Jan 082013
 
Patrick Roy and Serge Savard, Montreal Canadiens

Photo credit: gohabs.com

So where were we before we were rudely interrupted?

Let’s get this out of the way first. I try not to waste energy worrying about things I can’t control. This is why 99.9% of the public bargaining, media coverage and fan reactions during the NHL lockout struck me as preposterous.

By paying attention, people were empowering both sides of the negotiation and simply encouraging bad behaviour.

How the league or its labour divides the revenue pie is frankly none of my business, because I’m neither an owner nor a player. I really don’t care.

I love the game of hockey, not economics.

Besides, no matter what the cap ended up being, good general managers will still be good general managers, good coaches good coaches, etc, etc.

You see, there was always going to be an NHL season.

Neither the players nor the owners could afford to jeopardize what has become a multi-billion dollar business. That’s why 48-game schedule was never anything but the end game to all this.

So it was simply a matter of waiting for the NHL to return. And now it’s here – in all of its gory glory.

Sadly, what hasn’t been talked about much in all the fuss over HRR and “make whole” is that the NHL game we left last summer wasn’t a very good product.

Goal-scoring and scoring chances were trending down; concussions and nasty violence were more prominent.

If anything, here’s hoping labour peace means the focus is now placed on how to improve NHL hockey.

*****

One thing we’re likely to see over the next 7-14 days is a lot of discussion about the “legitimacy” of the upcoming season.

In particular, many will argue a 48-game schedule isn’t long enough to demonstrate the quality of an NHL club.

There’s a quick way to test this theory – compare a team’s results during the 48-game season with their results for the seasons before (93-94) and after (95-96).

In doing so, we quickly see that 24 of the 26 teams had “normal” results during the 48-game season. In this case, “normal” means:

  • that their winning percentage was relatively the same across the three seasons; or
  • their winning percentage was similar to either the season before or the season after 94-95; or
  • a trend was apparent (they were consistently getting worse or getting better);

Only two teams during the 1994-95 season had results that were significantly out-of-character – the Montreal Canadiens and New York Rangers.

Montreal CanadiensSeasonNew York Rangers
.571 winning percentage1993-94.667 winning percentage
.448 winning percentage1994-95.489 winning percentage
.549 winning percentage1995-96.585 winning percentage

So what happened to these two teams in 94-95?

Despite playing the league’s third-toughest schedule, you can place the blame in Montreal at the feet of GM Serge Savard. He essentially panicked, ending the team’s string of 25-straight years of playoff appearances.

After a 4-3-2 start and worried about the team’s attack, Savard dealt his best defenseman (Eric Desjardins) and youngster John LeClair for Mark Recchi. Later in the year, and still in pursuit of scoring, Savard dealt Mathieu Schneider and Kirk Muller for Vlad Malakhov and Pierre Turgeon.

These two moves essentially devastated Montreal’s blueline. Patrick Roy faced roughly 32-shots a game, three more shots on average than the season before. He struggled with the increase (2.97 goals against; .906 save percentage).

The trades also made Montreal much easier to play against, as their league-worst 3-18-3 road record would attest.

And while Recchi and Turgeon played well, the team as a whole never got their attack going, finishing 22nd overall in goals for.

Malaise was the biggest factor in their year-long struggle for the defending Stanley Cup Champion New York Rangers. The Rangers got off to a slow start (1-4) and lost seven in a row at one point mid-year. Former GM Neil Smith has since admitted there were challenges motivating his experienced squad. Interestingly, goalie Mike Richter also had a year to forget (2.92 goals against; .890 save percentage – which makes one wonder about the impact of goaltending over a shortened season).

Anyways, the Blueshirts found their game when it mattered, as they made the playoffs and upset the favoured Quebec Nordiques in the first round. So humbling was this loss that the Nords picked up their stuff and moved to Colorado for the following season.

Both the Habs and the Rangers rebounded in 1995-96 with improved play. The Habs dealt Roy and rode a stronger attack (top ten in goals for and on the powerplay) back into the playoffs. Conversely, Richter rebounded (2.68 goals against; .912 save percentage) and Mark Messier had his last great season (47 goals, 99 points) for New York, leading the team to a 96-point season.

Bottom line – there’s no reason to believe the upcoming 48-game NHL season will be any less legitimate than a regular 82-game schedule. Even when you look at the aberrations of the 94-95 season, it’s clear the things that hurt the Habs (bad trades) and the Rangers (Stanley Cup hangover) can happen any year.

