fans using #NHLProspects via the @NHL feed.
■ The Islanders promote players’ Twitter handles in the Coliseum in Uniondale, incorporating them whenever players are featured on the video board. The Islanders also will incorporate Twitter handles on the bio pages of their 2012-13 yearbook.
■ Per the Canucks’ media relations policy, their social team is not to mention, reply, or RT (retweet) any player accounts. Instead, the Canucks have held Q&A’s with a couple players through @VanCanucks.
■ The Panthers have incorporated player tweets into their game presentation and game programs.
Hurricane of big spending
Quite a different summer for the Hurricanes, the former Forever .500s from Hartford, whose highlight move of summer 2011 was to toss a rich three-year deal at Tomas Kaberle (later ditched to Montreal’s sacred dumping ground). With three swipes of the pen this summer, the Hurricanes committed a total of $101 million in salaries: a 10-year, $60 million pact for ex-Penguin Jordan Staal, $7 million for ex-Capital Alex Semin, and a $34 million extension for former Rookie of the Year Jeff Skinner. The Skinner deal translates to money in the bank, and lots of it, for budding Boston star Tyler Seguin, who already carries a hefty $3.55 million salary cap hit. Skinner’s new deal, with an average annual value of $5.725 million, kicks in for 2013-14, and Seguin is on target to reach restricted free agency on July 1, 2013. Timing, it’s everything.
One deal after another
Shane Doan keeps holding out hope that the Coyotes’ ownership/purchasing issues will be resolved and he can sign a long-term deal to remain in Phoenix. Late last week, the Phoenix Business Journal reported that would-be owner Greg Jamison finally had enough paying partners to go ahead with his purchase of the club, apparently covering the widely reported shortfall of $20 million that had kept him from closing on the deal for weeks. Provided the new money is there, and provided the league applies a quick rubber stamp (often the case in NHL sales, with the outcomes somewhat mixed), then perhaps Doan, who will turn 36 Oct. 10, finally will have his deal. If not, the Rangers, Canucks, and Flyers all have evinced interest in adding the onetime Winnipeg pick (No. 7 overall in 1995) to their roster.
A No. 1 destination
A total of three first-round picks in the 1995 draft eventually played for the Bruins: No. 1 Bryan Berard (Ottawa), No. 17 Jason Allison (Washington), and No. 10 Landon “Of the Lost’’ Wilson (Colorado). Boston’s own first-round pick that season (No. 25) was used on Kevyn Adams, who never came to contract terms with the Bruins and eventually made his NHL debut with Toronto. A Buffalo kid, he made his NHL coaching debut last season as an assistant with the Sabres.
Men for hire
Bruins double dipper Brian Rolston, who will turn 40 in February, remains without a contract for the up-in-the-air 2012-13 season. Upon exiting Boston in April, following an effective 3-12—15 run here in 21 games after the trade deadline, he was told by the Bruins that he might return. But general manager Peter Chiarelli then secured a full returning cast of core players, bumping Rolston essentially to “forgotten” status. Rolston still had a decent shot and impressive wheels, though both skills were less than he flashed here years earlier (2000-04). A couple other intriguing vets still hunting for work: Jason Arnott, who made $2.875 million last season in St. Louis, and Petr Sykora, who made only $650,000 with his return visit in New Jersey and popped in 21 goals and collected 44 points.
Cold reception possible
Sergei Fedorov, who played last season in the KHL (Magnitogorsk), will suit up for the Red Wings alumni Dec. 31, facing the Maple Leafs oldsters at Comerica Park in Detroit prior to the Leafs-Wings matchup in the Winter Classic Jan. 1 at Michigan Stadium. It won’t be easy on the eyes for some Detroit fans to see Fedorov back wearing the Winged Wheel. A gifted, sensational playmaker in his heyday, he held up the franchise for huge dough in 1998 (via a six-year/$38 million offer sheet from the Hurricanes) and ultimately left for Anaheim as a free agent in July 2003. If a frozen octopus is tossed Dec. 31, it very well may have his name on it. Other key Russians to join the Wings alums: Slava Fetisov, Igor Larionov, and Vladimir Konstantinov.
