The NHL’s term of the week, hockey fans, was “disclaimer of interest.’’ What, you came to “Pro Hockey Notes’’ to read about hockey? There is no stinkin’ hockey, and there hasn’t been any since the Kings won the Cup at the end of June (who’s counting?), and right now no one on either side of the tattered red line can say for sure if the NHL game is coming back in 2012-13.
No one, by the way, includes commissioner Gary Bettman and union boss Donald Fehr. So while a million and one experts pontificate about the whys, wherefores, and howcomes of the CBA mess, those opinions amount to so many melted ice shavings. If the big boys don’t know, can’t say or won’t guess, then not even federal mediators can provide the answer — as was the case earlier this month when contract talks fell victim to the Zamboni’s scraper.
As of noon Friday, the players’ union formally had the membership’s backing (by better than two-thirds majority vote) to inform the league that it no longer represented its players as a bargaining body, or agent. In the action-packed world of courtroom dealings, “disclaimer of interest’’ is sort of the quickie-divorce version of decertification.
The key here is that the union, if it chooses, can enact the disclaimer by Jan. 2, hoping that league owners view it as a layer of potential chaos, perhaps a very costly one. Conventional wisdom, if such a thing remains, then would have the sides scurrying back to the table to finalize a new CBA.
Will it work? Again, no one has a clue. If they tell you they do, then enjoy that view from the Brooklyn Bridge and that Bernie Madoff book, “Sure-shot Ways to Wealth and Influence.’’
The added bit of nasty here is that the NHL headed to a New York courtroom days ahead of the union’s “disclaimer’’ vote with its own preemptive bag of tricks, filing both a lawsuit and a class-action complaint against the PA. Both moves were intended to thwart a union move either to disclaim or decertify — all of which the league views, according to one of its filings, as a means “to extract more favorable terms and conditions of employment.’’
Will it work? Again, good luck to you, Charlie Finley and his Golden Seals. Rather than get facewashed by their own players in the courtroom, NHL owners jumped in there first with a suit and complaint. Good hustle. It could turn out to be false hustle, but footwork must always be applauded, don’t you think?
If nothing else (and what do we have here other than nothing?), that Jan. 2 expiration date to enact the disclaimer puts some framework around a process that has been slowly bleeding since the sides began hashing through a new CBA at the end of July. Five months later, all we have is dark rinks, a lockout now in Day 99, and a bunch of high-priced suits and associated bloviating blowhards providing an in-game tutorial on labor law and failed collective bargaining. Hey, at least it comes at a price far less than a $112 loge ticket.
The sides appeared very close to a deal in Manhattan Dec. 5 and 6, when Bettman and Fehr remained out of the room. The differences that should have been middled weeks before, after the league finally presented a real offer on Oct. 16, finally were middled. The game had a reasonable shot of resuming play this very weekend, or just after Christmas.
But come the reckoning hour, it all dissolved again after the owners felt the players came back asking for more goodies when all they wanted the players to say was, “Where do we sign?’’
For as close as both sides made everyone feel and/or believe they were on critical, core terms, it would appear to make little sense that the next two weeks didn’t produce a deal. In fact, Bettman, in a snit late on the evening of Dec. 6, stated that the owners’ offer was off the table. We don’t know if that’s true, because, well, the sides haven’t been back at the table.
Meanwhile, the NHL announced on Thursday that all games have been wiped off the board through Jan. 14. Some two weeks prior, Bettman said anything short of a 48-game season would not be practical. In the first lockout of 1994-95, the 48-game regular season kicked off Jan. 20 and wrapped up May 3. So if the league is sticking to 48 games this time around, that means a window of, say, 72 hours around that Jan. 14 date is effectively a drop-dead period. Players would need 5-7 days to report, train, then drop the puck.
As for the 2012-13 schedule that was released over the summer? Burn it. Like 1994-95, a 48-game season would not have clubs playing out of their respective conferences. With teams playing games virtually every other night for 3-4 months, both sides will want short trips, and extra games will have to be shoehorned into tight arena schedules.
But that, folks, is getting way ahead of this still dysfunctional process. Headed into the weekend, the sides only had a body of incomplete work and not a single bargaining session scheduled on the calendar. By the hour, despite being far closer to a deal than they ever were during the lost season of 2004-05, this season creeps ever closer to being scrubbed.
Perhaps most striking of all is that the most progress over the five months was made when both Bettman and Fehr stayed out of the room. No matter which side of the aisle one were on, that should be of significant concern. Leaders lead from the front, not the back. Both men are paid millions for their wisdom, guile, and in moments like this, simple ability to horsetrade. At this hour, they’ve both come up shockingly short of their job descriptions and their paychecks. If they wore uniforms with numbers on their backs, we’d be booing them straight out of town.
GM checks in on prospects
The World Junior Championship begins Wednesday in Ufa, Russia, and the Bruins have five prospects suiting up for various countries. The potential showstopper is Malcolm Subban, Boston’s top draft pick in June and likely Team Canada’s No. 1 puck-stopper for the 11-day tournament.
