Search This Site
Silicon Valley veteran doing Technical Community Management. Photographer with a strong interest in birds, wildlife and nature who is exploring the Western states and working to tell you the stories of the special places I've found.
Author and Blogger. They are not the same thing. Sports occasionally spoken here, especially hockey. Veteran of Sun, Apple, Palm, HP and now Infoblox, plus some you've never heard of. They didn't kill me, they made me better.
Person with opinions, and not afraid to share them. Debate team in high school and college; bet that's a surprise.
Support This Site
If you found this page interesting, please consider clicking through this ad and buying something.
If you do, Amazon will pay me a small percentage of the price. You don't spend any more on the item, and the money helps pay for the site and the more people who do this the more time I'll be able to spend on the site improving it and adding content.
More to Read
- Some Thoughts on Lightroom Keywords
- How not to be a doofus with a camera
- Beyond 'Vacation Snaps'
- A teachable moment (or why I love birding, even when I make a fool of myself)
- Sherman, set the wayback machine to…
- An audience of one....
- Talking about 'Stuff'
- What I do for a living…
- 50 reasons Why I Haven’t Been Blogging
Want more? Try this list...
New on the Blog
- Half Dome from Washburn Point
- Yosemite Road Trip 2013: Thoughts and takeaways…
- why do point and shoot cameras suck so massively?
- Yosemite Road Trip 2013: Day 3 – Hetch hetchy and home
- Lightroom and Photography resources for beginners
- Yosemite Road Trip 2013: Day 2 and 3 – In the Park
- The new flickr design
- Yosemite Road Trip 2013 – Day 1, teaching.
- The Raffi Torres Hit
- Tioga Pass, Yosemite
Rent Gear at Borrowlenses
Don't buy that gear before trying it out! Renting a lens you're considering buying is a great investment in saving yourself from buyer's remorse!
And if it's a piece or gear you aren't going to use constantly, renting it when you need it is a great way to save money, and I highly recommend Borrowlenses as a place to rent high quality, well-maintained gear.
Category Archives: Sports – Hockey
Upon review of the incident, it is abundantly clear that this was a clean hockey hit. As noted by the NHL, Raffi’s initial point of contact was a shoulder-to-shoulder hit on an opponent who was playing the puck. He did not leave his feet or elevate, he kept his shoulder tucked and elbow down at his side, and he was gliding – not skating or charging.
It’s rare for me to disagree with Doug Wilson on hockey issues, but on this hit, I am.
I’ve watched various angles of the hit multiple times. I see a different hit than Wilson does. What I see is Torres gliding in for a hit and making shoulder to head contact with Stoll. Wilson is correct that Torres didn’t leave his feet or elevate in the hit, which is why Torres isn’t suspended for a dozen games. But it’s clear from a couple of angles that Torres was watching Stoll as he skated in, had the time and ability to shift the hit away from his head, and didn’t. To blame Stoll for putting his head in the way of that hit is a GM defending his player, and more power to Wilson for doing so.
But it’s wrong. Shanahan’s right. My prediction on twitter a couple of days ago was three games off — one for the hit and two for the reputation. The way the sharks are playing I may well be right. there’s been some kerfluffle over “the rest of the series”, but I think that makes sense in this context, in that it keeps Torres away from the Kings (and vice versa), but it also doesn’t over-punish Torres. I do NOT think the suspension should have a term that might leak into next season, for instance, and this one doesn’t.
I can see the logic of the league not wanting Torres to come back for a game-deciding game 6 or game 7, for instance. Just imagine the potential mayhem. This pushes any rematch out to next season where tempers will have had time to cool off a bit.
I understand why Wilson is upset; the Sharks need Torres in the lineup. but I think Shanahan got this one right. The team knew what torres’ suspension history and reputation were before bringing him onto the team. Torres has done a good job of reforming his game away from the kind of suspendable play he’s known for — but he could have turned this into a good clean body check, and he chose not to. And so now he sits.
And yes, that really hurts the Sharks chances of making this a long series. But the thing is, he should have considered that before going for a head shot. And didn’t. Because Torres knows what “repeat offender status” means better than almost anyone in the league right now.
In other news, after the hearing, the NHL suspended Bryan Marchment for two games, just in case.
Round 1 is done, round 2 is starting up, and so far, it’s been one heck of a fun playoffs to watch. The sharks made it through to the 2nd round. The Leafs almost took out the Bruins. Washington is done. All four of the second round series look to be great ones and tough to call. No slackers here.
But before I predict the second round, some housekeeping. How did my predictions in the first round turn out?
In the east I picked: Pens over Islanders, Montreal over Ottawa. Rangers over Capitals and Toronto over Boston.
Reality: Pens (but New York scared the hell out of them. well done!); Ottawa, Rangers and Boston. two out of four. I was right in predicting Toronto/Boston to be a coin flip, though. That was a hell of a series. Both the Islanders and the Leafs can feel proud at how well they did and hopefully build on this, although the Toronto loss could be crushing. Hope not. The Capitals look tired, and as a franchise, this current mix of players is fading. their window has closed. Montreal could have won that series, but congrats to the Sens for not letting them.
In the east I picked: Chicago over Minnesota, Anaheim over Detroit, LA over St. Louis. and San Jose over Vancouver.
In reality: Chicago was never really challenged, but that’s been true all season. Detroit squeaked past Anaheim. LA beat St. Louis, but again, that team, impressed me and can build on this season. and San Jose swept Vancouver (really? REALLY? didn’t see that coming). I’m not sure how San Jose swept the Canucks. Vancouver’s a team with a lot going for it — and significant problems, of which I think the goaltending problem is the least of them. Not sure how to fix that team right now. Detroit? As I always say, never bet against detroit — they seem to find a way, but that team isn’t what it was, and it’s fading towards a rebuild. Still, dangerous and they showed it.
The best hockey is out west by a long shot. And it’s been a lot of fun.
So, 2-2 in the east, 3-1 in the west. 5-3 overall. Not bad. I still have time to drop myself below .500 for the playoffs, and if tradition holds, I will.
2nd round picks:
Pittsburgh vs. Ottawa: should be an interesting series, but I see nothing about Ottawa that makes me think they can stop the pens. Pens in 5.
Rangers vs. Bruins: Should be tough, should be physical, should be exhausting. Should be Boston. In 5. Sorry, Ranger fans. But I don’t think I’d bet money on it. or bet on whoever survives out of this round to win the next.
Chicago vs. Detroit: another fun series, but reality should hit the wings here. Hawks in 5.
San Jose vs. LA: For me, the series to watch in the 2nd round, and not because it’s got the sharks. should be the most interesting series in the second round. Closely matched, well played, hard, physical. Either team could win it. I’m going to go for the Sharks in 6. But I wouldn’t be surprised to be wrong.
So, summary: Penguins and Bruins in the east, Chicago and San Jose in the west. My original picks for Chicago and Penguins for the final (pens winning) stand, and I see no reason to think that’s wrong. Yet.
On to round 2!
Don Cherry isn’t speaking for the CBC when he says women have no place in sports locker-rooms, the head of media relations for the public broadcaster said Monday.
What Don Cherry is really saying — that an athlete’s behavior can be boorish or juvenile (at best — or it can degrade further and be sexist and abusive) and this is the fault of a woman for being nearby.
It’s far past time we stopped accepting and enabling the trollish behavior of some athletes, but it’s also time for us to stop accepting the excuses of those who enable and promote that behavior.
it also needs to be remembered that MOST athletes do not act like this, but the locker room is still a stronghold of this kind of trollish attitude, because, frankly, if you win, people cut you a lot of slack and protect you from being responsible for your behavior.
And it was that kind of “well, he wins a lot of hockey games” attitude that allowed Graham James to prey on his players for as long as he did.
These kinds of attitudes need to die. We should move that forward a little bit by helping Don Cherry out of his spotlight. But it won’t happen, because while many of his attitudes and opinions are out of date (and head off into “downright reprehensible”), he draws audiences to CBC. And just like athletes, as long as you can do that, they’ll define your flaws as — character quirks and apologize for you instead of hold you responsible for them.
I’m a day late, but what the heck,this season was whacked by the lockout so who really cares if I’m making the predictions after a couple of playoff games have been decided. Please do not use these predictions to lose money with any wager — I’m sure not.
But it’s a tradition. Every year I make my playoff predictions, and later this summer, you can all laugh at me when they prove mostly wrong. In a good year I seem to get about half right. Such is life… That’s why I’m not a famous hockey pundit….
Islanders vs. Penguins. Well obviously, it’s the Island…
Okay, I can’t say that a straight face. But I do want to recognize the Islanders (and Evgeny Nabokov) for making the playoffs when nobody, not even the Islanders, expected that to happen. Well done. But the Penguins will keep this playoff run short on the Island this year. Pens in 4.
Senators vs. Canadiens. I have a fondness for the Senators, but this year, I think I have to pick Montreal. Probably in six. And it would be really cool if Montreal and Toronto were to meet, although I think the Mayans have a prediction that if that were to happen the sun would go nova. I’m willing to risk that.