Jan 072013
 

Gary Bettman and Donald Fehr announce that the NHL and NHLPA have reached a tentative agreement.

Just prior to locking out its players, the NHL, including Gary Bettman, assured team executives and sponsors that the upcoming labor negotiations would be nothing more than “a tweak and a fix“.

And looking at the details of the resulting tentative collective bargaining agreement with the NHLPA yesterday, that certainly seems to be the case.

The new CBA includes tweaks to the league’s economic system; owners and players both now have a 50/50 split of hockey-related revenue. It attempts to fix the problem of backdiving contracts by capping contract lengths to 7 (another team’s player) or 8 (its own player) years and capping yearly salary variance to 35%. It left other contracting issues, like entry-level contracts, free agency age and arbitration rights untouched. It also left untouched the league’s underlying issues that some of its weaker markets will still have problems getting to the cap floor now, never mind 3, 8, 10 years from now.

If you look at a lot of these terms, they look like what most in the hockey world expected very early in the process, like, in the days shortly before and after the lockout. For some reason, it took the league 113 days to get to the same place. Because to get their tweaks and fixes, they first tried to perform major surgery with an insulting first offer that set things back for the players by about 10 years, and thus set the tone of the negotiations in a negative fashion. And instead of building on a record revenue season, they did much to tear the brand down with gamesmanship, rhetoric, insults and mudslinging.

The NHL could proclaim victory, having reduced the players’ share of HRR by more than 12% and getting a cap on contract terms. The NHLPA could proclaim victory, getting $300 million in make-whole or transition payments and having maintained their free agency rights.

But in the process, they also alienated a dedicated fanbase. In the last 113 days, some diehard fans have turned to casual fans and some casual fans have simply tuned out and moved on. Corporate sponsors moved on. Yes, most will probably come back to support the league, but certainly, some won’t.

So did anyone really win?

Especially when you consider how much damage was done to the NHL, it sure doesn’t look like it.

What was the point?

Jan 072013
 
Donald Fehr, Gary Bettman and Bill Daly

Photo credit: Toronto Star

The NHL lockout lasted 113 days. It took a 16-hour marathon negotiation session for the league and its players to make labour peace. But the numbers in this bitter dispute only speak one part of the battle.

No, the next battle ahead for the two sides is how they will win back the hearts and minds of the fans who committed their time and money to a game which in their eyes has betrayed them and left them jaded.

As happy as Canucks fans should be that the lights of Rogers Arena will soon glow blue and green and the bowl will be packed with fans once again, let’s not lose sight of what has exactly transpired here.

Back in September it was both sides saying that the other wasn’t keen on making a deal. They threw verbal barbs at one another, arguing over who should get a bigger piece of our money. And that’s what made this lockout so angry to fans; it wasn’t a philosophical dispute like putting a salary cap in place like in 2004-05, it was about sheer money, dollars and cents.

Fans have every right to be angry and upset, the two sides have acknowledged that. They’ve both pledged to win us back, and I’m sure whatever tactics they have up their sleeve will help them retain a lot of that fan loyalty. But this isn’t a cry to all fans to boycott the league and it’s players on opening night. It’s a reminder that this lockout shouldn’t have been necessary in the first place and a reminder for fans to be mindful about just how much money they decide to put back into the NHL for the foreseeable future.

What will the NHL do? Splash the bluelines of all 30 arenas with “Thank You Fans…Again!”? Offer the NHL Gamecenter package for free (which they, technically, make little to no profit off anyway)?

To use a phrase which was bandied about far too often during the lockout negotiations: “It’s a start, but there’s a lot of work to do”. The two will have to do something outrageous to repair the damage which has fractured NHL fans.

I’m not saying we can’t embrace the game when the puck finally drops. I’m just saying you have every right to still be mad when it does.

Dec 232012
 

For this special edition of Clay’s Canucks Commentary, I pull a few friends together for the 3rd annual Canucks Christmas Carol.

Once again I am joined by my friends Joe, Oggy, Jason, Pat and the foreign exchange student Kevin.  Kevin came all the way from overseas to watch some hockey but he gets something else instead.

Last year we put together the Bieber-inspired “Under the Minne(so)” and in 2011 we did the “12 Days of Christmas”.