“He’s had a great year,’’ said Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli. “His body of work speaks for itself, but in the last month he’s really stepped up. He’s really worked on his nutrition and that stuff, which wasn’t bad by any means, but we felt he could improve there.’’
Subban, younger brother of Canadiens defenseman P.K. Subban, was the 24th overall pick.
“Tremendous lower-body power,’’ noted Chiarelli. “I saw him prior to a game in Halifax this year, just warming up outside the room as guys were playing soccer. He was warming up with these long strides and power lunges . . . and you see it when he’s in the net, just lightning fast from post to post.’’
The Canadians also will be led by defenseman Dougie Hamilton, selected No. 9 overall by the Bruins in 2011. Featured in the Globe on Friday, Hamilton has a shot to make the Boston roster this year if the league gets back in business. Although Chiarelli cautions that the transition can be difficult, as it was the first year for rising star Tyler Seguin.
“Yeah, because Seguin, you know, he had warts to start, too, and he is still working through those and he’s doing a good job with it,” said Chiarelli. “But it’s a man’s game. They are strong men playing this game. To come in as a young man, it can be humbling. You don’t want to over-tout somebody. We felt really good with Seguin and I feel really good with Dougie . . . but, you know, he’ll have an adjustment period on the speed and size of the guys.’’
Chiarelli on the Bruins’ other prospects in the tourney:
Anthony Camara (LW, Canada) — “I’ve seen him score some terrific goals by coming off the wing and driving the net. And he can agitate. He’s had a terrific year, and earned that spot. He played very well at [Team Canada’s camp] in Calgary. I’m not sure how much you’ll see him because he’s on the fourth line. But he will cause some disturbances with his skating, too. I’m happy he made the team. Knew he would be invited. But he’s had a good camp.’’
Matt Grzelcyk (D, US) — “Going into the US camp he had real competition for the left-side, left-shooting defenseman spot. I’ve seen him play with BU three or four times this year and twice he was the best player on the ice.’’
Alexander Khokhlachev (C, Russia) — “I sam him play a game in Sarnia [Ontario] with the Russian team and he must have blocked five shots. Played on their top line with [Nail] Yakupov [the Oilers’ No. 1 overall pick this year). And one of the shots he blocked was at the end of the game when they were up a goal. Took the shot off his face, and everyone thought maybe he broke his jaw or at least had a concussion. But he was fine, luckily. He’ll center their top line and I’d expect good things from him.’’
Picture didn’t stay in Vegas
Time for some of these guys to find a hobby. Winnipeg forward Evander Kane, with some idle hours in Vegas, posted a picture on Twitter that had him pretending to make a call to boxing legend Floyd Mayweather Jr. The shot depicted Kane with stacks of dollars fashioned into a make-believe cellphone. Why not? In September, the kid signed a new deal with the Jets worth $31.5 million over six years. He’s young (21), talented, rich, and can call whomever he wants, but you can’t coach intelligence. With the league locked out, and lots of non-millionaires unable to work their NHL-related jobs, not a look that really worked. Brought to his senses, Kane quickly issued an apology.
On Jan. 22, 1995, the Bruins’ opening game out of the NHL’s first lockout, Cam Neely posted a hat trick in a 4-1 win over the Flyers. It was also the start of the final season at the old Garden, with what was intended to be called the Shawmut Center being built within 9 inches of the old building’s back wall . . . The Devils defeated the Red Wings to win the ’95 Stanley Cup. Despite what some fans may think, there’s no asterisk on the Cup title. If the NHL and players can cobble together a new CBA, the focus will be what it always is— the playoffs and the Cup . . . Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli said he was disappointed that right wing Seth Griffith, Boston’s fifth-round pick in this year’s draft, was not invited to Team Canada’s camp for the World Juniors. “He’s been second or third in OHL scoring,’’ said Chiarelli. “But Canada divided their forwards into top six and bottom six, and they just didn’t feel he fit their bottom six. That’s the way it was explained to me and I accept it.” Headed into weekend play, Griffith had 58 points in 36 games with Dale Hunter’s London Knights . . . Bruins blue liner Johnny Boychuk remains with Red Bull Salzburg in Austria, but the club that brought Boston Marty Turco to the rescue (sort of) late last season has had trouble keeping NHLers in town. Last week, Blue Jacket Derick Brassard packed and left. Earlier, Tobias Enstrom and David Clarkson did the same. Meanwhile, Johnny Rocket has 5 points in eight games . . . At last look, Tyler Seguin’s numbers with Biel, Switzerland: 27 games with 24 goals and 38 points. That is a 115-point pace over an 82-game season . . . Welcome to the rink and Merry Christmas, Edison Anthony Shinzawa, born on Tuesday and said already to have treated sister Hannah and brother Wright to a stick salute.