Until Friday morning, the key operatives of both the NHL and the Players Association had remained away from the bargaining table all of last week, each side feeling there was little sense in continuing to discuss a new CBA given that the sides were so far apart on core money issues after a few weeks of off-and-on talks.
“We’ve been through a couple of lockouts, right?’’ noted a key member of a team’s front office Friday. “So after a while, you realize it’s kind of hard, or maybe even useless, to get too emotionally wrapped up in all of it. Because at the end of the day, the guys at the table are the ones who do or don’t get it done.’’
So the rest of us — everyone beyond Gary Bettman and Bill Daly for the league, and brothers Donald and Steve Fehr for the players — remain window shoppers around a process in which none of us truly knows what’s really being bought and sold at the table. The existing CBA, the game’s working document since the summer of 2005, expires Saturday.
\Provided Bettman, the league’s commissioner since Feb. 1, 1993, remains true to his word, the absence of a new deal on that day will trigger the third lockout of his tenure, which really doesn’t say much for his deal-making ability, and equally speaks to the fact that he’s much more a messenger than a commissioner in this process.
A man with a third lockout ready to be registered on his curriculum vitae clearly is doing what he is being told by the owners, which is to say he is the dog being wagged by 30 tails.
True enough, the Players Association has been run like a Gong Show through much of Bettman’s run, and that hasn’t helped the process or the players. But in the last go-round of the 2004-05 lockout, the players handed Bettman precisely what he demanded — the cost certainty of a salary cap — and now Bettman’s bosses are telling him they need more; they want cost certainty-plus (a buzz term for no-risk, guaranteed profits).
So if the players give Bettman more this time, what more does the union hand over when this deal expires in three, five, or eight years?
Truth is, avarice never has a fix. What the current stalemate tells us is that NHL owners simply want to cull out something close to 50 percent of the overall take, more closely mirroring what NFL and NBA owners won in their most recent collective rock fights with players.
Let us not forget, it was the salary-cap cost certainty of the NFL and NBA that led hockey owners to demand one last time.
As one team official noted to me last week, “Wait, didn’t we get what we said we needed from the players last time? At some point, maybe we’ve got to stop going that route, trying something else.’’
A business with reported annual revenues of $3.3 billion should be able to “skim” 3-5 percent of the total annual take and designate that money to provide relief for the owners’ alleged financial shortfall. At 3 percent, that’s $99 million a year. At 5 percent, $165 million a year. At the higher figure (assuming $3.3 billion remained the annual gross), players and owners could build a rainy day fund of $825 million over five years.
With those dollars in place, the fund co-managed by owners and players, splitting up the remaining $3.135 billion or more each year needn’t be be so difficult. Such a plan might not provide cost certainty-plus, but the safety net would grow over time as disaster prevention for individual franchises and their owners.
There are many ways to skin the cat, especially when the business has grown to $3.3 billion, a 50 percent increase over pre-lockout levels. Thus far, the only method the owners understand is what worked last time: skin the players. Indeed, time to try something else.
Familiar face is unmasked
If you think Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask and Red Sox hurler Clay Buchholz were separated at birth, well, you are not alone. Part of it may be because the 25-year-old Rask typically wears a Red Sox cap — albeit turned bill to the back, of course.
“Lately, when I am wearing my Red Sox hat, they think I am him,’’ Rask said last week, following a morning workout with a few NHLers, including a few Bruins, at Boston University. “The last couple of weeks, I’ve had to tell probably 10 people that I’m not him.
“I did take one picture as him, though, because the guy just didn’t care. That was pretty funny.
“I mean, think about it: Would Clay Buchholz walk around with a Red Sox hat on downtown?’’
Overall, attention from Boston fans is very different, said Rask, from what Finnish players would experience when home.
“Finnish people in general are a little more quiet,’’ he said. “They don’t like to come up to you. If they notice you, they’ll just maybe whisper and stare, but they’ll never yell your name or come up to talk to you — unless they’re drunk. That’s just the Finnish mentality.’’
And how about the neighboring Swedes?
“Swedish people are so cool, they just don’t care,’’ said Rask. “Finnish people care, but they don’t talk. That’s the difference.’’
And how about the Norwegians?
“Don’t know,’’ said Rask. “Never been there.’’
Chiarelli likes his prospects
Boston general manager Peter Chiarelli, like the rest of his brethren, keeps up hope that the 2012-13 season will begin on time (the Bruins are scheduled to drop the puck Oct. 11 in Philadelphia).
Whenever the season begins, Chiarelli believes that raw rookie defenseman Doug Hamilton has a chance of making the varsity, similar to Tyler Seguin’s direct leap from junior. “I saw him play in the Russian-Canada challenge series this summer,’’ said Chiarelli, who drafted Hamilton No. 9 overall in 2011, part of the compensation from the Maple Leafs in the Phil Kessel swap. “He’ll have his hiccups, because he’s young  and he’ll be new to the pro game, but he’s an outstanding prospect.
“He’s got size [6 feet 5 inches, 200 pounds], strength. A smart and skilled player with range. The danger is you oversell him, of course. But he’s very good.’’
