I understand that we're obviously not at the point where we can start lining up for tickets outside our local NHL rinks just yet, but now it's becoming pretty clear who won the lockout.
Yeah, the NHL is going to get nothing but givebacks from the players in just about every way — a rollback of the salary cap, length of the CBA, contract term limits, and so forth — but if you're sitting there thinking that this was, in any way, a win for the league, in a symbolic sense, then you're kidding yourself. It's been said a million times that this was always a takeaway deal for the owners because the players were always going to get nothing, and Donald Fehr's job was not to make sure that they didn't bleed, but rather that they didn't bleed out.
Where Fehr succeeded, and where his predecessors failed, was that Fehr was able to marshal the troops. The NHL leaned on these guys hard, and played a lot dirtier pool than they did the last time there was a lockout (at least insofar as I don't recall them offering the players a deal contingent upon their union's top executive not being in the room when it was signed). But Fehr said the same thing in mid-December as he had been saying in September and October: "There's a better offer coming."
And he was, of course, always right. No matter how many times Bettman swore on a stack of bibles that this was the league's best offer, anyone with a functioning brain knew it wasn't. When Bill Daly crossed his heart and hoped to die on a hill that five-year term limits for contracts were the only acceptable thing in its eyes, most people knew that wasn't the case. But nonetheless, it must have taken a lot of wrangling for Fehr to get hundreds of players, many of whom weren't collecting paychecks, to hold firm.
All the theater of getting Bettman and Fehr uninvolved in those owners-and-players only meetings, and the comical letters that followed from owners considered moderate about how obstinate Fehr was in all this, could have broken the union's will to get in line behind its leader. It didn't. Rather the opposite. At some point, and maybe this was the league's plan all along, the focus shifted from, "Boy don't you hate these greedy players," to, "Hey this BASEBALL guy is trying to deprive you of hockey!" The league insisted it couldn't do much better than what came out of those meetings, because of course it did. Fehr insisted the deal would do exactly that.
Then came the leaked idea from a league executive to ESPN, which lines up very nicely indeed with the shocking brand-new offer the league extended to the NHLPA late last week. Funny how that works. And what do you know? The league made several steps toward what is now, laughably, referred to as the players' position because it wasn't trying to take a pound of flesh, but closer to, like, 14 ounces. Much fairer that way. But as we learned from Bettman in September, they don't want the CBA to come out being "too fair" this time around too.
The owners are right about one thing: Fehr is obstinate, but wisely so.
It's been said that a deal would have been sewn up months ago if, say, Paul Kelly had still been in charge of the union, and I'm sure that's true. But given that his job would have been to serve the players' best interests, and the only way to have expedited the process of getting the league going again would have been to kowtow to one of the owners' earlier take-it-or-leave-it offers, he wouldn't have been doing his job at all. Fehr has undoubtedly served with the players' long-term best interests in mind, even if that means they've missed however-many paychecks to this point.
Now, to be fair, he could have handled all this better.
Throughout the process the dealings have been largely taken in turn, like it were a chess match. One guy makes a move. The other does. They often didn't move closer together as a result of these dealings, because it's as if neither side has heard of the line-item veto. For instance, if the league said, "We think we should do this, this and this," the PA could have said, "We're okay with those first two, but the third one could be changed in this way," and together progress toward a goal. Didn't happen, but one might be able to chalk that up to being the nature of things.
When the NHL gets back on the ice, it will do so because Fehr was right about everything. He knew the league wouldn't be so dumb as to play fewer than 48 games this season. He knew that waiting was indeed the best strategy. He knew Bettman and Daly's pronouncements were nothing but hot air. He knew a better offer was always coming, even when things looked blackest.
Everyone's saying the NHL will start up on Jan. 19. Perhaps not so coincidentally, the next day is scheduled to be the league's first game on NBC. That stuff from the lockout's early days about how the owners had a date in mind? Fehr was right about all of it, and because of his certainty, he made the NHL look very, very bad. We can argue about the cost of doing so later.
They tried to crush him. They tried to discredit him. They tried to circumvent him. Through it all he remained steadfast in his resolve, none of what they tried to do to him worked even a little.
What We Learned
Anaheim Ducks: Luca Caputi was recently re-assigned to the Norfolk Admirals from the Fort Wayne Komets, which reminds me: Luca Caputi is still alive.
Boston Bruins: Today is Day No. 28 since Steve Burton of WBZ in Boston said the lockout could be over in two days. Meanwhile, Tyler Seguin and Patrice Bergeron are playing on the same line in the Spengler Cup and had three combined points in their first two games. It's almost like they have this preexisting chemistry.
Buffalo Sabres: A total of 19,070 people were on hand in Buffalo as Rochester beat Lake Erie, behind Cody Hodgson's two-goal performance. That's the eighth-largest crowd in AHL history.
Calgary Flames: Calgary was able to assign Michael Ferland, who had been playing with Abbotsford, back to his WHL team, the Brandon Wheat Kings. It was Ferland's idea because he wasn't getting ice time in the AHL or ECHL, where he played just 10 combined games with one point to show for it. Ferland also didn't have a point in his debut with Brandon on Friday, so y'know.
Carolina Hurricanes: That Cup win in 2006 really helped boost youth hockey participation in North Carolina. Now, the Raleigh Youth Hockey Association is lighting up a Midget AAA tournament, and Rod Brind'Amour is the program's U-14 coach.
Chicago Blackhawks: When the NHL comes back, what should Chicago do with Michael Frolik? Keep him forever because he's good? Yes that's the answer. If your premise for getting rid of him is "His shooting percentage last year was 4.3 percent," then you don't trade him because you'll just watch him fill the net for someone else.
