2011-12 Regular Season

Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

“Bad Faith” and Distrust: A Players’ Perspective on the Lockout

Gary Bettman and the NHL don’t seem to get it. They never have. Since Gary took over in 1993, the NHL has seen three lockouts. Briefly, lockouts occur when the league feels that it can no longer sustain its current activities without a freshly negotiated collective bargaining agreement (CBA). Note, the league is the only one who can lockout the players. If the players are the unhappy party, they can go on strike. The CBA serves as a labor contract between the league and the players’ union on a plethora of subjects ranging from revenue, to contracts, to pensions, etc., etc.

Under Gary Bettman’s tenure, the NHL moved and expanded several teams to non-traditional hockey markets. Some have been successful and won Stanley Cups and filled stands, while others have floundered. The Phoenix Coyotes, originally the Winnipeg Jets, filed for bankruptcy in 2009 and the NHL had to take control of the team and they see some of the lowest attendance numbers in the NHL. The Bettman-expansion Atlanta Thrashers suffered so many losses and ownership struggles, that they moved to Winnipeg to become the new Jets, a city deprived of its original team by Bettman when he moved them to Phoenix to become the failing Coyotes. We can coin this the “Bettman cycle.”

In contract law, there is a term called “bad faith.” The gist of this term is that one of the parties to the contract intentionally or maliciously used deception to make the other party agree to the contract. We will examine this term with regard to the actions of the NHL.

Reports are surfacing that Bettman attempted a “bait-and-switch” of language in their CBA proposal regarding how the NHL could handle team punishments for hiding revenue (Charles Curtis- NJ.com). The league’s language was changed in such a way that Bettman would have sole control of the penalties.

Reports are also surfacing that the owners and their GMs told Gary Bettman, who in turn told the NHLPA, that they would welcome the opportunity to renege some of the contracts they offered to players (Charles Curtis- NJ.com). This of course angered the NHLPA, and why shouldn’t it? If someone offered you millions of dollars and wanted to take it back or even dump you from their roster, would you be happy about it or even ok with it? Of course not. Why is Gary Bettman, under the direction of the owners, doing this? Because they want to lower the salary cap of the NHL by ~$10M per year to $60M. That is a ~15% decrease for those not interested in doing the math.

The NHL was in a dire financial state in 2004 when a lockout took away the season. The reason they bounced back was savvy marketing. What could the NHL have possibly been marketing that would appeal to so many people and bring the league back to such great heights? Could it be players? Of course. And it was. Alex Ovechkin- drafted 2004. Sidney Crosby- drafted 2005. Jonathan Toews- drafted 2006. Patrick Kane- drafted 2007. Steven Stamkos- drafted 2008. New, young marketable players, appealing to young fans and fresh faces leading to increasing profits? You don’t say.

Fan attendance increased in post-lockout 05-06 for 25 of the 30 teams in the NHL. Moreover, the average cost (tickets, concessions, parking, etc.) for a family of four rose from $256 to $329 in 2011, per Forbes. The value of the average NHL team has increased from $159 million in 2003, to $240 million last year, and average NHL player salary from $1.6M to $2.4M (Forbes). Could it be that the reason more and more kids want to play hockey is due to young talents emerging every year and inspiring them? Could it be that the NHL is seeing record fan interest because the best players in the game are in their early twenties, bringing a new young generation of fans to the game? I think so.

Young, talented players like these are why the NHL was saved after the 2004 lockout. Young, talented players were able to bring more and more fans to the game and in turn allowed the league to increase its salary cap EVERY YEAR for the past 8 years. That is EVERY YEAR since the last NHL lockout. Coincidence? I think not.