Rangers vs. Capitals: I have a fondness for the Capitals, but honestly, the Rangers are the better team. I don’t expect the Rangers to go past the 2nd round, but I do think the Capitals will go out in five.
Toronto vs. Boston: the series to watch in the first round, if only to watch and see if anyone dies. This ought to be a rough series for both teams. I’m not sure whoever wins this series will be in any kind of shape to win the 2nd round, but this is the series I plan on watching out of the east. And because I have to, toronto in 6, but this is basically a coin flip in my mind.
So in summary, Penguins, Canadiens, Rangers, Toronto. And I pick Pittsburgh to win the east.
Minnesota vs. Chicago: Chicago has been amazing all season. I see no reason that’ll end. Blackhawks in 5. Sorry, Minnesota fans.
Detroit vs. Anaheim: It’s hard to bet against Detroit, but I’m going to. I like Anaheim, although I like Detroit’s goaltending a lot more. I still think the Wings can’t get past the Ducks this year, so Anaheim in 5.
Los Angeles vs. St. Louis: I like both teams. I like LA’s goaltending more. I think having lots of west coast teams is a great way to piss off the tv networks. Because of that, I want as many California teams to go as deep in the playoffs as I can, so Los Angeles in 6. but I’m not sure St. Louis will go easily, or the kings will have much left for round 2.
San Jose vs. Vancouver. Now excuse me while I do the homer thing and pick the Sharks (in 6). I think Niemi is a much better goaltender playing better. I like how the Sharks have played the last few weeks. They seem to get it. Although I wouldn’t be crushed if the Canucks win out, either. But I do think the Sharks will win the first round, although they have to prove to everyone (including themselves) they can go deeper. I’m not sure they can, especially against the talent in the west.
So summary: Chicago, Anaheim, Los Angeles, and San Jose. If Toronto/Montreal doesn’t make the sun go nova, three california teams in the 2nd round might. or it might just make Don Cherry’s head explode. And then maybe he might finally retire (but I doubt it….).
Coming out of the west — Chicago. Hard to see any team taking them out this year, unless chicago does it to themselves.
So my prediction for stanley cup final: chicago and pittsburgh. And of the two? Flip a coin. I’ll take Chicago in 7, if only to save myself from sleeping on the couch again…
PA still gathering feedback from members on realignment. Exec board will decide this week whether to make call itself or hold full PA vote.
There’s a fight going on here that the fans should be paying attention to. The problem is, it’s a quiet one so it’s easy to miss.
Welcome to the world of Donald Fehr.
If you think back to the previous work stoppage — not the one we’re dealing with this season, but the one before — the owners made big noises about wanting to make the players partners in the game, and that was part of the “concessions” that helped bring the agreement and the new CBA.
The owners quickly made clear the whole concept was a sham; they put a couple of players on the competition committee, which was routinely ignored, to the point Martin Brodeur quit as a waste of time. And that was the most progressive aspect of “partnering”. In pretty much every other aspect of the game, the players were quickly told to go back to playing and leave the hard business stuff to the owners.
Sometimes I think the owners forget that players have memories. And they remember this stuff. And so when a situation happens where they can “return the favor”, they will.
After that CBA, the NHLPA spasmed, Kelly was dumped, and the players went off and decided to get serious about being a players association, and ultimately hired Donald Fehr.
And you see Fehr at work here. One of the tenets that Fehr works under is that the players should be a business partner with the owners; everyone works together and everyone grows the game together and everyone wins. Baseball gave up on the idea that the players were property and shouldn’t have a say in business matters slowly and with great pain — just look at the hundreds of millions of dollars lost to the collusion lawsuits. But ultimately, between the work of Marvin Miller and Donald Fehr, the players were taught to get involved and be informed, the owners figured out it was better to work together than fight each other, and baseball has prospered.
In hockey, it’s not as bad as it was in baseball in the collusion days, but you still hear the word “asset” thrown around talking about players far too often, and hockey has definitely moved back into the mode of “these are the things the owners decide, and the union should stay out of it”. To say that this doesn’t sit well with the players and Fehr is an understatement.
But don’t expect outright war. The thing the hockey owners haven’t seemed to figure out yet is that Fehr plays a long game, looks for situations he can take advantage of and us them to his advantage. With realignment, the owners went off and made decisions without consulting the players, which gave Fehr an opportunity to push his “players are partners” agenda, and quietly threaten to bollix up the entire situation by shoving it into arbitration or even court. The owners realized that even if they ultimately won out that fight, it’d cause massive delays, and they might lose. So they backed off and agreed to bring the players into the discussion.
Which they did. Sort of. After the decisions were done. Which isn’t what the players want. And the owners did it by offering the players the final decision to approve, and a short deadline to approve it, and more or less demanded a rubber-stamp on the decision.
Not surprisingly, the players have decided they aren’t sure they like this plan (because, well, they weren’t in on the formation of it, among other things). And not surprisingly, it’s taking the union a lot longer to evaluate and vote on the plan than the owners asked for. Just going through the process, folks. Sorry about that (unspoken hint: if we’d been in the discussion EARLIER, this might all go faster… hint). By slipping this past the owners deadline, they create some minor heartburn for the owners.
I expect the players will ratify re-alignment. Eventually. But along the way, Fehr has made it clear that the players have a say in these kinds of decisions, and ultimately, maneuvered the owners into agreeing to that (the owners, honestly, made that easy). And when the owners then tried to turn that into a rubber-stamp of what the owners decided to do, the players have turned it into a minor crisis as a way of spanking the owners on the wrist.
That’s how Fehr likes to work. Not outright war, but smaller situations that allow him to push his agenda and manipulate the other side into an agreement that sets a precedent. And that precedent is then used on future, generally bigger targets (“we were involved in that decisions. How can we not be part of this one?”); a big target is going to be the next round of television deals — you can bet Fehr wants the players in on those talks, and the owners want no part of it.
I’ll sell popcorn. But right now, the owners aren’t winning these fights, and Fehr and the players are. And they may seem like relatively small ones, but a poker player that wins a lot of small pots still ends the evening with a large stack to cash in.
Fehr is doing a good job of accumulating chips, too, almost without it being noticed.
The National Hockey League’s Department of Player Safety on Wednesday unveiled its “Tripping/Slew-Footing” video, the third in a series of educational videos designed to help players and fans better understand how specific infractions are viewed and evaluated, what is legal and what merits the assessment of Supplemental Discipline.
This is awesome material, because what the NHL is finally starting to do is put the league casebook online.
If there’s a significant difference between the Colin Campbell era and the Brendan Shanahan era in NHL discipline, it’s that Shanahan and the NHL have embraced transparency. I always felt Campbell got a bum rap from many for being arbitrary and I don’t think that was really true, but what Campbell didn’t do a good job on was explaining why he made the decisions he did. Shanahan is changing that in the way he’s disclosing the information and rationale that goes into suspensions and using online video to help explain the situation. You may not agree with his decision, but at least you’re getting a lot more of what went into making it than you got with Campbell.
Beyond that, we’re now starting to see the publication of casebook material. The game is governed by a rule book, and the official rules of the NHL (and other hockey leagues) have been available for years — I collect them and I have rulebooks going back into the early 40′s. But the way leagues have traditionally helped instruct referees and linesmen is with what’s known as a casebook. This has traditionally been some kind of publication that describes how the league wants the rules interpreted. Sometimes it’s bound and published as a book (the USA Hockey casebook is here); sometimes it’s a series of sheets or sections distributed in a binder for easier updating.
What the casebook tries to do is help the referee interpret the rule. With descriptions and pictures in classic ones, and today increasing use of video samples, casebooks try to define where the edge cases are — if a player does THIS it’s hooking, but if they do THAT it’s not. Since interpretation of a rulebook is subjective even if the words in a rulebook isn’t, the casebook is the guide to where to draw the lines around the rules and when to make the call and when to let it slide.
They can be fascinating reading. They also are intended to be a living document as special cases or new interpretations happen. The NHL has long updated their casebook on an ongoing basis and distributed memos with clarifications or notes describing specific situations.
A number of years ago — more than a decade — I had a few conversations with people working in the officiating department of the NHL, and one of the things I encouraged them to consider was publishing their casebook so all fans could (if they wish) learn how the rules are intended to be called. that won’t stop much the fan griping, but I felt it would help fans become better educated and give them another tool to study the game.
At the time, there were people in the department who wanted to, but there wasn’t enough support to make it happen. Now there is, for which I take absolutely zero credit — but I did want to call it out and offer credit to the folks at the NHL who are now willing to take this step. If you’re interested in the details of the game, these videos will be a useful tool is learning to watch for them.
One of the things happening at that time was a lot of criticism of the NHL refereeing; I was writing about it a lot then as well, and not always positively. But a number of broadcasters and journalists (people who’s job it was to know how the rules were supposed to operate) were either too lazy to actually learn them (too true in some cases) or had made a conscious choice to criticize based on how they wanted the rules to be written (the, ahem, Don Cherry scenario). Occasionally I’d hear about something that I got wrong, and that led to a discussion about the situation. I felt that having the casebook available would give broadcasters no excuse for being lazy or craven about knowing the rules (I also suggested they look into pre-season seminars on the rules that team broadcasters and journalists could sit in on and ask questions. Again, teaching and transparency. Now, with modern online webinar capabilities, this is even easier to accomplish).
