After a couple of weeks of virtual radio silence, NHL owners on Thursday tossed a few more bones the players’ way, hoping that an enhanced offer — one still with a $300 million “make whole’’ provision — would entice labor back to its Original 30 ice-making plants.
As of Saturday night, the players were mulling details of the 300-page offer, with Don Fehr and the NHL Players Association trading calls with league bosses. The players’ mood appeared to be something better than, “Hell no, we won’t play!” At least that was the case headed into Sunday, when the sides might return to the bargaining table.
So there we have it.
This is Day No. 106 of the third lockout in league history, and at this hour there is no certain end in sight. When the day comes, the end will look very much like what is on the table, which isn’t dramatically different from what the league presented to the players in mid-October.
There will still be a salary cap. Revenue will be split 50/50. Players under contract will get most of the money provided in their deals.
But here we are, with both sides still clawing away at scraps, all of it conducted amid a fan climate that seems to have soured, if not curdled, over the last 4-5 weeks.
There is no sure way to measure fan disinterest or disgust, but e-mails and tweets fired this way since Thanksgiving have grown increasingly angry and/or apathetic. Far more than in Lockout 1 and Lockout 2.
Players and owners both know angry fans will return, because anger is a telltale sign of passion, commitment. Frankly, it’s that anger and passion that served as the co-enablers of this lockout. Gary Bettman and his brazen band of billionaires wouldn’t resort to shutting out the house lights so often if they truly feared fans would walk away for good.
But apathy is the canary in the industry’s coal mine. If all these “Never again!’’ and ‘”Who cares?’’ and “I’m done!’’ e-mails and tweets are true — and if they serve as fair and accurate reflection of what has happened across North America — then the league, the players, and their union will be returning to a massive M*A*S*H unit when business resumes. That’s when they’ll find out whether all the angst, arm-twisting, and chokeholds were justified.
Too often forgotten in these bargaining wars is that neither side is actually fighting over its money. It’s the fans’ money, every penny of it, be it directly through ticket, cable, and merchandise sales, or via corporate/advertising sponsorships that are also funded by consumer dollars. Both sides are fighting over your dough, and it seems more and more NHL fans comprehend that now after a third tango here on “Dancing with the Dunderheads.”
All these games and leagues are built on dreams, magic, and nostalgia. To be reminded time and again that those elements only serve to mask just another North American business, a profit/loss sheet, ultimately erodes the patina and the passion.
Now, as for what the owners dished the players’ way on Thursday in a 300-page offer. Here are some of the critical points:
■ League still wants new CBA to span 10 seasons, with a mutual opt-out clause after eight years. The players have preferred eight years with an opt-out after six.
■ League now willing to add a year to individual contract limits. A player could sign for six years, but add a seventh if his rights are already held by the club signing him. Players have wanted an eight-year limit. No such restrictions existed in previous CBAs.
■ Revenue split of 50/50 with no change in previously used definition of “Hockey Related Revenue (HRR).” Previously, players received 57 percent. Players weeks ago accepted drop to 50/50.
■ No salary rollbacks. Prior to implementation of the last CBA, all players under contract received a 24 percent cut in pay over the duration of those deals.
■ The cap figure for this season would be just over $70 million, then drop to $60 million for the 2013-14 season. Players will hope to increase the max figure beginning next season. League also will allow clubs one compliance buyout prior to next season, with cost not factored into the cap hit.
■ No changes in expired CBA’s language pertaining to entry-level contracts, salary arbitration, or free agency. The league previously asked for significant changes to all three components.
■ “Within specified parameters”, as written in Thursday’s offer, the league is willing to have clubs retain some salary — applied to cap — when trading players. The last deal allowed no such dollar swaps. GMs and players alike should fully endorse this change.
■ Revenue sharing, previously at $150 million, would be boosted by one-third, to $200 million. Highest-revenue teams to provide the vast percentage of those dollars. Money funneled to most needy teams. Financial health of individual franchises is arguably the most important dollar dynamic in the game.
■ League to provide up to $300 million to so-called “make whole’’ fund, ensuring that players with existing contracts ultimately earn most, if not all, of contract’s value.
Leaks to various media outlets Friday had the NHL reportedly working with a Jan. 11 drop-dead date to finalize a deal, with play resuming a week later, Jan. 18. The start date is nearly identical to 1994-95 when the NHL began a 48-game season on Jan. 20 and wrapped it up the first week of May.
All of that would allow for the usual four rounds of Stanley Cup playoffs.
But for now, more bargaining, more wrangling.
The union’s cautious approach over the weekend was not unexpected. The players’ side sounded slightly more receptive than in past months. This should be the offer that leads to a close. Finally, if not mercifully.
Allen battles health issues
A solid but nonetheless sad read last week by Philadelphia Inquirer scribe Sam Carchidi, detailing Keith Allen’s ongoing struggles with dementia.
Allen, 89, was GM and architect of the great Flyers Broad Street Bullies clubs of the 1970s. Unlike the way his teams played, he was among the game’s most kind, polite, and understated presences, a joy to engage in conversation.
