Hockey Will Return in 2013

Some good news came out of CBA negotiations at 5am this morning – a framework has been agreed upon by both the NHL and the Players Association.  While there is still a lot of work to be done, the preparations are taking place to get ready for the (2012-)2013 season.

In simple terms, both sides have to still sit down and formalize the physical document that is the Collective Bargaining Agreement.  Once the document is complete, then the NHL Board of Governors (the owners) and the Players Association need to review it and ratify it before hockey can resume.

While many fans feel that boycotting the games is the thing to do to "make a statement," I for one will not be participating in that.  Quite honestly, I’m just thrilled to have hockey back.  While I blame the owners for this mess this year, me not buying tickets to see them play isn’t going to affect things much.  The season ticket holders in the lower tier owned by most companies will still sell and still be empty during many games.  So the (majority of) fans who sit in the "cheap seats" who are going to make a statement will be a small blip on the Owners’ radar.

In other words, stop trying to make a point that won’t be heard, be happy the game is returning, and go out and support the players and your favorite team.

Oh, and here’s a statistic for you: the Devils have won 100% of the Stanley Cups during shortened seasons.

Open-mouthed smile

More Games Cancelled, Less People Care

The NHL made a mistake this past week.  The offered the players a 50/50 split and planned on playing all 82 games, thinking that the players would buy in to this and the owners wouldn’t lose a cent.  That, however, was a miscalculation.  The Players figure that the 50/50 split wasn’t much of a compromise on the leagues original offer since it’s probably what they wanted in the first place.

To counter-offer the leagues proposal, the NHLPA sent in three proposals which, in ten minutes, were dismissed by Commissioner Garry Bettman.  The reason? The proposals don’t make mathematical sense to the owners because it it doesn’t work out to an effective 50/50 split for the initial years.  Meaning that what you would see is an effective gradual decrease of the percentage over the life of the CBA, what the players wanted all along and what the owners won’t even consider.

Basically both sides are still very much far apart and I don’t see much changing any time soon.  And as such the league cancelled games through November 1st, although more cancellations will be coming later this week.

My prediction: this season is done for.  And if NHLPA leader Fehr is as good as we think he is, part of next season will get cancelled too.  The players are together on this, unlike in 2004 in which much of the union was fragmented.  By the time next season when they start to cancel games, the owners will cave because the amount of revenue lost will start to really hurt the teams and the league.  Garry Bettman will step down as the commissioner and the NHL will once again play hockey.

Or maybe that’s just wishful thinking…

Talks Resume in Secret as Games are Cancelled

As anticipated, the NHL cancelled games from the start of the season, calling it a “postponement” of the season.  I guess that’s a good sign.  But a better sign is that, as the Star Ledger reported, both sides came together for a secret meeting up in Toronto.

An even better sign that that, both sides are looking to get new proposals.  Previously both sides stated that they were awaiting the other side to submit something new.  If you believe in “I go then you go,” the Players Association was the last group to submit  a new proposal to the league, which they quickly turned down.  But the league argued that it was so far out of the ballpark they had to try again.  A do-over, if you will.

The fact that both sides have now asked for new proposals and both sides have agreed, means a compromise could be in the works, as suggested by ESPN’s Pierre LeBrun.  This sounds like what the NHLPA has been looking for all along.

It is anticipated that both sides will have discussions this weekend on a new meeting date for sometime next week to review each other’s new proposal.

And now I agree with Chris Christie… Thanks NHL!

While plodding around on the inter-webs, I came across an article where two NHL Senators wrote a little love note to the NHL and NHLPA asking them to please settle their differences because this hurts local business in Newark – which I wholeheartedly agree with.  But I took away from this story two things:

1. The NHL and NHLPA don’t care about local businesses in and around arenas.  The NHL cares about what they feel is in the best interest of the league – however misguided it may be.  The NHLPA, like most unions, cares about itself and doesn’t dare peak outside the box for that would be against union regulations.  In many cases – it most likely is going against it’s members’ wishes to do what it feels is in it’s best interest to keep face and rake in as much money as possible.  And yet of the two sides, I have to hitch my boat to the NHLPA because I really feel the league is just trying to get away with whatever they want and truly justifying why unions still need to exist today.

2. I severely dislike the threat thrown in the letter by the senators stating “Congress has jurisdiction over interstate commerce, which includes professional sports, and will be keeping a ‘close eye’ on negotiations.”  So if everyone remembers what a waste of taxpayer money Congress spent during the baseball drug use trials, just remember they could easily waste money butting in to the issues being hashed out by the NHL and NHLPA.

And lets be honest here – Congress isn’t going to weigh in on this issue because, as I stated in yesterday’s post, not enough people care about hockey to really warrant someone paying attention to the problem.  And even if they did, they wouldn’t pay attention to the correct problem anyway, and that is in my mind the league feels it can strong-arm the players in to any deal they want because, if they don’t agree 100% to their terms, they’ll just lock the players out.  To me, that’s not negotiating in good faith.  I never thought I would be sticking up for the people who in a given year make more than I could ever imagine to make in a lifetime, but here we are and here I am – doing just that.