These days, I think that the broadcasters do a much better job of being balanced and knowing the rules, and I think overall, the reffing in the NHL is better, thanks in large part to the two referee system. It creates some challenges, but it reduces the difficulty of handling the game and makes it easier for the refs to ref it appropriately. Mistakes still occur — refs are human and the game of hockey is by far the hardest game to referee, with perhaps the offsides call of a soccer game at an elite level — but overall, I think NHL refs today do a pretty good job.
I do think there are steps the league could take to push even further into disclosure and transparency. I don’t expect to ever see these happen, however, but I’d love to see these be implemented:
- Disclosure of referee and linesman ratings, as well as discipline (fines and suspensions) when issued. Unfortunately, when i’ve brought this up, it hits the wall of this being personnel issues and not wanting to get into disclosure issues over an employee. Of course, the league does so with players suspensions and fines, but that’s negotiated with the PA. Trying to negotiate the same disclosure with the refs union would be tough. (you do know that referees and linesmen are subject to reprimands as well as suspensions? And some leagues (not sure about the NHL) they can be fined in some cases as well. you have to be careful, though, because officials get time off in-season just as teams get extended breaks between games, so just because a referee doesn’t show up in the box scores for a while doesn’t mean he got suspended. And referees get injured and sick, too..)
- Post game media access for referees and linesmen. Let them sit at the podium and talk about their decisions. Players have to man up and be responsible for what they did on the ice, I think the referees should, too. Not holding my breath. It might get uncomfortable at times; knowing that is something that I expect would make referees more thoughtful about their decisions. And non-decisions.
- Get a referee off the ice. While I like the two ref system, at the time I felt a better option would be for the second ref to be off ice and in some kind of elevated viewing position. One ref covers the actions on ice, the other covers the entire ice surface from an “eye in the sky” position, because, frankly, there’s a lot of stuff going on that at ice level with all those bodies moving around is hard to see, even with two sets of eyes. Move one set of eyes above the action, and give them access to video replay and let them be responsible for it instead of the Toronto War Room (unless they want help). And that removes that extra body off the ice again. A minor advantage to this is that refs would end up skating half as many miles per season — so the senior refs would likely go longer before retirement.
- And finally, I want to see coaches challenges happen. There seems to finally be some movement in that direction. Video review and challenges and all of that can really screw over the flow of the game (hello, NFL replay…. yawn) — but getting it right and giving the teams some discretion in when it needs to be gotten right is a good idea. The devil is in the details (Hello, NFL Replay, in the 93 variants they’ve tried so far…). What major league baseball does is actually pretty good, but probably doesn’t go quite far enough. What you do NOT want is to screw up the game making sure you get every call right, because we’ll all die of old age before the third period ends. but there are key plays that if you get them wrong, you can destroy the integrity and results of a given game. And for those — find a way to get it right. And what seems to work is giving the coaches a limited right to challenge, and penalize them for being wrong (yes, the NFL Replay mode…. It works).
Under the new plan, the conferences would be realigned with the Columbus Blue Jackets and Detroit Red Wings moving from the Western Conference to the Eastern Conference. There would be no corresponding moves by Eastern Conference clubs, resulting in unbalanced-conference alignment that would see 16 teams in the Eastern Conference and 14 in the Western Conference.
I’ve written about re-alignment in the past, and I’ve been really critical of the NHL for pandering to the east-coast fan stronghold while not doing more to promote hockey out here on the Left Coast. I’ve been especially critical of the idea of Detroit moving to the Eastern Conference because that would mean losing another “Original 6″ team to the east, where, given the League’s propensities for unbalanced schedules, means those of us in the Western Conference got to see these teams — well, rarely to effectively never. That was made even worse when the NHL was allowing the Canadian teams to schedule extra games among themselves to help promote Canadian attendance, because that meant that we saw even less of the Maple Leafs and Canadiens.
Frankly, there’ve been times when a West Coast NHL fan could justifiably whine about thinking the league saw us as kind of a minor league variant of the “real” NHL, which seemed to exist mostly in the Northeast corner of the continent (more on that in a minute).
But having said that, I fully understand the challenge and problems this has caused the Detroit franchise and to a lesser extent Columbus, and I sympathize with their pain.
So, I read the current proposal — which puts Detroit back in the east, and puts the Sharks in with the Kings, Coyotes, Ducks, Flames, Oilers and Canucks — and I think, in all honesty, that it’s about the best they can do. Somewhat separate from re-alignment is the shift to a balanced schedule, and as long as the league stays committed to a balanced schedule and home-and-home with each team every season, count me in as a supporter of this realignment. It means we’ll see Detroit in San Jose only once a year, but it also means we’ll get Philly and Washington and Pittsburgh and Montreal and Toronto every year, instead of previous years where the unbalanced schedule meant Philly and Pittsburgh every other year, and because of the Canadian variant, Toronto maybe every fourth.
The balanced schedule means that New Jersey will actually have to get on a plane a few times and leave their timezone, which I’m sure annoys Lou, and I’m all for that, too. The schedule is still painful for western teams, but a fully balanced schedule evens that pain out somewhat, although the Northeast teams still have a favored status here.
But all in all — I’m not a fan of the wildcards, but I see the attraction — it’s a good plan, and I hope it passes. As long as we keep a balanced schedule, which I’ve wanted for years. So let’s get it done already.
By the way, for people looking at the realignment and saying “but what about when they expand to Toronto and Quebec City?” — stand down, soldier. Expansion is a figment of the canadian press imagination. We won’t see teams added to the NHL for at least five years. I’d be amazed if the NHL even admits an interest in expansion in the next five years, much less starts the process. So there’s plenty of time before we have to worry about this.
And when Phoenix moves, and I’m now convinced it must, it’s most likely moving to Seattle. Which won’t impact the alignment. (I must admit I’m going to be watching this with interest to see how it goes down. I do not envy a team that has to play in Key Arena for a few years while a new building is built. I’ve seen hockey there…)
Since I brought it up, a few quick thoughts on ways the league could show better commitment to the West Coast. Other than, say, convincing NBC that the Western Conference exists for its national broadcasts, which we know will never happen (don’t feel bad, as baseball fans, we got really, really tired of the game of the week being some variant of Yankees/Red Sox, too):
- Currently the league office has two official offices: Toronto and New York. Open a third, here on the West Coast. I’m guessing it’d end up in the LA area somewhere (and that’d make sense, and give a base of operations for working with the online media companies and game companies that have sprung up on the west coast.
- Open up a second “war room” here on the west coast to handle video reviews and etc. Not only would it be a good reason to have a west coast office, it’d mean your war room staff wouldn’t be up until 3AM toronto time every night covering western games.
- Gary Bettman and NHL senior staff should commit to doing their business in the West Coast office for a chunk of the season: say 25% of the season calendar. Let Gary live with what it’s like being a west coast fan for a few weeks a year…
- Stick the Winter Classic someplace moderately close to the west coast moderately soon — I suggest Minnesota. (I’d love to seem them do it in Vegas, just for the spectacle. I don’t for a minute believe they could get quality ice there. But then, I’ve seen Anaheim’s ice, so why complain?)
And of course, this will never happen. But it should….
The NHL and the Players Association finally got it figured out and the lockout is over and hockey is returning. Best guess is that we’ll see NHL games in about two weeks, and it’ll be a 48 or 50 game season.
Do we care?
More importantly, now what?
The good news: it’s a ten year deal, which can be re-opened after eight years by either side. So we have a while before we have to worry about another round of this labor stupidity.
The better news: The hardline owners who pushed the labor agenda that led to this long lockout and will not likely still be driving the owner bus the next time we have to deal with a CBA. And at his age, it’s unlikely Gary Bettman will be commissioner as well. That makes me hope that whenever the league rolls down this path again, different voices and attitudes will be in charge.
It has to be noted that whatever good Gary Bettman has done for the game of hockey — and he’s done a lot of good — his legacy will be the lockouts. And that under his watch, around 10% of the scheduled games weren’t played due to labor strife. And that twice he forced stoppages on the game and wrangled significant concessions out of the players — only to have to come back the next time the CBA went up for negotiation and do it again. So his legacy isn’t about how the game grew under his watch, it’s how he repeatedly forced the players into deals that were primarily dictated to them by the owners — and those deals didn’t solve the financial issues where were intended to solve, especially with the smaller market teams.
So when I see the end of the lockout, I have no confidence that this agreement will actually solve those problems, either. And no confidence that in a decade, we won’t be headed right down this path again. And that’s why I think the biggest win of this labor agreement is the length of it, because it means when this agreement expires, different leaders (not just Bettman, but Jeremy Jacobs also needs to — transition — out of the game) will be in place, and hopefully, they’ll have different attitudes that will make the process less painful and confrontational. My hope is that by the time this all becomes a problem again, the rest of the league will have seen the change we saw when the Blackhawks shifted from Bill to Rocky Wirtz. God knows, the league needs it.
