On Dec. 9 and 10, the NHL’s board of governors will meet in Pebble Beach, Calif. The bosses’ first order of business will be to approve Rogers Communications’ 12-year deal for the NHL’s Canadian broadcasting rights. Rogers, with Sportsnet as its primary property, will pay $5.2 billion Canadian — that’s loonies to some, just loony to others — to the league, teams, and players.
It will be the easiest unanimous vote in NHL history. After all, there are 30 rich owners. The TV contract will make 30 even richer owners.
Just one year ago, the NHL was dark. It could have been a very real possibility for the lockout to claim the entire 2012-13 season.
Now, everyone around the league will be much wealthier. Under the Rogers deal, Canadian puckheads (yes, a redundant phrase) will line the NHL’s pockets through 2025-26.
Some of the deal’s biggest bullet points:
■ This is a winner-take-all deal, with no piecemeal features. Rogers will parcel out games to CBC and French-speaking TVA. TSN is out. This is not like the NFL, which sliced up rights between ESPN, Fox, and NBC. Rogers claims the entire pie.
■ Rogers will establish two other significant viewings other than Saturday night. There will also be highlight games on Wednesday and Sunday. Both Rogers and the NHL have recognized the windows the NFL has created on Thursdays and Sundays. “Monday Night Football” is not the sole big-time ticket in football anymore. The NHL wants in on that action, too.
■ The salary cap will skyrocket when Rogers’s contract commences. In theory, there should be a healthy bump in 2015-16. For the Bruins, that will be in time to give David Krejci (unrestricted free agent after 2014-15) the raise he deserves. Other UFAs who will earn Powerball-like contracts starting in 2015-16: Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Bobby Ryan, and Antti Niemi. Restricted free agents who also could pull in hefty second contracts coming out of entry-level deals: Jonas Brodin, Alex Galchenyuk, Jonathan Huberdeau, Dougie Hamilton, and Vladimir Tarasenko. We saw Tyler Seguin score a six-year, $34.5 million second contract. Such deals will get even richer.
■ Rogers’s investment just about guarantees an eighth Canadian team to join Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver, Edmonton, Calgary, Ottawa, and Winnipeg. The logical spot is Quebec City, where TVA would assume game coverage in French.
■ CBC will continue its iconic “Hockey Night in Canada” broadcast for four more years. CBC will also air the Stanley Cup Final. CBC flexes the biggest muscles in the current contract. It pays the highest rights fees, and thus gets first pick for the playoffs. To wit: CBC claimed Bruins-Maple Leafs in last year’s first round, airing all seven games at night, including one Saturday prime-time showdown. But the public broadcaster had no intentions of paying through the nose again. “The NHL, frankly, set a very high standard, and very high financial expectations for these negotiations,” said CBC/Radio-Canada president Hubert Lacroix during Tuesday’s news conference. “And while we thought we brought something very special to broadcasting, CBC was not, candidly, in a position to spend taxpayer money in this game of high stakes.”
■ CBC’s four-year partnership may be in line with the time remaining in Don Cherry’s career. The 79-year-old Cherry is “Hockey Night in Canada’s” main attraction. Keith Pelley, Rogers Media president, was noncommittal about Cherry’s future. But like or dislike his opinions, Cherry is an audience driver. Rogers will want to monetize Cherry’s mass appeal.
■ Viewing habits will change over the 12-year term. Commissioner Gary Bettman noted that fans of his generation watch games on TV. But Bettman acknowledged that younger viewers prefer alternate consumption — and thereby cutting the cable or satellite cord — via computers, tablets, and phones. Rogers is a provider of TV, Internet, and wireless capabilities. It would be like Verizon claiming American rights. “We wanted to ensure that our fans have access to our games no matter what the platform they’re interested in or what platform may develop,” Bettman said. “We may be looking at things over the course of the deal that don’t currently exist.”
■ There will be job losses at CBC and TSN. “Hockey Night in Canada” is the game’s gold standard. No broadcaster treats the game with as much respect and reverence. TSN blankets the NHL with its immersive approach. Its ancillary programming is even better than its game coverage. Good people work at both outlets. Here’s hoping they stay or find hockey jobs at Rogers. If anyone thinks TSN’s coverage will diminish, consider that Bob McKenzie, the network’s go-to insider, broke the news of the Rogers blockbuster. McKenzie is among the on-air folks — others include Darren Dreger, James Duthie, ex-Bruin Aaron Ward, Gord Miller, Jim Hughson, Elliotte Friedman, Ron MacLean — who are the best at what they do at TSN and CBC. They have illuminated the game. Hopefully they will continue to do so at their current workplaces or elsewhere. Fans will lose out otherwise.