Colorado Avalanche: Ryan O'Reilly is o'really lighting it up for Metallurg (sorry). He has 4-2-6 in five games, but I guess playing with Evgeni Malkin (18-36-54 in 34) helps.
Columbus Blue Jackets: Matt Calvert is feeling good about his time in the minors, even though he only has 9-9-18 in 28 games. He had nine goals after the All-Star break last season, tied with Rick Nash for most on the team. Wow.
Dallas Stars: Here's a Dallas Morning News article wondering why the best players in Texas go north to continue their careers. Hmm I have a guess.
Detroit Red Wings presented by Amway: I'm not sure if this should actually count because it sure looks like the puck stopped for a split second, but here's a real nice spin-o-rama shootout goal by Gustav Nyquist nonetheless.
Edmonton Oilers: "Nugent-Hopkins steals show for Team Canada" but only as long as you pretend Jonathan Huberdeau isn't driving the bus for that team. Which he is.
Florida Panthers: Speaking of Huberdeau, man is that kid ever NHL-ready.
Los Angeles Kings: The Kings winning the Cup was ABC 7's No. 1 LA news story of the year. You can tell they were serious because they got the picture and logo right and everything.
Minnesota Wild: The Wild hosted a skills clinic for a bunch of high school girls' teams, which is really great. Unfortunately, the team Mike Yeo coached is now 1 for its last 47 on the power play.
Montreal Canadiens: This summer will be the 20th anniversary of the last time Montreal won a Stanley Cup, and the coach of that last team, Jacques Demers, thinks the current iteration can get back there some day. Which is, I guess, why he's not coaching in the NHL any more.
Nashville Predators: Jeff Cogen, the CEO of the Nashville Predators, began his career as an advanceman for the Ringling Bros. and Barnum and Bailey Circus, which probably gave him ample experience for dealing with this lockout.
New Jersey Devils: When you're counting on Bobby Butler to be your team's do-it-all guy, well, I guess that's a pretty good reason for your team to be so far out of a playoff position that your season might as well be over in late December.
New York Islanders: Is Syosset New York's version of Hockeytown? With its second-best product in the game today being Eric Nystrom, I sure hope not.
New York Rangers: Here's Dylan McIlrath elbowing someone in the face and later getting fed a couple serious shots by Brett Gallant. McIlrath was suspended two games for the 'bow.
Ottawa Senators: A few Ottawa Senators players and some other pros played a charity game to raise money for an ECHL player who's currently undergoing cancer treatment, which is a cool and nice thing to do.
Philadelphia Flyers: Just days after signing a full-season contract with Eisbaren Berlin, Danny Briere picked up a wrist injury and is out two or three weeks. Fun stuff for Philly with the lockout drawing to an end, I'm sure.
Phoenix Coyotes: Today is Day No. 143 since Jude LaCava of Fox 10 in Arizona said Greg Jamison would have the deal for the Coyotes sewn up within the next five days. An effort to collect enough signatures to stop the insane funding of the Coyotes fell short by about half, so that's not good news if you work in the Glendale library system.
Pittsburgh Penguins: The Three Rivers Classic college hockey tournament held in Pittsburgh this year — featuring Ohio State, Miami, Penn State, and host Robert Morris — drew pretty well, setting the stage nicely for the city to host the Frozen Four in April. Getting 11,663 in the building? Solid stuff. Speaking of the 3RC, Robert Morris won it behind goaltender Eric Levine stopping all 99(!) shots he faced in two games. Holy crap.
San Jose Sharks: Skip to six seconds into this video to see James Sheppard score a ridiculous goal.
St. Louis Blues: Through the end of Friday night's game, the Peoria Rivermen had three goals scored in more than 10 periods of hockey. That is bad.
Tampa Bay Lightning: Bolts prospect JT Brown suffered a broken collar bone in a 4-2 win over Norfolk, so he'll be out awhile.
Toronto Maple Leafs: Nazem Kadri missing a Marlies road trip because of headaches after Zach Stortini checked him in the noodle? That's bad news. The fact that he played a game after that check and only then complained of those headaches? That's worse.
Vancouver Canucks: Here's something that makes no sense: The Canucks not trading Roberto Luongo, and likely getting a good deal of plunder for him, just to get him as an amnesty buyout next summer. Yeah. Yup. Definitely. For sure.
Washington Capitals: You never wanna see a post with a video entitled "Nicklas Backstrom injures neck in KHL game" but here is one any way. The team says the below hit resulted in "just a bruise" but if you believe that I have a bridge in Chelyabinsk to sell you.
Winnipeg Jets: I like the idea of the Jets and Blue Jackets switching divisions because it all but ensures the Jets will not make the playoffs if they have to take on Detroit, Chicago, St. Louis and Nashville all the time.
Play of the Weekend
Gustav Nyquist isn't the only guy to score a gross shootout goal this weekend. Here's former Flyers second-rounder Mike Ratchuk making some Austrian goalie look just terrible.
Gold Star Award
In NCAA hockey today, having a 20-win season is considered to be a successful one. He has only failed to reach that mark twice in the last 15 years. Both times, he won 18 and finished above .500, and both times he was coming off years in which he won a national title. He has five to his name, but four have come since 2001, and three since 2008.
And how's he gonna celebrate? "Campus Pizza. Pepperoni." Man. What a legend.
Minus of the WeekendWhat a load of crap: "Canadians insist they won't dive to get calls." Yeah okay pal. Whatever you say.
Perfect HFBoards Trade Proposal of the Week
When I saw user "Heista18" had this proposal in the hopper, I said, "This is going to be awesome."
2nd round draft pick 2013
1st round draft pick 2014
I was not disappointed.
Ginseng tea? I'm not gonna get hopped up on dope.
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