And now today I find an even more interesting news article in which Gov. Christie hopes to see the lockout end “as a fan” and for the “economic impact.” But he admitted that he couldn’t really add anything to help the situation along, and any politician who tries is just grandstanding.  And I agree.  Not to get in to a political debate here, but I’m not a big fan of the big governor.  I don’t agree with a lot of what he says or does.  But every so often I must admit that he says something that just makes real sense and I can’t deny it.  And this so happens to be one of those times.  Don’t sit around Congress and draft a letter to the NHL and the NHLPA asking them to make things right in their little world.  How about you try to help in the issues of things that really matter to the country?

 

Back to the hockey side of the NHL, we will most likely hear on Wednesday that the NHL has cancelled the start of the season.  Probably just the first few weeks to begin, and then they’ll continue to chip away as both sides sit and stare at each other waiting for the other to cave.  In recent meetings, both sides have met but not made any progress on the hockey related revenue.  Instead, discussions and progress are being made on other “peripheral” issues.  I think that means they’re discussing things like the players’ dental plans.

Brodeur Watch 2011: Out for 7 to 10 Days

Earlier in the day Devils coach Peter DeBoer declined to make any information on Martin Brodeur’s doctor visit public, instead forwardingt hose requests to Devils GM Lou Lamoriello.

However newjerseydevils.com is now reporting that Marty will be out for the next 7 to 10 days.  The results from the doctor indicate that he will not require surgery, but will need to go through further rehab.

Devils net minding lineup until then will have Johan Hedberg starting in net with recalled Albany Devils goalie Keith Kinkaid as his backup on the bench.  When asked about Hedberg, DeBoer stated "He’s been very good, exactly as advertised.  He’s a great pro, great person. Someone gave me a stat that he’s [12-2] going back to last year in his last [14] games."

That stat is correct.

The 7-10 day estimate isn’t set in stone.  Further evaluation during rehab may push the date back further should sufficient progress not be made.

Brodeur’s Questionable Return

Devils start net minder Martin Brodeur is on the final year of his contract. His fate in the hockey hall of fame is sealed. His presence on the ice is noticeable in every NHL rink with a trapezoid behind the net of where goalies are not allowed to play the puck. And his records broken will take many many years to break, many if ever.

But all this fortune has taken it’s toll, and now Marty is no longer unbreakable. Once again Martin Brodeur is sidelined with an injury of which was previously noted as getting much better, but is apparently still a concern as the Devils have brought up the Devils AHL affiliate’s goaltender Keith Kinkaid to join them against the San Jose Sharks this Friday.

Keith is a solid goalie and may very well be the Devils next go-to man between the pipes in the not so distant future. Current back-up goalie for the Devils, Johan Hedberg, is a solid performer and has proven that he can step in at any time to take over the crease duty when called upon. But even he is only a year younger then our all-star Marty.

Brodeur’s test results will not be known until Wednesday, and even then the outcome may be uncertain.

Farewell “Doc”

On Thursday the Devils lost perhaps one of their most noble and passionate members of their organization, a man who changed my perspective of the sport, and who has been awarded numerous times getting credited for his exceptional ability at being the best across not just hockey but all sports.

(And to be frank, I’m really bummed about it!)

The voice of the New Jersey Devils, Mike “Doc” Emrick, will be stepping down from his position as the Devils play-by-play announcer. He will continue to work with NBC and Versus on a reduced schedule – in effect partially retiring.

He will turn 65 during the 2011-12 season.

“Doc” wrote a letter to fans in which he says “I wanted Devils fans to know of this news quickly after I reached the decision since their kindness to my wife Joyce and me on countless occasions brought us so much joy. Candidly, it has also left me with a sense of regret that I will not be continuing to call the team’s games.”

I’ve actually met Doc on a couple of occasions, most recently on January 30, 2009 during “Mike ‘Doc’ Emrick Night” which celebrated his 40 years of broadcasting. I actually got his autograph that night, and he seemed a little surprised by it. To me, his role with the Devils has been just as important as any players, simply because he’s the interpreter of the games to those of us who watch the majority of them on television.

I feel bad saying this, but I would always be disappointed when Doc would be “on assignment” televising a national game for NBC or Versus and Steve Cangelosi would be doing the play by play. Doc had a way of broadcasting that is reminiscent of a radio play by play announcer, but he did it on television and it just worked beautifully.

This may seem silly to some, but as a fan of the Devils through three Stanley Cups, and having one broadcaster being their for easily 95% of the time, even on national broadcasts since he did that too with Fox, NBC and Versus, you expect to hear that professionalism and ability each and every game night.

He not only broadcasted, he did with passion and real enthusiasm. He got himself involved in the game and the excitement, and would not hold back with excitement in his play by play.

Some of my favorite “Doc” one-liners:

“I have an excellent grasp of the obvious.” -many times
“If you’re keeping score at home… why?” -after a very confusing scoring change during a high scoring game.
“If you’re just joining us, where have you been?” -in the middle of the third period with the Devils ahead by a lot.

