Is no news good news in CBA talks?

 

At least they’re still talking. Well, sort of.

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and players association executive director Donald Fehr met on Wednesday morning before cancelling planned discussions in the afternoon.

Good news? Bad news? At this point, it’s hard to say whether the path towards a new collective bargaining agreement is any more positive or negative than last week, when Bettman tersely dismissed the players’ first formal proposal – a call for richer teams to share more revenues with financially weak franchises, in exchange for the players’ taking a smaller cut of overall league revenues.

“You can probably observe that there is some degree of frustration going on between the parties, but that doesn’t surprise anybody,” Fehr told reporters Wednesday.

Fans’ frustrations are growing, too, as another NHL lockout looms. There are countless unanswered questions. Why are owners of NHL teams still acting as if all is right in the hockey world, doing business the old fashioned way, continuing to dish out long-term contracts? What are the potential pressure dates in negotiations? Where do players go if there’s a lockout?

Below, the Citizen analyses some of the issues.

 

ANOTHER DAY, ANOTHER BIG DEAL: On Wednesday, Taylor Hall signed a seven-year, $42 million contract extension with the Edmonton Oilers, raising even more eyebrows. Since July 1, 15 players have now signed contracts of six seasons or more. It’s intriguing, considering that the original proposal from the NHL’s bargaining committee called for a five-year term limits on contracts. If clubs are still operating on a business-as-usual principle, doesn’t that hurt the NHL’s bargaining position? It could be argued that a revenue-rich squad such as the Philadelphia Flyers (who recently signed Scott Hartnell and Wayne Simmonds to six-year deals) have always spent to the salary cap and have few concerns about the future. Then there are the Minnesota Wild and Carolina Hurricanes. The NHL says its weaker franchises can’t survive in the current environment of long term lucrative deals. Meanwhile, the Wild have signed Ryan Suter and Zach Parise to dual 13-year contracts and the Hurricanes have secured Jordan Staal to a 10-year deal and have extended Jeff Skinner for another six seasons. It doesn’t wash.

 

ABOUT THAT NBC DEAL: It was generally thought that the NHL would be under pressure to get a deal done before Jan. 1, when the 10-year, $20 million contract with NBC begins with the Winter Classic between Toronto and Detroit. The league, the reasoning went, wouldn’t want to risk its relationship with its major United States broadcast partner. Yet according to agent Allan Walsh, the contract can slide an additional year if there’s no hockey. The deal would simply be extended for another season. Just the same, Jan. 1 might be a drop-dead date for salvaging a reasonable regular season. Following its lockout last season, the NBA resumed action on Christmas Day.

 

FORGET ABOUT A NEW NORTH AMERICAN LEAGUE: Don’t make much of the whispers about a potential new North American league to set up shop if games are cancelled. Those with long memories of the 2004 lockout will recall the ill-fated Original Six Hockey League, established by investment banker Randy Gumbley.

Gumbley originally attracted big names such as Senators’ Dominik Hasek, Mike Fisher and Chris Neil for the concept of a more wide open four on four game and hoped his league would be family-affordable entertainment. It never got off the ground, partly due to arena availability and insurance coverage for players.

A lockout would, however, be good news for the Kontinental Hockey League. The Edmonton Journal reported Tuesday that Oilers top pick Nail Yakupov would play in the KHL rather than return to the Sarnia Sting. Most other top Russian players will follow suit and if there’s no new CBA deal in place by mid September, expect to hear of other NHL players jumping at openings in Sweden, Finland and Switzerland.

BONUS FOR THE AMERICAN HOCKEY LEAGUE: The NHL’s loss would also represent a gain for the AHL. Most players still playing under their entry level contracts will likely be assigned to the clubs’ top minor league affiliates.

Even with Yakupov likely headed to Russia, Edmonton could send a formidable cast of forwards to its AHL squad in Oklahoma City. The group includes Taylor Hall (his contract extension begins in 2013-14), Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Jordan Eberle.

The Binghamton Senators, meanwhile, would likely benefit from having Jared Cowen in the lineup. Cowen, who scored five goals and 12 assists in a strong 2011-12 rookie season with the Senators, could play as much as 25-30 minutes per game for new Binghamton coach Luke Richardson. It wouldn’t be an entirely new experience, as Cowen played 10 playoff games for Binghamton during the run to the Calder Cup in 2011.

We already know that 2011 first round pick Mika Zibanejad will be in Binghamton if he’s not in Ottawa. Fellow Swede Jakob Silfverberg has told a Swedish newspaper that he’ll let the Senators decide where he’s best served to play; either with Binghamton or back in the Swedish Elite League, where he’s the reigning MVP of both the regular season and the playoffs.

A FEW MORE NUMBERS: Should the entire 2012-13 season be wiped out and all existing contracts slide forward, the contract of New York Islanders goaltender Rick DiPietro will expire in June, 2022. DiPietro turns 40 in September, 2021. Maybe by then there will be nine Canadian franchises and the league will no longer own the Phoenix Coyotes..

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