For this year, we do our version of the classic “This Christmas”.

Merry Christmas from all of us at CHB!

Nov 162012
 

According to many sources, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman has suggested that the NHL and NHLPA take a two-week moratorium from negotiating – apparently after NHLPA Executive Director Donald Fehr said he didn’t know how the two sides would proceed to break the stalemate.

Understandably, the reaction to Bettman’s request has been overwhelmingly negative: from the Fehrs, from players, and from fans.  A two-week break doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense at such a critical time in the negotiation process.  I know that if I suggested a two-week moratorium to my lovely wife Gail the next time we had a disagreement, I’d be looking for a new place to live.

So I took it upon myself to delve into the Commissioner’s mind as to why he would request the break.  Thus, here are the Top 10 Reasons Why Gary Bettman Requested the 2-Week Moratorium:

10.  To undergo plastic surgery to make himself look less like the Count from Sesame Street.

9.  To watch reruns of 24/7 and the Winter Classic.

8.  To buy new needles for his “Donald and Steve Fehr” voodoo set.

7.  To go hunting with David Booth.

6.  To hunt down Bill Simmons and hurt him.

5.  To help investigate the affair of former CIA Director David Petraeus.

4.  To find out who really is behind the @strombone1 Twitter account.

3.  To concentrate fully on the CFL’s Divisional Final games and Grey Cup.

2.  To obtain a personality, sense of humour, and shred of likability.

1.  To get together with his negotiating team to craft out a thoughtful, fair and workable proposal to the NHLPA.

Well, we can all dream can’t we?

 

Oct 112012
 

@iam_canuck

On the day that the Vancouver Canucks were supposed to open their 2012-13 regular season in Calgary against the Flames, I check in with another two Canucks fans about their favourite and not-so-favourite players, preferred dinner guests and of course, the lockout.

Crystal (@iam_canuck) was born in Abbotsford, BC, and has hop-skipped around the western provinces (except Alberta) before settling where she currently resides in Winnipeg, MB.  She lives with her parents, sister, and her equally Canucks-crazed brother.  She started watching hockey in February 2010 (during the Vancouver Olympics!), and latched on to the Canucks since she was living in BC at the time.  Her secondary love is basketball and she has played it for longer than she can remember.  She’s living her dream of playing at the university level right now at Providence University College.  While playing ball, she’s studying Communications and Media and hopes to someday work in sports journalism or reporting (she would love to take over Derek Jory’s job).  Her other interests include rockin’ out to country music, hanging out with friends, and watching movies.

Dan (@vancitydan) is currently between professions, and open to new opportunities.  Born in Calgary, he moved to BC before four, and feels homesick without the purple mountains’ majesty about.  Having been schooled mainly in the classroom of life, Dan has worked in a variety of businesses as a manager, and truly enjoys helping people.  A lifelong photographer who went from making his living as one to being part of a team of professionals helping movie makers realize their creative visions.  While he first hit the ice in full Bobby Orr regalia at age four, Dan has been a Canuck fan since three years later, when the team joined the NHL in 1970.  He fully agrees that Dale Tallon got unfairly compared to Perreault, loved how Andre Boudria played, and still cannot fully understand how Vladimir Krutov went from one of the best power forwards in the world to a cautionary tale for overeating in one year.  Vive le Vancouver restaurants!  Currently one part of the team of many fine writers at NucksMisconduct.com.

1. Who is your favourite current Canuck and why?

Crystal:  I have struggled with this question forever.  When people ask me this, I usually rattle off my top 5 or 6, simply because I love them all.  But since I have to narrow it down, I tend to be drawn not only to the best players on the ice, but the guys with awesome personalities off the ice as well.  Having said that, Cory Schneider, Kevin Bieksa and Ryan Kesler are the main guys that spring to my mind.  Watching these guys do interviews are some of the most entertaining, hilarious moments of the season for me.

Dan:  My favourite Canuck is Kevin Bieksa both for his style of play and his talent, and because he’s one of the most community-oriented guys on the team. Plus, come on:  he is obviously one of the funniest and toughest guys on the team, no matter what that punk Vern Fiddler says!