With that off my chest, I think the deal they’ve come to makes sense. Neither side really wins here, but the players definitely had to give up some significant benefits. The revenue split is in line with NFL and NBA splits. I think the variance limits and length of contract limits are necessary and good for the game, but not for elite players. The reduced revenue going to players will likely further hurt the journeyman player, but they take it in the shorts no matter what. The elite players will still get really rich, but the middle guard is going to find it harder to stretch their career.
Overall, I’m mostly happy this is over so that we can have a meaningless limited season like we did in 94-95, because it’ll give the fans time to get their anger out and get over it, and let everyone start off NEXT season thinking about hockey. This season will be about limiting financial losses for the team and players, getting some income out to the stadium people and the local businesses sideswiped by this, and rebuilding the bridges burnt and healing the emotions and getting past the anger this has all caused. It’ll be nice to have hockey back, but it’ll be hard to care about it.
I’ve just seen too much of this to get too upset; business is business (and NHL hockey isn’t a game, it’s a big business based on a game). At this point? Until the NHL convinces me they’ve actually fixed some of the core problems with this agreement, I’m just going to expect more of the same down the road. And my take: the poor teams will be less hurting, but this deal doesn’t have the revenue sharing from the best off teams needed to make them fully whole. But it’s a step in the right direction.
And now the NHL players who’ve scattered will scamper back to their teams, opening up roster spots they took from other players in other leagues for the duration, and generally wreaking havoc on leagues worldwide as they scramble to fix their rosters. The league tries to build a schedule, the teams try to fire up all of the pieces that we don’t think about that are needed to get teams on the ice and playing.
Sports writers will write all sorts of things about fans staying away and sponsors and money and all of that. Fact is, by this time next year, the sponsor problems will be solved, the fans will be past it, and except for a few hard cores wearing protest T-shirts in the cheap seats or who are writing their protest blogs, things will be basically back to normal and moving forward again.
So it goes.
Here in the household, Laurie is planning her spring training trip. I’m planning my spring photography. We’re watching NFL playoffs and Top Gear. I’ve kinda missed hockey, but less the NHL ought to feel comfortable about. I can honestly say I won’t go to a game this shortened season, the NHL can live without me for the year, but more because I’ve already planned around them, not because I’m protesting. We’ll see what I think next year when next year happens.
Hockey is back. Yay, I guess.
The hockey lockout continues. My attempts to ignore it and everyone involved with it have failed miserable, as I continue to watch this ongoing train wreck with a morbid fascination. I almost can’t help myself, because this is so unutterably stupid and unnecessary.
There was a significant change in the tone of the lockout this week, and unfortunately, it’s not a positive one. The owners have been continuing their “do what we say or don’t bother” stance on negotiation, and the players made some significant changes to their proposals and presented it to the owners. The owners spent about 15 minutes looking at it, rejected it, and effectively walked out. Again.
As I suggested three weeks ago, this isn’t about finding a compromise both sides can agree on. The owners have made a decision that the players are going to surrender, that there won’t be a deal until the players break and accept what the owners demand. There has been little to no real negotiation, the owners have taken a hard line, and are willing to give up most or all of the season to fracture the players.
The real goal here seems to be to depose Donald Fehr; the owners seem more afraid of a strong and unified players union than they are of losing significant revenue and perhaps the entire season. Thomas Boswell of the Washington Post has a very well done article talking about this, having lived through watching the baseball owners fight (and lose) this same battle.
It looks to me that the owners are playing right into Fehr’s hands; rather than fracturing the players as has happened before under Goodenow and Kelly, Fehr seems to have growing support. It’s not unanimous: Roman Hamrlik piped up today and was quickly shot down as not being representative of the players in general. The owners, despite million dollar fine threats for talking out of turn, had their own “leak” pop out when it was reported that Ed Snyder of the Flyers was unhappy with what was going on. That was quickly denied and suppressed, but I have to think that was a carefully planned and deniable shot over Bettman’s bow — Snyder and the Flyers are owned by Comcast who stands to feel a huge amount of pain if the season is lost.
When we talk about Bettman and “the owners”, one thing we need to keep in mind that the negotiation process is in face controlled by a small group of owners led by Jeremy Jacobs — even though there are 30 owners in the league, it only takes 8 owners to make decisions on negotiation issues – if Commissioner Bettman agrees. This lets a small group of the owners who are making good money with their teams to effectively disenfranchise the rest, and push an agenda that suits them, even if it hurts the other owners. The million dollar gag rule makes sure those disenfranchised owners aren’t heard from.
It’s important to note how the two sides are handling this. On the player’s side, Fehr holds regular open discussions and conference calls open to any and all players; players are welcome at negotiating sessions. Players have the ability to comment in public — the only pressure is peer pressure. On the owner’s side, no owner can talk about anything without league approval, and only invited owners are allowed at negotiations. It’s carefully orchestrated to limit the ability of owners not in the ruling group to influence the negotiation, either behind the scenes or through the press. To step out of line risks a million dollar fine.
In my about 20 years of writing and blogging about hockey, I’ve been accused of being pro-team a lot more than I have of being pro-player. In practice, I try to be balanced and call the shots as I see them; my interest in the business side of sports means I see the owner’s side of things more often than fans who don’t care about the business part. In this situation, I find it difficult to find any sympathy or support for what the owners are doing. It sucks.
It sucks and it’s unnecessary. This lockout really comes down to two things: first is the owners fear of Donald Fehr and a plan to try to push the players to the point where they’ll oust him and cut a deal, leaving the player’s association weak and in turmoil; second is an attitude of believing the players are property and not partners. This lockout really seems to be an attempt to rebuild the idea that the owners are in charge and the players will take what the owners want to give them.
NHLPA’s 2nd in command, Steve Fehr summarized their view of things after this latest round of meetings:
Steve Fehr: “We moved a couple of miles, they moved a couple of inches.
I agree completely with that sentiment. In the reports on the player’s conference call after the meetings, the reports make it clear there’s a change of attitude among the players. it’s not towards finding a settlement and giving the owners what they want, it’s about moving towards the idea of decertifying the union.
Decertifying the union is a huge hairy deal. As a quick summary, the player’s association blows itself up and stops existing. This, in turn, throws the whole labor situation into the courts and turns this from a negotiation into a lawyer fight. James Mirtle of the Globe and Mail did a good overview of what this means if it happens. In short form, if the player’s association decertifies, you can kiss the entire season goodbye (unless one side or the other blinks).
Effectively, the owners have had a nuclear weapon pointed at the players this entire time: “do what we tell you, or we shut down the league for a long time and cost you lots of money”. Now, the players have pulled out their nuclear weapon and have told the owners “forget that, we’ll blow it all up first”. Does this sound like insane mutually assured destruction? It is.
But now, it gets serious. both sides have to decide if the other side is bluffing. There will be a period of time (long? short? I have no idea) where both sides are going to see how the other side reacts. The league’s “big red button” is canceling the season; the players is filing the decertification papers and throwing this into the courts.
And right now, what’s going on behind the scenes is the factions within the two camps are trying to figure out what they can do to avoid actually pushing those big red buttons. Can the more moderate owners force the Jacobs group to moderate their position, or wrest control from his faction? Bettman clearly doesn’t think so or he wouldn’t have pushed this hard to this point.
Will the players break rank? This kind of hard line threat to the season puts a strong wedge between a couple of groups of players. The well paid players, the younger players and the franchise stars will do fine no matter what. The marginal players, journeymen and aging players really feel the pain here, because they’re the ones with short careers, not many season left, and smaller, not guaranteed contracts. If you’re Sydney Crosby with endorsements and a 15 year career at millions a season (plus guaranteed bonuses) you can ride this out. If you’re a guy who may only get 3-5 seasons in the league at $900K a year, losing a season (aka 20% of your career earnings) is a cliff you don’t want to jump off.
The owners are depending on those journeyman seeing that cliff and refusing to jump. It has worked in the past. It’s effectively what killed the last two player association heads.
I expect this is going to blow up badly in the owners faces, but time will tell.
My sense right now is that the players are more pissed at how the owners are treating them than they are at the thought of losing a year’s salary. My sense is that Fehr has helped the players see what’s going on and educated them on what the implications will be for any decision they make. Right now they seem fairly strongly behind Fehr and unwilling to back down and give in to the owners.
So right now? We stay at stalemate.
What next? Good question. Lots of questions, no real answers.
Will the factions within the ownership group mobilize and force the Jacobs/Bettman group to moderate their position? Or wrest control from them? Do the owners believe the players will decertify, or that it’s just a bluff?
Will the players decide it’s more important to get a paycheck and cut a deal to the owners demand? Or will they decide they’ve had enough of the owners bullying and push the big red button and decertify?
There are two key points in time, coming between now and probably the end of January. One is where one side or the other decides it can’t risk decertification. If the players choose against it, then the owners win, and ultimately the players settle on the owners term. Or the owners decide the players are serious and cut a deal rather than let it get to decertification. That point will hit sometime between now and Christmas, I think.