Doc, on behalf of Devils fans everywhere, we will miss you; your broadcasts, your excitement and your astounding ability to call the games. Telecasts will not be the same without you behind the microphone. Good luck in your partial retirement and I hope you stop by the Rock from time to time to visit.

Devils Win Lottery

It’s not every day you hear of a sports franchise winning the lottery.  I mean, they typically have enough money as it is.

Ah, but this was no ordinary lottery.  In reasons that are really sad (which I will get to in a moment), the NHL holds a draft lottery in which the teams that don’t make the playoffs are ranked from lowest to highest, with the lowest (Edmonton) having the best shot at winning.

If a team wins, they can – at most – move up four positions in the NHL Entry Draft.  In this case, the Devils had less than a 4% chance of winning, and they did.

Side note: See!  All you conspiracy theorists that think the NHL is just out to get the Devils.  Obviously the NHL isn’t out to get us, we won their own lottery!  But I suppose that might just be to try and throw us off their trail…

So here’s what this means. The Devils were, because of their placement in the standings, slated to get the number eight seed in the Entry Draft, but by winning the lottery they can move up the max four positions, placing them fourth in the Draft.

 

So why is this done?  The logic as I understand it is that this will help prevent teams from sucking on purpose just to get the number one draft pick.

Anyone who watched the Devils the first half of the season can tell you we were not sucking on purpose.  We legitimately sucked.  But alas, we started to win games once again and thus moved us from being the worst team in the NHL to the eighth worst team in the NHL.

Now if only we can eliminate the trapezoid behind the net will I officially stop believing in the conspiracy the NHL has against the Devils.

In Memory of Pat Burns

The hockey world on Friday learned that Pat Burns, the coach of the New Jersey Devils when they won their third Stanley Cup in 2003, passed away.  Pat Burns had been battling cancer for quite some time including colon cancer in 2004 and liver cancer in 2005.  In his final year coaching with the Devils, he admitted to receiving news that the cancer has come back, and this time, incurable.

Pat Burns was well known for his rough exterior.  In fact I can honestly say I only saw him smile once when he was coaching the Devils: when he held the Stanley Cup over his head.  He had coached for quite a few years prior to coaching the Devils, including coaching the Montreal Canadians, Toronto Maple Leads, and Boston Bruins.  But he only won a Stanley Cup in New Jersey.

When asked who I felt was the best Devils coach – at least the best Devils coach during my tenure as fan (after 1995), Pat Burns is my answer.  I’ve stated this years before when the Devils were involved with the coach of the year club and fans found GM Lou Lamoriello behind the bench on more than one occasion.

Pat Burns, on the other hand, kept the team together and made them look good.  The Devils only lost a total of 20 games his first season as coach, won them an Atlantic title, and were only a few points shy of a Conference title.  But the regular season didn’t matter.  It was the post season in which the Devils shined.  In the Finals against the Anaheim Might Ducks, the Ducks were shut out three times in the Devils four wins.  And when he pulled Ken Daneyko from the lineup and fans were up in arms, he didn’t waver.  In the final game, he did the most honorable thing I can ever recall a coach doing and put Ken back in the lineup knowing this would be his last.  And sure enough, Ken was able to rejoin his teammates and held the cup over his head one last time before retirement.

Perhaps a reason I pick him as the Devils best coach was because his tenure was so short.  In his second season as the Devils head coach, they were knocked out of the playoffs in the first round in 2004.  After the final game, the announcement was made that Burns had cancer for a third time.  He would have stepped down as coach should the Devils had continued.  But we never had a chance to see how he would have fared as the Devils coach for successive seasons after that.  Had that occurred, who knows what his record would have been like.  But what I do know is he brought the 2002-03 Devils, a team I think most people would not have expected to win as much, to the finals and won the ultimate trophy.  He was an honorable man and a respected coach.  The hockey world lost one of it’s finest members – and he will be missed.

Thank you, Pat Burns, for our third Stanley Cup.

Mair Signs On, Rolston Out 4-6 Weeks

Adam Mair tried out with the Devils, spent time in training camp, only to find out that he still was unemployed for the start of the season.  The Devils must have given him an indication, however, not to give up hope and stick around.

Pierre-Luc Letourneau-Leblond (whose name I will not miss typing) was placed on waivers earlier in the week, effectively demoting him to the minors.  While he can still be called up to play an NHL contest if needed, his salary at present will not count against the Devils salary cap.  This gave them enough wiggle room to sign Adam Mair to one year deal.

The Devils received some more cap relief when veteran Brian Rolston was placed on long term injury reserve.  Brian was out early this week with a Lower Body Injury he received on Saturday against the Washington Capitals.  After a second opinion, it was certain that Brian had a sports hernia that requires surgery and he will be out 4-6 weeks.

Rolston being placed on the IR list will effectively wipe $5.2 million from the Devils salary cap, giving them some freedom to hire interim players from Albany to cover the player shortage they currently have.

There is not enough time, however, to call anyone up for tonight’s game against Boston.  They will continue to be two players short, but will be able to place call-ups from Albany for the Devils next contest on Friday when they take on the Colorado Avalanche at the Prudential Center.