Wheeling into Detroit?
With ex-Bruin Dennis Wideman aboard at five years/$26.25 million, the Flames are eager to move underperforming backliner Jay Bouwmeester, still due two years at a $6.68 million cap hit. Just as he never blossomed in Florida, it has been the same for JayBo in Alberta. MLive reported Thursday that the Red Wings are interested, possibly along with the Flyers. Detroit could be the fit. The Red Wings have a way of lifting the performance of veteran defensemen, including Larry Murphy and, more recently, ex-Bruin Brad Stuart, now back in San Jose (where Jumbo Joe Thornton is a teammate). The blue line is a more pressing issue for the Wings after the retirement this summer of future Hall of Famer Nicklas Lidstrom.
Ex-UNH standout Bobby Butler, surprisingly a recent buyout by the Senators, hooked on last week with the Devils with a one-year, two-way deal . . . With most clubs figuring they’ll have rookies report to training camp on or about Sept. 14, and the current CBA set to expire on Sept. 15, a lack of traction at the bargaining table likely would lead the NHL at the end of this month to place an initial hold on camps. No point in paying all the transportation and setup costs, only to have a lockout triggered 3-5 days after everyone gets to their Original 30 destinations . . . According to a Vancouver Sun report last week, the Canucks made Mark Messier $6 million richer after New York-based arbitrator George Nicolau ruled in Mess’s favor over a salary dispute dating back more than a decade. Bought out in June 2000, three years into his five-year deal there, Messier had a sweetener in the original contract signed in 1997 that paid him more if the franchise’s value increased over his tenure. A dozen years later, to the tune of about $500K per year, Messier cashed in on Vancouver’s equity bump . . . All quiet in Colorado, which means the Bruins have not heard anything new from Tim Thomas, their two-time Vezina winner who has put his career on hold, possibly in perpetuity. Conventional wisdom on Causeway Street is that another club will trade for him, provided a new CBA includes the current demand for all clubs to reach a salary floor. Another club acquiring Thomas won’t guarantee that he’ll play again, but it would move his $5 million cap hit to that club’s bottom line, and the out-of-pocket cost would be only his 2012-13 salary of $3 million . . . Rochester-based agent Steve Bartlett has reached out to NHL clubs, looking for a new home for ex-Blackhawks netminder Cristobal Huet, who has spent the last two years playing in Switzerland, mainly to get his $5.625 million cap hit off the bloated Chicago books. According to the Vancouver Province, the Canucks might be interested in the French-born Huet, but the 2011 Cup finalists first must figure out where they are going to place franchise goaltender Roberto Luongo . . . Good news for the Leafs to see Joffrey Lupul skating last week for the first time since banging up his shoulder March 6 in a game against the Bruins. With Lupul back and James van Riemsdyk added to the mix (swapped for Luke Schenn), the Leafs could have their most potent offense since bringing in ex-Bruin Phil Kessel as their scoring centerpiece . . . And this Tweet last week from former Bruins center Marc Savard (@MSavvy91): “I can’t wait to get away with my babe for a vacation. #imexhausted Bahamas here we come.” Looks like he’s smoothing out the oft-rough transition to retirement . . . According to the Bruins public relations staff, Nathan Horton “politely declined’’ a request here for an interview. GM Peter Chiarelli noted during the news conference to announce Claude Julien’s contract extension that Horton, who missed half of last season because of concussion-related issues, had been cleared to resume full-contact practices once camp opens . . . If there is a lockout, the idea of going without hockey is hard enough, but I can’t imagine the withdrawal symptoms related to not being able to watch Brendan Shanahan’s supplementary discipline videos.
Kevin Paul Dupont can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeKPD. Material from interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.