If we pass that point without a deal, then the players have chosen the path to decertification. In the time prior to decertifying, and even for a period after, the league can choose to cut a deal; if they play chicken and guess wrong, they lose a lot of leverage if they decide to cut a deal after the paperwork is filed.
Or both sides can dig in and if it moves past that point (decertifying would likely happen in January, and if there’s a deal past that point, it’s likely in the first week or so; after that, both sides have decided to fight it out in the long fight in court).
In and around those two points in time, there will be a lot of public positioning and bickering, but little real movement. Behind the scenes, a lot of informal discussions, but even more than that, within each group there’ll be a lot of discussion as the disagreeing sides work out what to do and who’s in charge.
My hope is that the threat of decertifying and that we now have a big chance at losing the entire season and ending up in an extended court fight gives the more moderate ownership faction that’s currently disenfranchised what it needs to inject itself into this and modify the owner’s hardball stance. I would LOVE to see an owner come out and say “the hell with this, if the union decertifies I’m selling, even though I’ll take a big loss because of this crap”, but I doubt it’ll happen. I do wish I had some sense that the owners that are unhappy with this are pushing to make changes, but the gag order has been very successful to date.
My guess is that sanity won’t happen until just before the players follow through with decertifying. If then. I expect the owners to wait until the last moment here. And I do expect the players to agree to move forward on decertification. And this means that I expect this all to drag out into January. And yes, that means that we’re now looking at at best a partial (30-35 game) season.
My fear is that the hard-line owners will maintain control here and this will all blow up in a big, bad mess because there are egos in control on the owner side that seem willing to do vast damage to the game and its finances rather than let the players have some say in things. If this is true, they learned the lessons well of their predecessors in baseball — but seem to have missed the chapter explaining how that all ended.
And however this ends, it will be the defining moment of Gary Bettman’s legacy as commissioner. And if I were him, I’d be scared crapless about that, because right now, the players don’t seem to be interested in following the plan, and that’s leading this league further towards when those big red buttons get pushed. And once that happens, anything else that happened during Bettman’s tenure will be forgotten.
Our big hope here is that the moderate owners will organize and reshape how the league is managing this lockout. So far, I’m not seeing it, but this league is far beyond the need to get leadership shifted from folks like Jacobs. The day of treating players as assets and property is past. This lockout is about trying to hold on to that past, pure and simple. And ultimately, I think that’s why it’s going to fail. The only question is how much of a mess the owners are willing to create along the way.
NEW YORK — The National Hockey League today announced the cancellation of the 2013 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic. The game was scheduled for Jan. 1 between the Detroit Red Wings and Toronto Maple Leafs at Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor, Mich. In addition, the League announced all SiriusXM Hockeytown Winter Festival events scheduled for Dec. 16-31 at Comerica Park in Detroit are cancelled.
You could see this one coming for a while.
My reaction is a shrug and wondering what movie to watch on Netflix tonight. With baseball over and hockey hiding, Laurie and I are finally catching up on our Netflix queue. By the time spring training hits, we might make a noticeable dent in it — following two six months (and more!) sports tends to fill the spaces in the evenings. Now we have our evenings back.
Do I miss hockey? Yes. I love the sport. So far, however, I’ve found no motivation to go chasing it; I haven’t gone looking for some random minor league or CHL game stuck on some cable channel yet. Watching replays of two years-ago Stanley Cup games? (laughs).
I got asked last night by a neighbor if seeing the lockout coming was part of the reason we gave up out season tickets a couple of years ago. Honesty? No. It was simple — 20 years in the arena and committing in so many nights and weekends was enough. We’d started to feel we were spending too much time on hockey and there were other things we weren’t doing enough of. Moving hockey to the couch gave us the ability to make decisions about not needing to be on the couch more often. And the $8-9,000 a year the tickets were costing us definitely helps pay for those options. We’re still fans of the game and of the sport, just not of having to fight to be in our seats for a saturday night game that means we can’t go anywhere further than a day trip the rest of the weekend… or that after having games on tuesday and thursday nights, the thought of a weekend jaunt down to Morro Bay just wasn’t that interesting for some reason.
That said, we thought even 2-3 years ago that a stoppage was not just possible but probable, and Laurie especially felt it was going to be long and nasty. I, hopeless optimist that I am, saw this as a problem that mature adults could sit down and hash through and that the stoppage was probably inevitable but I didn’t think it’d be significant.
There are always loud threats of fans leaving and never coming back, and you can always find individual cases of it, but the reality is I can’t think of a major sport where the fans stayed away once the games started. Maybe a week, maybe a few weeks, but it doesn’t take long before the crowds are back and the turnstiles are spinning. There’s a reason why the fans have no voice in these fights, and I don’t expect that to change.
On a personal level? When hockey’s back, so will I, although I wonder whether it’ll be with the same enthusiasm and for as many games (in arena or on couch).
I do wish Bill Daly and the league would stop issuing pre-written memos about how sorry they are to have to do this and how bad they feel for the fans that things have to be cancelled, because I don’t buy it. This stoppage isn’t even about all (or most) of the owners any more, but about a small group of the power-broker owners controlling the league and negotiations. The rest of us are coming along for the ride.
I’d love to express outrage, or disgust, or contempt, or something. Instead, I find my reaction is disappointment. Disappointment and ennu.
I’m disappointed that I’m not seeing the owners not in that leadership group fighting to get this solved; too many of them are sitting on the fence and letting this play out. If they’re doing anything in private, it’s not showing and leaking. Maybe it should, even if Bettman fines them. It might cause things to shift around a bit.
I’m disappointed in a lot of the media because they’re pandering to the fans and not educating them. There’s a lot of bad (or simply made up) stuff floating out, and a lot of coverage is pretty crappy. It makes the media folks out there trying to get through the noise and make sense of this much more valued (thanks to you folks…)
I’m disappointed in the fans, but then, they’re doing what they do every time. Hint: talk is easy. And the owners know that. Problem is, not enough of us will ever band together to cause something the owners have to pay attention to. (what that might be is an discussion for some other time, some other maybe. But a start might be convincing league sponsors to start pulling sponsorships if things aren’t settled, which fans could only force through some sort or real or threatened boycott. Good luck with that).
And I’m disappointed in myself, because part of me feels I should be more involved and more angry. Mostly what I feel is tired. So I’m going back on the couch until this is over. By the way, Ken Burns’ documentary on WW II rocks. Just sayin’
At this point I only want two things: one is for this to end and everyone to get back to hockey, and right now, I can’t see them solving this before christmas. Too much entrenched on both sides as far as I can tell (although the player’s position of “we aren’t interested in unconditional surrender, but we can talk” is a lot more palatable than the owners position.
The other is some way to believe that once this is solved, this is it and it won’t happen again. I have no confidence about this, because of the contempt key players have to everyone and everything other than what they want. Without regime change, that’s not going to change.
And by regime change, I’m not talking about Bettman. he’s not the problem. He may be the facilitator, but he’s not the problem. Replacing him with someone else likely makes this worse, not better, next time. The regime change is among some key players in the ownership group, in places like Boston and Philly and Detroit. The only way that’ll change is through time and — attrition — and only then if their replacements come in with fresh sensibilities the way we saw things change in Chicago.
Or when the rest of the league ownership group stages a coup and tells the old-line, old school owners to shut up and get out of the way. Unfortunately, I don’t see anyone in the ownership around the league willing to build the coalition to make that happen.
So on we go, with no hockey.
And a comfortable couch…
In the current fight over the CBA between the owners and the union, a big aspect of how it’s all going to turn out (I believe) is how united the players are against the owners. Traditionally, the union has been fairly weak — in 2004-2005 the league lost an entire season, and ultimately, the union lost the battle, giving up a salary cap and other concessions. The union’s had trouble keeping the players united and standing firm; once the paychecks don’t come in, various parts of the player’s group start second-guessing and pushing for resolution. Given how short most NHL careers are, you can understand that; if you only think you have four or five years in the league to make money (if that), losing one is hard.
But right now, the union seems very much behind Fehr and his policies, much more than in previous years. And if the union holds firm here and pushes the owners into compromising, I think there are two key actions the owners have taken that may be the catalysts for this solidarity.
If you think back to the 2004-2005 lockout, one thing the owners talked about a lot was turning the league into a partnership with the players, and in some cases, they made mild moves in that direction (like the competition committee; even there, players like Marty Brodeur quit because he felt it was all for show and not a real partnership). In reality, the owners made strong words about changing how they worked with the players and turning this into a league where everyone worked for the mutual benefit of everyone, and as soon as the CBA was signed, the owners threw 99% of that out, and made “the players are our partners” something reserved only for token situations where the owners could control the situation or ignore the players when they felt like it. If there was a single thing the owners did to prove to players that the players can’t trust the owners, this is it.
And now, it’s becoming more and more clear that some of the owners signed really large, significant, expensive contracts with players just before the CBA expired and they locked out the players — and did so knowing the plan was to use the negotiations and new CBA to claw back large chunks of those contracts. In other words, they lied to the players about those deals and never intended to honor them 100%. That’s something the players are not going to ignore or forget soon.