In 2012, we saw ENORMOUS contracts being handed out left and right for big name players. Crosby- 12 yrs, $104M; Parise- 13 yrs, $98M; Suter- 13 yrs, $98M; Weber- 14 years, $110M. There were plenty of guys signed in the offseason who were arguably overpaid by their teams. For reference, go read articles by beat writers and read fan Twitters from the summer. Plenty of grumbling. Every one of these contracts was offered to players a few months before the collective bargaining agreement expired. The owners knew that the salary cap would be an issue moving forward in negotiating a new CBA, but they offered these contracts anyway. Here we are, 6-7 months later. It is January of the following year. We are still locked out, the players are not receiving their paychecks, and the owners want to LOWER the cap by 15%. The salary cap is STILL an issue the NHL and NHLPA cannot agree on. There is something fishy about this. I’m not saying that Pittsburgh, Minnesota, and Nashville are the teams responsible for the lockout. BUT, collectively, the owners knew that the CBA was going to expire very shortly after these contracts were signed, and yet they still offered them. Now, they want to lower the cap and the GMs “regret” and want to renege some of the contracts they offered.

The NHL has shown a mechanical unwillingness to negotiate with the NHLPA. A number of times when the league made proposals and the players countered, Bettman and his cronies stood up and walked out of the room. The NHL has used fruitless, and frankly pathetic, language such as “final offer,” “only offer on the table,” and “take it or leave it” in their negotiations with the NHLPA. Sounds a bit like something a small child would say when he or she doesn’t get his way doesn’t it?

Since the 2004 lockout, NHL league revenues have increased by nearly 64%. Revenues, of course, don’t translate to team profits and there are only a handful of financially viable teams in the league. There are a number of teams struggling financially. Some are struggling due to poor ownership and mismanagement, but others are struggling, because they are in places where hockey fans simply don’t exist and hockey teams don’t belong in the first place. This falls squarely on the owners and the league, not the players. Still, the players have made concessions. They have agreed to a 50-50 split of revenues, they have agreed to limiting contracts. Still not enough. How does the NHL respond? They behave like stubborn children, say “take it or leave it” and LITERALLY just walk out of the room. They try to make a preemptive strike on the NHLPA by going to court and trying to block the NHLPA from disbanding and filing an antitrust suit against the league.

We’ve heard from numerous reporters and writers from TSN and various other news outlets that there is a strong sense of distrust between the NHL and the NHLPA. Are you surprised? I’m not. The players are the ones who bring the fans to the stands. The players are the ones whose skills allow teams to market them and bring people to the arenas. Convincing players to sign for their teams by making them believe that they will receive a large amount of money and ultimately wanting to renege those contracts by masquerading under a new collective bargaining agreement? That is the DEFINITION of “bad faith.” Putting up with the NHL’s unwillingness to compromise, hearing the NHL say “final offer” countless times, watching the NHL storming out of meetings and behave like an 8th grader who just got dumped; do these things seem like the type of behavior that builds trust? Is this behavior expected to be perceived as professional? The question you need to ask yourself is, how would you feel if you were in the players’ shoes? Would you be okay with the NHL wanting to renege some contracts? Would you “trust” them? I sure wouldn’t.

The NHL needs to keep in mind that the players are the ones who rescued the league after the last lockout. The players will be the ones who will help them bounce back from this lockout. Fans don’t come to see Gary Bettman and his golf buddies at hockey games. Fans come to see the Crosbys, and the Ovechkins, and the Toewses. This lockout won’t end until the NHL decides to accept this and start showing some more respect to the players.

End of Season Reviews: Jimmy Hayes

Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Part two of the dynamic duo called up in 2012 is Jimmy Hayes.  I had really high hopes for this kid this season, but his presence was merely a teaser of his future potential on the Blackhawks, as well as a potentially promising indication of what’s to come.

I have a soft-spot in my heart for the big guy.  For one thing, he’s American.  Secondly, he is 22 years old.  Lastly, and most importantly, Jimmy’s frame is built to bruise.  Standing 6’6″ tall and weighing in at over 220 lbs, Jimmy has the body to hit and hit hard.

Jimmy started the season strong, scoring 2 points in his first three professional games.  He netted 2 points in three different games for the Hawks.  Not bad for a kid playing just above 10:00 per game on the season.  Hayes started the season as a top line forward and netted 7 points in his first 10 NHL games.

Unfortunately, Hayes was a part of the player carousel that the Blackhawks had going this season, and it prevented him from developing any sort of offensive consistency, dropping in the depth chart towards the end of the season.