Even the most ardent Bruins fan, who saw Allen’s teams two times dump the Black-and-Gold from the playoffs (finals in 1974, semifinals in 1976), would have been engaged by his sincerity and serene demeanor.
Adding to his current plight, Allen and wife Joyce lost their home in Beach Haven Park, N.J., in Hurricane Sandy’s wide sweep of destruction at the end of October.
He lives these days at Sunrise Senior Living in Newtown Square, outside Philadelphia, residing in the “Reminiscence Unit’’ for dementia and Alzheimer’s patients.
Courtney Keith Allen, a favorite son of Saskatoon, will turn 90 next Aug. 21.
Players plan outdoor game
Because of the lockout, the NHL’s Jan. 1 Winter Classic at Michigan Stadium (Red Wings vs. Maple Leafs) was scrubbed weeks ago, leaving a gaping hole in NBC’s sports programming Tuesday.
But as the NHL prepared its sweetened offer last week aimed at kick-starting talks, the players were said to be working on an outdoor charity game to be played at Lake Louise, Alberta, on an undetermined date in February.
Lake Louise is in picturesque Banff (cue the “F Troop” jokes) and is breathtakingly beautiful in winter and summer. As a hockey venue, it would be challenged for seating, but effective camera coverage could make for a decent TV event, though of much greater interest in Canada than here.
Bruins score big in Europe
Patrice Bergeron will be back any hour now from Switzerland, where he spent the last couple of months tuning up with Lugano and producing points at a rate he has never attained in North America, be it in junior, AHL, or the NHL.
Prior to a last skate over there with Team Canada in the Spengler Cup, the Bruins pivot knocked home 11 goals and finished with 29 points in 21 games with Lugano. Scoring rate: 1.38 points per game.
Boston teammate Tyler Seguin, playing on Bergeron’s Team Canada line, scored at the same 1.38 ppg rate in 29 games with Biel, Switzerland (25-15—40).
So what happens when they are back wearing Black and Gold? Difficult to say. Much depends on whether Nathan Horton is over his concussion issues and can withstand the NHL’s hard-knock life. If so, he projects for first-line right wing, and Seguin probably rides as second-line right wing with Bergeron his pivot.
Oh, to have the pleasure of such debates back on our daily calendar.
Late Friday, according to csnne.com, Seguin confirmed that he’ll also return to North America with the Spengler Cup a wrap.
Lamoriello speaks out
Devils boss Lou Lamoriello (left), who turned 70 Oct. 21, uncharacteristically loosened his lips Wednesday when he told Rich Chere of the Newark Star-Ledger that the protracted NHL lockout has left him “embarrassed for the game.’’ Owners and administrators remain under a league-mandated gag order, so those words, however sincere, could cost the ex-Friar some pocket change. “I’m embarrassed where we’re at, that’s the best expression I can use,’’ he added. Unlike nuclear winters of the past, Lamoriello has not been directly linked to the Gary Bettman-Jerry Jacobs-Bob Batterman cabal that has led the league this time around. “I’m not involved the way I was in the past,’’ Lamoriello told Chere. “I can’t answer why.’’ It’s no doubt because the Devils helped further undermine the last CBA with their outrageous, cap-evading offer to free agent Ilya Kovalchuk (17 years/$102 million) in July 2010. Most pundits believe that deal was the ham-fisted work of owner Jeff Vanderbeek, but all deals ultimately point to the GM.
In the Green room
What of those ever-embraceable Green Men, Sully and Force, during the lockout? Bruins fans became well-acquainted with them in June 2011 during the Boston-Vancouver Cup final. They’re the two guys who donned the bright green Spandex unitards and mocked Boston players as they were sent to the penalty box. All in good fun. We think. Anyway, they have kept busy. Early this year, they became the initial inductees to ESPN’s Fan Hall of Fame. More recently, Ryan “Sully” Sullivan has been on a book tour, pumping his tome, “Behind The Green.’’ Sounds like a perfect read, if, you know, you’ve ever dreamed about sitting in an arena wearing a head-to-toe unitard for 3-4 hours.
Tough stretch for Bruins prospect Matt Grzelcyk, who was still in Team USA’s camp even after its 8-0 win over Germany to start World Junior Championships play last week in Ufa, Russia. But just prior to Friday’s game vs. Russia (a 2-1 loss for the Yanks), Grzelcyk was cut in favor of Patrick Sieloff. Grzelcyk now heads back to Boston University and no doubt will be fine, but lugging a kid all the way through camp and to Russia is, at best, a curious way to develop players and foster loyalty. Phil Housley and crew should know better . . . The Bruins were 27-18-3 in the 48-game season of 1994-95 . . . Another twist in Friday’s CBA offer has owners wanting all non-playoff teams (14 each season) eligible to land the No. 1 draft position. Currently, the club that wins the lottery can move up no more than four slots, which means only the five clubs with the worst records have a shot at No. 1 . . . If you had any doubts about Twitter being the coolest thing on ice, consider: William Scott Bowman chirps up quite regularly these days under @coachwsb. Full skate, everyone, and may all your passes be on the tape in 2013.