Both of those seem to be rallying points for the players, and are uniting them against the owners. And I wonder if, given I think the real plan in these “negotiations” is to fracture the union and hopefully oust Fehr so the owners can continue to dominate the player/team relationship, whether they’ve made a misstep here. It seems to me they may well have.
I’m not entirely sure where to go about the current hockey situation. It sucks.
Basically, a third of the season has been cancelled. The All-star game and Winter Classic are rumored to be cancelled within a week. December’s games probably aren’t too far behind that, so that teams can start booking other dates into their buildings.
This now looks to be a long-term, perhaps all-season, thing. Right now, to put it bluntly, this is primarily because the owners are taking a hard line and refusing to have meaningful negotiations.
Unless you want to define “meaningful negotiations” as “take this offer or starve”, because however the NHL owners want to spin it, that’s their position right now. They’re willing to discuss which fonts to use to print out the CBA on paper and whether or not first lines in paragraphs are indented or flush, but that’s pretty much the only things they seem interested in offering any flexibility on.
Up until now, I was more or less just ignoring things and not getting worked up over it because it was clear early on that these two sides weren’t going to find an agreement until it hurt, and it wasn’t going to hurt until some games were lost. I didn’t think it was going to be this entrenched.
It seems as if the league is fully willing to give up an entire season and take all of the bad PR and fan unhappiness that implies to get the deal they want, or something very close to it.
I look at the deal, and the differences between the league proposals and the player alternatives, and I can’t for the life of me see the logic of being willing to give up an entire season for that. If it was ONLY the financials of the deal as it’s being proposed, there’s a deal to be made here. The owners aren’t interested in making it.
Why? Good question.
This is about the union. And/or Donald Fehr.
Alan Eagleson. Bob Goodenow. Ted Saskin. Paul Kelly. Donald Fehr.
Eagleson, who was convicted of fraud for his actions running the union. Goodenow ran the union for many years, but led it through the contract fight that cost the league an entire season — and lost, giving up a salary cap and most of the concessions the union had vowed not to give to the owners. He was replaced by Ted Saskin, who immediately walked into a fight among the union members over his hiring and ended up being removed. the union brought in his place Ted Kelly, who immediately walked into a fight over his leadership and was ultimately fired.
See a trend here? A weak, factionalized, ineffective player’s union, one that repeatedly has been walked over by the owners In the 2004-2005 got a lot of concessions, but gave up the one key one the owners demanded, which was the salary cap.
And now, the owners are insisting the players give back a number of those concessions; the owners, of course, are keeping the cap, and in fact, insist on reducing it.
The owners are staring at the fact of Donald Fehr, The first true leader the NHLPA has had, and behind him, it looks like the players have gotten beyond the internal factions and fighting and are united behind Fehr.
This seems to have the owners scared to death. They have never had to deal with a strong union in the history of the NHL, and it looks to me like they want to keep it that way.
This lockout is about two things:
First, I think it has always been the league’s strategy that in 2004-2005 was to give up whatever they needed to give up to get the salary cap, and did, fully intending to claw back as much of it in the next CBA as they could. Given the history of an ineffective NHLPA, that’s not an unreasonable strategy, if you can buy into the idea that the owners are willing to plan things out ten years and then actually do it. (I do. the owners are many things. stupid is not one of them)
Second, the owners see the union coming together and buying into what Donald Fehr is telling them they need to do, and I think this is freaking out some of the key hardline/old-school owners. It looks to me like they want to freeze out the season until the union fractures and hope that the union does to Fehr what they did to Goodenow and Kelly. If the union does ultimately split into factions again and one of them is able to oust Fehr, the chances that the NHLPA will ever get a qualified union leader to work with them again is basically zero, which puts the NHLPA back in the world of being a chaotic weak organization that can’t really protect it’s members. Which is exactly what the owners seem to want.
If I’m correct, then this stoppage is going to go on for a long while, and the entire season is at risk. Only time will tell, but it’s hard to see this ending as long as the owner’s idea of negotiation is “take it or starve”.
I’m wondering it the owners are miscalculating here. The way they’re handling this seems to be turning into a rallying point for the union to stick with Fehr, and he’s a savvy enough relationship building and politician that I don’t think it’s going to be easy for unhappy groups to organize a push to get him out; Fehr’s track record is such that it’s hard for anyone to say “we can do better with someone else” with a straight face, and that really hurts any hope the owners might have to force a regime change.
I think the owners may regret this; worse, when I speak of “the owners” I don’t speak of all 30 owners, but of the smaller group that controls the plan around the CBA negotiation, and that’s primarily driven by the folks from Philly and Boston, supported by the high-revenue teams like the Rangers, Leafs and Canadiens, because the high revenue teams don’t want to give up more of their share of revenues into the revenue sharing pool, they want the revenue taken back from the players to fill out the revenue gaps with the less successful teams.
So at this point, I don’t see this as being about what percentage of hockey revenues go into which pile for what rich person, or when players get free agency or if a player gets a single room instead of sharing on the road.
This is about the league seriously trying to prevent Donald Fehr from turning the union into a, well, a real union, and the owners see that as a huge long-term threat to their ability to dominate the team/player relationship — and a threat to their pocketbooks. So they seem willing to take a really hard stance now to try to force the union to fracture, because what they want is regime change within the union, or at least chaos and an inability to work together, just like the good old days.
And that’s going to take a while, and it requires the owners not actually finding a consensus or compromise with the players on the CBA — because they would be seen as a win for Fehr. And that seems to be the one thing they are trying to not give him.
And so this is going to go on a long time, until either the union DOES fracture and the factions fight and concede to the owners, or things hurt enough that the more progressive owners can wrest control from the current group and force the owner’s proposals to change and find that compromise agreement.
I don’t see either of those things happening any time soon; neither are going to happen in 2012, IMHO. The union won’t fall apart quickly, and I think the ruling owners have their power base under enough control that any shifts there won’t happen for a while.
So this fight’s going to go on for a good while, and it may take out the entire season.
And boy, do I hope I’m wrong about that.
For a day or two, it seemed like some hope was shining through the murky clouds of the NHL lockout.
That hope has been dashed. I now feel this is going to go on for a while. It doesn’t have to, but it will.
the NHL put out with a lot of publicity a new, improved proposal. It seemed finally one side had moved off its position enough for some serious negotiation to begin.
The two sides sat down. the NHLPA made some counter proposals working off of the NHL’s proposal.
The NHL walked out.
And cancelled games.
Fan’s hopes plummeted.
My bottom line: it continues to be the reality that there’s very little common ground for the two sides to negotiate to a final deal. The league’s position is that teams are losing money, and they will fix that by taking money away from the players.
The player’s position is that there’s plenty of money if the owners just share among themselves more, but they are happy to be part of the solution to the problem of some teams losing money. Just not all of it.
The League’s view is “take it or leave it”.
The player’s view is “let’s see if we can find a way to make this happen, but what you want to happen isn’t going to happen”.
There is no “let’s just split this in the middle and start playing” position to find here. One side or the other has to abandon their position, which isn’t going to happen until there’s enough pain that they feel they have no choice.
This whole — charade — was really for the league to try to put the onus of public opinion on the players. The players were winning the PR war, and this was a game to try to change that. To some degree, it’s succeeded in the short term, although I don’t know if it’ll continue. The pro-player wing of the commentary/feedback PR group is quite effective (just watch twitter. between the players and the player-sympathetic media, they’re doing a good job of tearing down the NHL’s maneuver). The NHL is not as effective at controlling their message, and the pro-team side of the media/commentary group is much smaller and less enthusiastic.
But the league made it clear it’s willing to wait out the players, and so I now don’t see an agreement coming any time soon. I don’t expect hockey until at least the end of November now, if then. This seems to have been the plan all along. Try to blame the players for the shutdown, not seriously look for common ground for a negotiated compromise, and keep pushing at the players to simply give the owners what they want or there will be no hockey.
This isn’t a negotiation, it’s a game of “take it or leave it” by the owners. Right now, the players are (and, IMHO, should be) playing “leave it”, The players are at least trying to suggest options that might lead to serious negotiations, but even there, you have to wonder if it’s for real or whether they know they’ll get thrown out (or are designed to be thrown out), but make no bones about it, the primary reason for lack of progress on solving this lockout is that the owners don’t want to. They want capitulation, not negotiation.
If I were the league, I’d be worrying about winning the battle but losing the war. But they clearly aren’t, and they know more about this than I do. What I do know is that the league has made a big statement, and that statement is that it’s in no hurry to cut a deal, unless it’s the deal it’s demanding. There’s no real room for negotiation when one side is unwilling to realistically negotiate.
Oh, well. Back to doing other things.
We’re thrilled to be able to congratulate Pat Curcio and the Bulls on a successful opening night. Laurie and I have been watching them put the franchise together, and I have to admit I’m impressed. It looks like a good first night and a good starting crowd.
Now the hard part begins….
Hockey returns to San Francisco as Bulls open with 4-3 loss:
The Bulls announced an impressive crowd of 8,277 on Friday night, so they’re off to a good start in that regard. They had a stated goal to reach 1,000 season ticket holders, and a team spokesman said they are close to reaching that number.