2. Which Canuck would you not miss if he wasn’t on the team? Why?

Crystal:  Dale Weise.  Hands down.  It’s not that I hate the guy; it’s just that I like him the least.  Okay, I kinda hate him.  It’s mainly because back when he had his Twitter (and wasn’t using it wisely), I made a harmless comment about him doing so.  He responded not-so-nicely to me.  Ever since then, I haven’t been so fond of #32.  There’s also the question of production for Weise.  He’s never been a prominent player.  Not even close to prominent actually.  He’s been… present.  That’s all I can say for him.

Dan:  I don’t want to answer that question, as it will make the guy I pick feel bad.  You have Mason Raymond who falls down too much and Keith Ballard who isn’t worth his cap hit.  I do think that Ballard would be better on another team where he would have more opportunity.  So, if I had to answer (and it sounds like I do), I would say Ballard should be traded somewhere where he’d get more ice time.

3. Who would you rather have dinner with: Alain Vigneault or Mike Gillis? Why?

Crystal:  Alain Vigneault.  I want to see if he chews gum throughout dinner as well.  No, seriously I’d like to pick his brain!  Last year the team had a lot of different line combinations (most of which didn’t work), so I want to hear the logic behind that from the man himself!  I also just would like to get to know him.  I feel like we know tons about the players, their families, etc., but AV is kind of in the background.  He’s a really funny guy who I think would be entertaining to talk to!  I also want to find out if he can impersonate Cory Schneider as well as Cory can impersonate him.

Dan:  Alain Vigneault.  Though I would enjoy hearing about the travails of coaching the team, I am almost as interested in hearing about his time as “Bam Bam” as a St Louis Blue.  As well, I want to hear what it’s like to have millions of British Columbians “couch coaching” your every move.

4. What’s your general mood with respect to the NHL lockout?

Crystal:  The regular season is supposed to be starting today, which really made me think (and cry).  I should be donning my jersey, getting super pumped for my Canucks to pummel the Calgary fLames on opening night in their arena.  But I’m not.  Which is sad, because all summer I was literally counting down the days to October 11.  One of the things I hate the most about this situation is the fact that the Canucks were supposed to be coming to Winnipeg on February 9, and my brother and I were going to go.  Now we can’t.  Stupid lockout.

Dan:  A growing indifference, tinged with the realization that I would probably come running back!  The NHL knows they have Canadians in their back pocket.  I do feel that even this Canadian is reaching his breaking point if there is some foolish reason for no season.  Grow up Gary!

5. What’s your prediction of the date of the next NHL regular season game?

Crystal:  Being the positive person I am, I don’t really want to say that I don’t think there will be a season at all this year.  So I won’t.  I’m hoping for a October 25 start, although you and I both know that won’t happen.  At the rate the NHL/NHLPA talks are going, I think the most realistic goal, as the great Wayne Gretzky has already predicted, is for the Winter Classic on January 1.  Until then, I guess I have evenings free to do schoolwork.  Ugh.

Dan:  Late November or early December.  The Winter Classic will be the impetus for a deal.  So, when the Canucks win the Cup next summer, the haters will talk about how it deserves an asterisk.  #EmbraceTheHate!

Oct 022012
 

@_EricaDawn

We’re two weeks into the NHL lockout so I decided to check in with another two Canucks fans about their feelings, their frustrations, and their outlook.

Erica (@_EricaDawn) only acknowledges two seasons and is lucky enough to experience both in British Columbia:  hockey and summer.  Erica was born in Langley, raised throughout the Lower Mainland and currently resides in Coquitlam.  She has an education in hospitality management, a job as a food and beverage department supervisor, a passion for hockey and travel, and a love for her Boston Terrier fur-baby Cali (named after her favorite place to be…California!). She travels down to California to watch the boys in white take on the three local teams.  Her top three not so best kept secrets would be her love for Halloween, her love for Disney, and her love for Ryan Kesler.

@Mitch_SBMedia

Mitch (@Mitch_SBMedia) was born in Lethbridge, Alberta, but don’t hold that against him. He moved to BC at the age of two and ever since he can remember, he’s lived and died by the Vancouver Canucks.  He studied audio engineering which in his words was “a colossal waste of time and money”.  Currently Mitch finds himself as a production and logistics coordinator in his home town of Coquitlam.  A devoted partner to his lovely girlfriend of eight years and father of two, Mitch is already well on his way to being a hockey dad.  As a matter of fact, he recently assaulted another parent in the parking lot after his four-year old sons’ “refresher” hockey class.  When pressed on the subject all he could say was “It’s an ongoing investigation, but I think if you know me, you know I’ll do a three or four year bid just to prove a point.”  When he’s not watching hockey or playing it, his time is spent with his girlfriend and kids. Mitch also blogs about hockey for Northwest Sports Beat, Rob the Hockey Guy and Nucks Misconduct. He’s also a member of the secret order of the Stonecutters.