One area Hamilton might have to fine-tune, noted Chiarelli, is gap coverage — the space a defenseman comfortably surrenders when backing up as a puck carrier comes toward his defensive zone. Because of his size and skill, said Chiarelli, Hamilton in junior hockey has been very aggressive, moving up to cloak puck carriers, denying them room to operate. In the NHL, at least to start, he’ll have to be more cautious, manage the gap rather than try to eliminate it.
“No question, he’ll have to cope with a feeling-out period,’’ said Chiarelli. “But I think you’ll see him evolve quickly into a well-rounded player.’’
Meanwhile, the Bruins last week signed goalie prospect Malcolm Subban to an entry-level deal after selecting him No. 24 overall in this year’s draft.
The immediate plan is for Subban to remain in junior (Belleville) for one more year, then begin a pro career — likely leading to a stint of two or more years in minor pro.
Chiarelli got to know Malcolm’s better-known brother, P.K. Subban, the talented Montreal defenseman, a little bit this summer during the World Championships in Helsinki, although P.K.’s stint there was truncated by injury. Malcolm, said Chiarelli, is a bit more understated than the histrionic Habs backliner.
“P.K.’s actually a good kid,’’ said Chiarelli. “I know he’s an arch villain here because of his style and theatrics and all that.
“Malcolm was with us for development camp and he has a personality, too, but I’d say he’s more even-keeled, a little quieter.’’
A hot spot for Luongo
Roberto Luongo back to the Florida Panthers? “Makes sense,’’ the Canucks goalie was quoted as saying last week in Coral Gables, where he continues to live and train in the offseason. Bobby Lu has 10 more years left on his Vancouver deal, with a cap hit of $5.33 million. Easy to see Luongo landing back in Sunrise, or even Toronto, but likely not until a new CBA is in place. Not a likely scenario, but a 24 percent rollback on existing contracts, similar to what happened coming out of the last lockout, would trim that cap hit down to $4.05 million, until Luongo turns 43. The Canucks are eager to deal him, and hand the No. 1 job to ex-BC Eagle Cory Schneider.
No deals here
P.K. Subban, has yet to come to contract terms with Montreal. With Brad Marchand inking a four-year extension at $4.5 million a year Subban can’t settle for less than $5 million a year — something in line with, say, Jeff Skinner’s new pact in Carolina that will pay him $34.35 million over six seasons. Some of the other unsigned prime young talent around the Original 30: Evander Kane (Winnipeg), Jamie Benn (Dallas), Ryan O’Reilly (Colorado), Tyler Ennis (Buffalo), and Michael Del Zotto (Rangers).
A prose pro
Good pal Michael Farber, once the crown jewel columnist of the Montreal Gazette’s sports section, announced he will be retiring from Sports Illustrated, remaining on as a special contributor through the 2014 Olympics in Sochi, Russia. The Montreal-based Farber, like many of his era, entered the business when Shakespeare and Dickens were common reference points in prose. Some 30-plus years later, “The Simpsons” set the table. What a revoltin’ development.
The Edmonton Journal’s Jim Matheson reports that Oilers forward Sam Gagner is trim, ripped, and ready to roll after working this summer with Andy O’Brien, longtime trainer of Sidney Crosby. Gagner, by the way, could head to Switzerland if there is a lockout, possibly to play with Jonathan Toews and Max Pacioretty in Zug.
More than 200 NHL players, including at least a handful of Bruins, are expected to meet with the Brothers Fehr in New York Wednesday and Thursday, a show of strength and solidarity among the rank and file. Meanwhile, the NHL Board of Governors also will convene in Manhattan Thursday . . . I still don’t get why the Habs chose Michel Therrien as their new coach . . . A contrite Bobby Ryan told the Orange County Register last week, “I shouldn’t have done that.’’ Oft-rumored to be traded, a frustrated Ryan this summer said the Ducks might just as well deal him to the Flyers . . . Sabres owner Terry Pegula was chosen by the city of Buffalo to develop Harbor Center, a $123 million facility across from First Niagara Center, home to the Sabres, that will include two rinks and a 200-room hotel. It’s similar to the kind of project Bruins owner Jeremy Jacobs one day would like to build next to his Garden . . . Bruins power forward Nathan Horton has been cleared for contact, after missing half of last season with concussion-like symptoms. However, he has yet to withstand any contact drills, ideally something he would experience prior to entering training camp . . . According to Chiarelli, Marc Savard will visit the Hub in a couple of weeks to undergo a standard battery of neuro-psych tests. “No change there,’’ said Chiarelli. “Everything remains the same.’’ Read: No one expects him to play again in the NHL . . . Marchand’s new deal, to pay $18 million over four years, is really an extension of the two-year, $5 million pact he signed last summer. So, at six years/$23 million, it fits comfortably into what top-six forwards make in today’s NHL. We wrote in this space a year ago that Marchand easily could have made a case for a deal approaching Milan Lucic’s $4 million a year. Now his six-year average will be $3.83 million. Good deal for both sides . . . Colleague Fluto Shinzawa reported Friday that Tyler Seguin this week could sign an extension beyond his entry-level deal that expires after 2012-13. Guess here: four years/$26 million . . . Coyotes forward Raffi Torres acknowledged to the Arizona Republic last week that his dastardly hit on Hawks forward Marian Hossa last spring was “a little late and it was a little high.’’ Ya think? Sounding a lot like Matt Cooke, Torres promised to clean up his game, something NHL officials should have insisted upon, oh, maybe five years ago.