The Bulls’ first game marked the return of hockey to the Cow Palace for the first time in more than 15 years. The San Francisco Spiders of the now defunct International Hockey League lasted only one season, shutting down operations after reportedly losing more than $6 million in 1995-96.
The way Curcio sees it, the Spiders were victims of playing in an unstable league, as the IHL shut down operations after 2001. He points out that the Spiders drew more than 5,000 fans per game, which in minor league hockey, is a respectable number.
A few bits of history on the Spiders, since Laurie and I were two of the few that actually were there for that little mini-drama. We were the Spiders web masters, running their web site for the entire season. We were also season ticket holders, and in fact had the same seats we had when the Sharks were in the Cow Palace (because it amused us to return to the scene of the crime). We did all of the online material for the team and dealt with getting their marketing info and press releases online as well as team info and stats, and for game days, also made sure the game note package and summaries got posted. Laurie also did most of the photography for the web site and as the season went along (and spiraled) was for some games the only photographer there.
So we were there before opening night, for opening night, for closing night, and for about home games in between, and were interacting with various people in the front office throughout. In fact, it becomes a bit of a running joke that whoever was assigned to be our contact ought to update their resume, because that was a sign they were the next to get laid off. which was unfortunately, as the season went on, more often true than not.
(I should really write more about that majestic, crazy year. Maybe later, especially now that enough years have passed that lawsuits are really unlikely and the bankruptcy stuff is long settled.. except I’m not sure anyone really cares, or that it matters in the grand scheme of things…)
The Bulls need to be really careful about that 5,000 fans a game number. It’s — somewhat fanciful. Attendance early in the season was pretty good, but it trailed off quickly. As the season went on, the team started liberally distributing free passes through organizations as a promotion, similar to the “merchant night” passes you can get for the San Jose Giants minor league team. That 5,000 a night number is some combination of paid, free attending, and distributed but not really used. I’d say that the last ten games of the season the real in-house, butt-in-seat number was under 2,000 consistently. By then, of course, it was obvious that the franchise had spiraled and it wasn’t coming back to San Francisco.
The Spiders were a team with great intentions. To be honest (and I hope they take this as a cautionary tale), life with the Spiders leading up to opening night sounds a lot like what I’ve seen with the Bulls. There was no idea that lurking just out of view was this iceberg… It was the season just after the first NHL lockout of 1994-95, and revenues and attendance numbers for the IHL were boosted. The IHL sold these numbers as part of a plan to expand the league, and the Spiders were one of those expansion teams. They paid, if I remember correctly, about $6m for the franchise. Dave Pasant bought the team; he had made a big push to buy the NBA Minnesota Timberwolves but that deal didn’t happen, and he ended up going for a minor league hockey team instead.
Things started out well when the team traded for a starting goalie who had a solid NHL tenure, and he categorically refused to report. We ended up going into the season with Stephane Beauregard, another ex NHL goalie, and Corrado Micalef, a goalie that had seen some time with the Red Wings and had spent a number of years in the Italian leagues; he was originally brought in mainly to be an emergency backup and/or practice goalie but he backed up Beauregard pretty well. Beauregard was a pretty good goalie — I’d say NHL-backup caliber — but was in the AHL because, well, your backup goalie can’t be high maintenance. Stephane was. And occasionally hilarity ensued, like when he tossed a water bottle at a referee. The team celebrated that later by having bottle-tossing contests during intermission…
The Spiders caught a break when Dean Lombardi and Sandis Ozolish (technically, Lombardi and Sandis’ agenthad a spat over a contract and Sandis sat out. He ended up signing with the Spiders and was in uniform opening night and scored the franchise’s first goal. He also signed quickly and only played two games as as Spider, ending that PR fest. The Spiders knew the Sharks were part of the draw, so they signed a lot of ex-Sharks, including the legendarily infamous Link Gaezt and a personal favorite with Dale Craigwell. Gaetz survived three games (no points, 37 PIM. any questions?) and Craigwell had suffered a nasty ankle injury and had lost a couple of steps off his speed. The fond memories of these guys were attractive, actually watching them play again? A bit sad for the most part.
There were some definite positives to the season — I got to see Rod Langway play hockey. Late in his career or not, he was still Rod Langway. John Purves was one of those classic career minor leaguers who went off and had a career year and scored 105 points, 20 more than his career best and a tally he’d never match again. He really bloomed that year and carried that team.
For Laurie and I, it was one of those things we always wanted to do, work with a pro sports team. I wouldn’t trade it for anything, and I’m happy to say it also cured me of any real thought of doing it again. But damn, I’m happy I did. And I’m sorry it didn’t work out better, but the Spiders were set up to fail from the start by unrealistic revenue expectations from the league, an owner who didn’t know the league was blowing smoke at him and talked about building a franchise as a long-term investment (but as soon as it didn’t start making money right away, ripped apart the organization to save money and ultimately put it into a death spiral), a lousy media market for minor league sports, and a building that, well….
It took some work to make the Cow Palace, built in 1941, ready to house a team again.
“Here at the Cow Palace, every time we opened a door to correct something, we found something else that needed to be corrected,” said Curcio, who spent 10 years playing in the ECHL and Europe. “It was tiresome, it was stressful, and a lot of times we thought, can this really be fixed?”
At first glance, they did a good job. There is a new scoreboard that is much more high-tech that those found at most minor league arenas, but there remains a certain charm about the old place, which was home to the San Jose Sharks for their first two years of existence.
Our motto on the Cow Palace was “It’s a pit, but my god, it’s OUR pit”. I do wish the Bulls luck, but it’s got lousy sight lines, parking is expensive (and not under their control unless they pulled off a miracle deal), transit is between lousy and nonexistent, and there’s a fine line between “eccentric” and “my god, what is THAT SMELL?” and the Cow Palace was far too often on the wrong side of that line. You can, to a degree, market a barn like that for its character, but only to a degree. Especially in the spring when things warm up.
He’s confident that the Bulls can keep drawing fans on a regular basis after what can only be considered a successful opening night, despite the one-goal loss.
“We had a vision, and I think for the most part it’s pretty much in line with what we imagined.”
I agree, but it’s not going to be easy. the Bulls are actually much further along the path than the Spiders were on opening night; they have broadcast agreements, something the Spiders didn’t get until mid-season (and at that point, it was on a university “around the neighborhood” station). The shift from news reading on paper to news reading online has improved things — the simple fact that CSN Bay Area is talking about opening night indicates the landscape for coverage has changed for the better. Back in the Spiders days, this region and the newspapers had a huge “we are a MAJOR LEAGUE market” mentality, one that went to the two baseball teams, two football teams, the Warriors, Sharks, UC Berkeley and Stanford — even San Jose State was more or less shunted off as irrelevant, so a minor league team had real struggles getting coverage and the online universe was just starting to open up as a new opportunity.
I’ve long thought there’s an opportunity for a team like this in this market. When San Jose and the county were fighting over the right to build a new entertainment building (12,000ish seats, concert focus) I did some informal chatting with a few Sharks staffers and some of the people involved with the city about whether the building might be ice compatible, but the day of the general purpose “do 12 things sort of okay, do none of them well” building are dead (and I don’t miss them!) and that building was going to be a concert hall, not something convertible. Of course, once the county won the legal fights and killed the city’s idea on the building, it didn’t matter. And then the economy tanked and killed the county building, so we ended up with neither.
The Bulls are heading into a price point where I think there’s a market. We found out (the hard way) with the Spiders it wasn’t an easy market to crack; it takes time, and patience and consistent marketing and promotion. The Spiders suffered from an owner who thought it’d be easy and panicked when it wasn’t. It sounds like Curcio understands this is a multi-season challenge.
To me, though, the Cow Palace will continue to be the big challenge. There’s only so much makeup you can put on that pig. If I’m Curcio, to be blunt, I’m starting quiet friendly chats with Oakland NOW about moving into their arena if and when the Warriors build their new building in downtown SF and move out (but you do not, repeat, do not, want to be second tenant in that building to an NBA team, even if they’re remotely interested in having you). That building is actually too big for the Bulls, and the footprint is a challenge for hockey, but it’s on transit, I’m guessing Oakland would love to cut a deal to have a tenant, and it’s an improvement over the Cow Palace, which if you haven’t figured out by now, I think should have been torn down years ago.
And at some point this season, I expect Laurie and I will head up there and take in some games. With two seasons of Sharks hockey there, and a full season of Spiders hockey, there are probably few people alive who’s seen more hockey than us in that building, and I’d hate to lose an opportunity to put a third franchise on my life list there… And I’m curious what they’ve done with the place.
When I do, I promise I’ll show up with my Spiders jersey, if I can get it out of storage…
Unlike many of you, I’ve been trying to mostly ignore the NHL lockout. As you may remember, way back in August I predicted they wouldn’t settle this before the start of the regular season and suggested it was likely to settle in October and we wouldn’t see hockey until the end of October. Nothing that’s been said or done since then has changed that for me one bit, and in fact, it all lines up with what I expected to happen a lot more than I wish it did.