Concussion lawsuit filed against league
On Nov. 14, in the first period of the Bruins’ 3-2 overtime win over Columbus, David Krejci slipped in the corner. As Krejci went down, Brandon Dubinsky inadvertently drove the center’s head into the boards with his leg.
After Krejci got to his skates, both the player and Bruins knew what to do next. Krejci, followed by the team’s medical staff, retreated to a back room to go through standard concussion protocol, which is mandated by the league. Krejci passed the test but did not return for the rest of the period.
According to the class-action lawsuit filed against the NHL on Monday, Darren Banks did not share the luxury of today’s knowledge. Banks appeared in 20 games for the Bruins from 1992-94, and according to the lawsuit, suffered multiple concussions and subconcussive impacts.
Banks is now 47 and suffers from headaches.
The crux of the lawsuit centers on whether the NHL deliberately misled its players on concussions and the risks of returning prematurely after suffering head injuries. There is stark language in the lawsuit: “The NHL’s active and purposeful concealment of the severe risks of brain injuries exposed players to unnecessary dangers they could have avoided had the NHL provided them with truthful and accurate information and taken appropriate action to prevent needless harm.”
Part of the lawsuit looks at 1997, when the NHL initiated a program to study head injuries. By then, Banks had appeared in his final NHL game. But before 1997, the lawsuit notes that the danger of concussions was well known in sports and medicine. When he was playing, Banks and his fellow plaintiffs should have been informed, per the lawsuit, of the risks they were running.
It is unknown how the lawsuit will proceed and what the outcome will be. The NHL plans to defend itself vigorously, said Bettman.
What is certain is the danger of playing hockey, both now and during previous generations.
ALL DUE RESPECT
Stamkos considered a star among stars
At first, Lightning star Steven Stamkos acknowledged that Bruins defenseman Dougie Hamilton played a part in breaking his right leg. On Nov. 11 at TD Garden, Hamilton made contact with Stamkos as he joined the rush and tried to be a backdoor option for Shawn Thornton. Stamkos, who was backchecking on Hamilton, lost his balance because of the bump, hit the deck, and barreled into the net.
“That was kind of a dangerous area,” Stamkos told Tampa reporters on Monday. “But the more you look at it, the more you realize it is a hockey play. There is physical contact in those areas. Was there a little shove? I believe there was. Was it intentional? No. No one is out there trying to severely hurt someone. That’s a tough spot I got into. You feel helpless as soon as you lose your footing. You hope nothing happens.”
The care Stamkos received at Massachusetts General Hospital was optimal. Doctors stabilized the break with a steel rod. Just two weeks after breaking his tibia, Stamkos is walking without crutches or a walking boot. He has started rehabilitation with stretching, balance exercises, and upper-body workouts.
There are other stars who are not universally respected. Sidney Crosby, for example, has a good number of peers who don’t think much of the game’s best player. But Stamkos belongs to a category — Pavel Datsyuk is another member — who doesn’t draw a bad word from his opponents. That’s because Stamkos is as humble and hard-working as he is talented.
The Bruins had no complaints about how Kevan Miller performed as a stay-at-home, right-shot defenseman when Dennis Seidenberg and Adam McQuaid were unavailable. Miller didn’t record a point in three games, but he averaged 17:27 of ice time per appearanceand did not look out of place. Miller was so solid that coach Claude Julien tabbed the rookie for the final shift of regulation on Monday when Pittsburgh pulled goalie Marc-Andre Fleury and sent out its top players. Miller, a restricted free agent after this season, will remain in the Bruins’ plans. He could be a less-expensive alternative if the Bruins opt to say goodbye to McQuaid after 2014-15, when he will qualify for unrestricted free agency. McQuaid is an excellent teammate, dependable defensively, and an accomplished fighter. But his injury history and ceiling as a third-pairing defenseman may give Miller a shot at the job. “I thought Miller played well,” Julien said after his assignment. “Miller was very similar to what Adam does. But Adam’s got the experience, he’s got the size, and the reputation of being a tough defenseman.”