Continue reading »

Sep 162012
 

Gary Bettman waited around ALL WEEKEND, and Donald Fehr never called him. If Justin Long has taught me anything it’s that he’s just not that into you.

And just like that, the NHL is in its 3rd lockout in 18 years, and this, tweeps, is how we all reacted.

Read more past the jump.

Sep 152012
 
Inspired by Reservoir Dogs, the 3rd in CHB's NHL CBA Lockout Poster series.

With no further talks planned and the NHL prepares itself for its third lockout in three CBA negotiations – a natural hat trick of sort for Gary Bettman and his league – I don’t think I could have said things much better than Scott Burnside did:

The National Hockey League and its players had a golden opportunity to cement its place as the cool kids on the sporting block, to prove that the game is indeed separate and unique, that the game was worthy of such sentiment.

They were a long way down that track when presented with this opportunity.

An award-winning HBO reality series, the Winter Classic, Stanley Cups in Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles. Stars galore. Record revenues.

And then, even better, a chance this summer to prove that hockey was indeed unique by actually getting their act together on the labor front.

Woulda, coulda, shoulda.

For the second time in eight years, the sport that loves to claim its fans are the best in the world closes its doors to those fans, with guesses ranging from weeks to months to an entire season when it might next return.

Woulda, coulda, shoulda.

It takes a certain kind of arrogance for the NHL to piss away all the goodwill and growth from the last time it shut its doors, just a mere seven years ago.

Much like it takes a certain kind of arrogance for its Commissioner to assume its fans would simply forgive, forget and buck up again. And over and over again.

And they wonder why it has never truly reached the heights enjoyed by the NFL, MLB and NBA – leagues it wants to compare itself to in these negotiations.

Seven years ago, the NHL became the first North American professional sports league to cancel an entire season because of a labor dispute. It was a necessary evil, they said, to fix a broken economic system and achieve cost certainty.

It must’ve worked because since then, all we’ve heard from Bettman and the league are reports of an improved on-ice product (give or take the last year), expanded broadcast contracts, record merchandise sales and record revenue growth. We heard all this as recently as three months ago in June.

But now, suddenly, this same system isn’t good enough.

As if the league forgot all their press conferences and rewrote all their press releases, the system suddenly wasn’t working. They couldn’t operate another season under this CBA, said Bettman, even as teams were signing players to big deals with big dollars and big terms today and in the days leading to today.

The fact is, the NHL, greedy as it is, simply wants more for itself. Apparently, they’re sharing way too much of their revenue with the players, they’re paying too much in salaries, and for the second time in eight years, they want to rollback contracts they willingly signed.

And they’re willing to waste all the progress they made in the last seven years to get it.

Sep 102012
 
Canucks Hockey Blog poster: NHL Lockout Day 2012

In 2004, Gary Bettman tried to sell fans on the idea that a new economic system – a hard salary cap – would result in lower ticket prices.

Economics 101 be damned.

At least this time around, the NHL isn’t pretending that the impending 2012 NHL lockout will benefit the fans. There are no false promises of cuts in ticket prices 21 million fans have willingly paid in each of the last 7 seasons since the lockout. Hell, despite a third lockout in 18 years, they’re not even worried about losing fans.

No, this one is all about the money.

Bettman already admitted this when he said, “We’re paying too much in salaries.

This is about as simple a negotiating position as the league can take.

It’s why Bettman thinks that revenue sharing is a distraction. The league has little interest in helping lower-revenue teams much more than they do now.

It’s why Bettman only references the NFL and NBA in terms of their players’ salaries as a percentage share of revenues, not in how both leagues provide real support to help stabilize their weaker market teams.

It’s why the owners want to redefine hockey-related revenue (HRR) so they keep more of the money they make.

It’s why the other issues like the player’s participation in the Olympics and player safety don’t matter as much.

It’s not about the fans or about ensuring 30 healthy franchises.

Even though they handed out some of most ridiculously-expensive contracts in this off-season, all that matters to Bettman and the NHL in a new CBA is that they pay players less.

Nothing else matters.

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