So I see no reason to put a lot of time or energy into worrying over the NHL negotiations or the season (or the league, for that matter) until we get a lot closer to them solving this and putting hockey back on the ice and playing some NHL games. Instead, I’ve been watching the SF Giants more, and even a few football games, and, like, having a life.
I’ve been asked by a few people what fans can do to influence this and help encourage the NHL to settle this dispute. The answer: basically, nothing. Both sides know that when this is solved, the fans will be there, so the fans don’t have much, if any, leverage. Now, if everyone could agree to stop talking about the NHL — don’t blog about it, don’t tweet about it, don’t retweet other tweets, don’t post in hockey forums, don’t read writers talking about the NHL — if fans could generate absolute “we don’t care any more” silence about the league and the lockout, it might get some of the owners nervous and push them. Of course, it’d scare the living crap out of the people paid to write about hockey (or more correctly, paid TO BE READ writing about hockey), and so not only won’t they not go to radio silence on these issues, the silence would likely freak them out and get them even noisier. Not what I’d be looking forward to… But the best thing fans can do is sit back, relax, and let this all work itself out without wasting a lot of time or energy on it. Go enjoy something else until the owners and players work it out. There’s some damn good baseball going on this year, and at least where I live, fall is just swinging into play, and the outside world has been fun and enjoyable. Try it. You might surprise yourself. Life is too short wasting it on this, unless your livelihood depends on writing about it (and/or generating page views over it).
A big reason I saw no purpose in writing about it is because I couldn’t without putting a bunch of work into studying the financial numbers, and to be blunt, I’d rather cut off my hands with a cold chisel and force feed them to iguanas than do the kind of number crunching needed to have a decent financial discussion here on my blog.
But fortunately (or unfortunately), someone else has done that work for me over at the nhlnumbers.com web site. I can’t decide if I want to thank them or hurt them. I’ll settle for thank. For now. If you look at the numbers they’ve generated, it helps answer some of the questions that are being asked about this lockout, such as “didn’t the owners win the last lockout? and why didn’t it solve all of their problems?” and “The NHL claims to be making lots more money? How can they still need to take it away from the players?”
If you read the three part article, they’ve done a good job of breaking down both costs/expenses and revenues for the league and why we’ve gotten to this point again. For those of you who would rather poke out your eyes than try to deal with the financial details, here’s a very quick summary:
The league is making a LOT more money than it was before the last lockout. It is also spending more money to make that money (which is expected). Most importantly, that new revenue is not evenly distributed: the richest teams have gotten a whole lot richer, the poor teams have struggled to keep up with increased expenses, and the teams in the middle are more or less where they were before — in the middle.
At the end of part three is an interesting chart where he breaks down revenue (relative size of the dot) and profitability (color of the dot):
- The yellow dots (money makers) are NY Rangers, Toronto, Chicago, Montreal.
- The green dots (money losers) are Detroit, St. Louis, Carolina, Buffalo, Phoenix, Anaheim, Washington.
I’m going to right up front flag Detroit as a special cast, because as you can see, their revenue is high, but it’s a team that has been consciously spending at very high levels because it’s been at a peak of a serious winning cycle, and they have an owner that can afford it and is willing to fund losses to keep the team winning. With the retirement of Nick Lidstrom, that cycle is ending, and I wouldn’t be at all surprised if they cut back spending over the next couple of years and perhaps finally go into a rebuilding cycle vs. a reload cycle through free agency.
In the blue dots, the biggest dots belong to Philadelphia and Boston, which should surprise absolutely nobody. And both of those teams have been spending more heavily recently but not to the degree detroit has.
This more or less defines the battle lines WITHIN the ownership groups.
There are seven teams with really good revenues that are profitable (or have chosen to spend it now): NY Rangers, Toronto, Chicago, Montreal, Boston, Philadelphia, Detroit.
There are six teams that are losing money and who’s revenue streams make it a challenge for those teams to stop losing: St. Louis, Carolina, Buffalo, Phoenix, Anaheim, Washington.
If you go back and look at the state of the league prior to the last lockout, it was generally believed that there were 11 or twelve teams that would have qualified for that “green dot” status. So it can be argued that the league really is in a much better shape than it was prior to the last lockout, so the CBA that’s just expired did help the league and a number of teams. It’s just that there are still a number of teams struggling.
Two big factors in this was the way revenue sharing was structured in the last deal (time limited in many situations, for instance) and that the salary cap floor was tied to the salary cap limit by a pure number and not a percentage. That meant that the floor grew dollar for dollar as revenues grew, even if those revenues didn’t go to the teams at the bottom of the revenue pile.
So what’s happened since the last CBA is fairly simple: league revenues have gone up a lot. league expenses have also gone up a lot. A number of teams that struggled before the last lockout are now doing okay, but aren’t necessarily thriving, and some teams are simply unable to dig out of the revenue hole and are still struggling.
This is because revenues are not spread evenly among the teams: the richest teams got even more rich, and the poor teams had to fight just to stay competitive.
A second factor here: as the teams figured out how to — let’s use the word finesse — the new CBA, they were able to issue contracts or find loopholes they could use to their own advantage. The ultra-long contracts with the low cap hit is the poster child of this.
And so that’s how we got to this point. Basically:
- The rich teams have no incentive to keep costs down, as long as they can stay under the salary cap (in a legal way if not in reality).
- The poor teams are forced to pay market rates for talent, even if they can’t afford it. Those market rates are set by the rich teams.
- The rich teams don’t care if what they do hurts the poor teams. In fact, if it makes the poor teams uncompetitive, that’s good, because that’s fewer teams fighting for the playoff spots with those rich teams. Of course, that’s not what the rich teams will say in public….
And this is why we never had a chance for the lockout to end before the season started.
Let me explain.
Stop thinking of this as “players vs. league”. It’s not.
“the league” is 30 owners, each with their own agenda. Broadly speaking, there are three groups:
- The seven rich teams.
- The six poor teams (five, actually, since Phoenix is run by the league office itself).
- The 17 teams “in the middle”, which align to each other, or to either the rich or poorer teams as it benefits them. But since they aren’t really hurting, it tends to be easier to align with the powerful group (the rich teams) than the weaker group.
The league’s solution to the problem of those six poor teams is to take it out of the player’s share. This serves the purpose of the rich teams because they don’t actually have to give any of their profits up. In fact, they’d make even bigger profits.
The player’s solution is revenue sharing: having a chunk of the money that currently goes to the richer teams and re-allocate it to help out the poorer teams.
- If you think about the NHL as “the league”, then that kind of solution makes sense; after all, it’s based on the NFL model.
- If you think about the NHL as “30 franchise owners”, well, if you were the franchise owner of a Subway restaurant in Times Square and making good money, how would you react to being told to give up some of that money to prop up a Subway franchise in Cody Wyoming?
Exactly. And there’s just as much enthusiasm for that kind of revenue sharing in the offices of the Rangers or Leafs as there would be in the owner’s office of that Times Square Subway.
So we have impasse. And that impasse won’t break until one side or the other starts hurting enough to make concessions.
The players have to hold out long enough for the rich owners to say “okay, we’ll throw some money into the pool to end this, but you have to make it worth it with other concessions”. The key here are those “blue dot” teams, and when the lack of gate revenues are going to hurt enough for them to switch from backing the rich teams to joining the poor teams and say “let’s cut a deal” — a simplified way to look at this is that the poor team needs to swing over enough owners to take over the majority position within the ownership group.
Or the owners hold out until the journeyman players (who have shorter careers with lower-pay contracts) start sweating out losing too much income and align together to force the union to move to get games (and paychecks) flowing again.
This entire lockout is designed to make it hurt enough that players accept the pay cut; in return, the players are trying to make it hurt enough that the different owner fractions realign and force the rich owners to agree to revenue sharing.
In both cases, there’s zero incentive for anyone to change positions or force a deal until the revenue and paychecks aren’t happening and the lack of money hitting the bank starts to hurt. So there never was any reason to think this would get solved until real games get canceled and real tickets get refunded and real paychecks don’t show up — and then it’s a matter of which side is willing to take the pain longer before deciding to cut a deal.
And so it’s going to take a while. And the fan’s ability to influence any of this is, well, zero
And that’s why I’m going to watch baseball and football and go outside and play until they settle it. And why you should, too. They will, and then we can watch hockey. Until then, our only leverage as fans is to try to pretend we don’t care, and hope that makes them nervous. And the only way to do that is to be quiet. And now, having wasted 2000 words breaking my own recommendation to shut up, I’m going back outside into the fall sun… Join me.
(my private agenda: this is to me a fairly clear-cut situation where revenue sharing is the “right” answer, as long as player expenses are comparable to other pro sports. And overall, hockey’s are. But I also don’t see that the rich teams will go their easily, or without a “pound of flesh” out of the players. And this is a massive oversimplification of a very complicated situation, where I’m only trying to cover the basic financial issue; the real CBA has dozens of issues, but this is the one that’s driving the lockout, and which has to be solved before there’s a hope of a new agreement. And it won’t be easy, or quick. The only saving grace: both sides are being cordial and professional, and that only helps keep the anger out of the negotiations, which should make the agreement easier — someday.)