Paul Martin missed the 2010 Olympics because of a broken arm. Four years later, it’s possible the Penguins defenseman could be bypassed by Team USA for the Winter Games because of a broken leg. Martin, Pittsburgh’s best all-around defenseman, was hurt when he blocked a shot in the third period of the Bruins’ 4-3 overtime win on Monday. He played in overtime despite the injury, but could miss up to six weeks. It’s a nasty shot for the Penguins, who deployed Martin and Brooks Orpik as their top shutdown pairing. Coach Dan Bylsma, who was already without former Boston College blue-liner Rob Scuderi (ankle), will ask rookie Olli Maatta to assume some of Martin’s workload. The 19-year-old Maatta is a Martin clone: left-shot, smooth-skating, smart, mobile defenseman. Before Martin’s injury, Maatta was paired with Kris Letang on the No. 2 duo. Maatta, the No. 22 overall pick from the 2012 draft, projects to be a top-pairing defenseman. Just not this quickly.
Jonathan Ericsson, the last pick of the 2002 draft, cashed in on Wednesday, signing a six-year, $25.5 million contract with Detroit. The Red Wings, who had lost Nicklas Lidstrom and Brian Rafalski to retirement and Brad Stuart to free agency, had no desire to let the mobile, dependable, left-shot Ericsson leave Detroit. Ericsson landed stateside in 2006-07. Ericsson didn’t become a full-time NHLer until 2009-10. “We don’t draft players who go from the draft table to the National Hockey League,” general manager Ken Holland said. “From ’95 to ’05, we traded eight first-round picks, trying to acquire players to win. Since then, we’ve hung on to most of our picks. We had to have patience.” The other recent last pick to become a regular NHLer is Patric Hornqvist, the final player drafted in 2005. The Bruins have a potential varsity man in Zach Trotman, the last pick in 2010.
The Ducks may still wheel UFA-to-be Jonas Hiller before the trade deadline. But Hiller will remain in Anaheim until Viktor Fasth recovers from his lower-body injury. Fasth could miss up to a month after getting hurt during warm-ups Nov. 22. The Ducks will ride Hiller and Frederik Andersen until Fasth returns. However, Fasth’s injury history — this is the second significant sidelining for the 31-year-old — may give the Ducks pause before dealing Hiller. The Ducks have the horses to make a deep playoff run.
Congratulations to Mike Babcock, or Dr. Babcock, if you will. McGill University, Babcock’s alma mater, presented the Red Wings coach an honorary doctorate of laws on Monday. Babcock, Class of 1986, captained the McGill hockey team and studied education at the Montreal university. During his acceptance speech, Babcock told a story about his interactions with John Chomay, his former physical education professor and adviser. As Chomay presented Babcock with his final grade, he delivered a message that is undoubtedly repeated in the Detroit dressing room. “ ‘Mike, I’m going to give you my highest mark I’ve ever assigned. That means you have potential. But it’s only potential,’ ” Babcock recalled. “I can hear him to this day in my mind: ‘Mike, potential is like a dirty word unless you do something about it.’ Life, to me, is squeezing every ounce out of yourself and out of your potential. It’s a journey. It takes time. That’s where the fun is. Your potential is a moving target.” Chomay taught at McGill from 1968-90. He died in 2008.
As of Friday, St. Louis, Anaheim, and San Jose were the three Western Conference teams just behind top dog Chicago. The quality the three teams have in common is size and skill in the middle of their respective top lines. David Backes, Ryan Getzlaf, and Joe Thornton aren’t just dynamic offensive players, they’re heavy, hard-to-play-against pivots who wear out opponents because of their belligerence. Beef in the middle is one reason why the West has been better than the East . . . The concussion lawsuit states that Marc Savard and Chris Pronger were forced to retire. While neither Savard nor Pronger will play again, neither has officially retired. Both remain on their respective clubs’ payrolls, albeit on long-term injured reserve . . . Zdeno Chara is happy with his new stick. Since the start of the season, Chara has been playing with a one-piece Warrior. He had been one of the team’s last two-piece holdouts, usually a Warrior shaft and an Easton blade. Then again, Chara would probably be just as effective with a pine tree . . . November is gone. Thankfully, so are those silly mustaches. Paul MacLean thanks you for playing, even though you had no chance against his best-in-show soup strainer.