More >

Detour On The Road To Dynasty

( Scott Strazzante, Chicago Tribune)

Well, it’s not the way we had it scripted, but the 2011-2012 Chicago Blackhawks season ends not with a bang, but a whimper.

It was supposed to be  a lot different (better), of course. This particular ‘Hawks team was going to be the one to restore all the glory after a mostly forgettable 2010-2011 season. That season was written off fairly early by many fans who understand how contracts and the CBA worked. Hey, they would be back with a vengeance the next season, reloaded and rested, right? We heard a lot about how much that loss to Vancouver pissed them off. We heard about how hungry they were to prove the critics wrong. We were told the ‘Hawks finally had some money to spend. We had reason to be optimistic.

More >

Desert Dogs it is: Blackhawks Beat Red Wings in Shootout, Will Face Phoenix in Round 1

Credit: Andrew Weber, US PRESSWIRE

Hopefully those who celebrate are having a nice Easter Sunday, and you’re about to find out what day the Second Season begins in the Second City. You’ll be seeing a lot of posts around these parts in the coming week with a wide variety of things being covered as the playoffs begin.

For the Blackhawks, the quest for the Stanley Cup begins in Phoenix after Saturday’s 3-2 shootout win over Detroit.

Yes, Patrick Kane made a filthy move in the shootout. It had me taken aback, and his smiling face skating back to the Blackhawks’ bench gave me a nice giggle.

But did that meaningless shot simply mask the disappointment we should be feeling after the ‘Hawks blew a late lead for the second consecutive game? If Kane doesn’t make that move and the Blackhawks lose that shootout, aren’t we going around asking questions about how the ‘Hawks are going to survive in the playoffs, especially if Jonathan Toews isn’t quite ready?

Instead, we’re all “excited” to be playing the Pacific Division champion Phoenix Coyotes, who ended the season with 97 points, four fewer than the ‘Hawks. Avoiding Nashville sounds fun and all, but there’s still the fact the Blackhawks let a chance at home-ice advantage in the first round slip away over the past week.

Now the ‘Hawks get to face Mike Smith, who is pretty much the hottest goaltender in the world right now. Forget that he doesn’t have playoff experience. Some guy named Niemi didn’t have any either. The ‘Hawks were less than a minute away from avoiding him and a Phoenix team that has won five straight games barely breaking a sweat.

More >

Quick Work: Duncan Keith Returns For Wild Rematch

Photo: Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Chicago never had the lead in their game against Minnesota last Sunday, which isn’t how the Blackhawks play their best game. However they did fight back to erase 3 deficits and force the Wild to a shootout. A shootout which the Blackhawks lost, eventually. But beyond showcasing the pugilistic talents of the bottom-six forwards, this game showed that this Blackhawks team may have a lot more perseverance and “guts” than we saw earlier this season.

The playoffs are right around the corner. The Blackhawks had better get a heaping helping of guts on the menu, and start making quick work of trifling teams like Minnesota, pretty quick. Like, perhaps, tonight.

More >

Some Good, Some Bad, But We’ll Take It

Photo: ESPN

First thing’s first: with their 5-4 win over Nashville last night, the Chicago Blackhawks have clinched a spot in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. It’s the first time since 1995 that the club has managed this feat for 4 consecutive years.

And there was much rejoicing.

The story of how they got that win, however… Well, I’m going to quote Pat Foley (always a dangerous move, I realize) and say that, “It doesn’t have to be an oil painting.”

More >

Crushing Blow: Blackhawks Get One More Shot At Nashville

Photo: Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Every time the Blackhawks go up against Boris Badenov and the Nashville Predators I find myself sitting there wondering, Why the HELL does Chicago have such problems with this team? Other teams kick the crap out of them regularly, as evidenced by Nashville’s losses to Pittsburgh and cellar-dweller Edmonton just last week. Why, oh WHY, do the Blackhawks usually end up either on the short end of a close game, or being humiliated by a staggering margin against these pukes?

In the 5 games between these teams this season, the Blackhawks have come away with a only one win — and that one went into overtime. Chicago has better records this year against St. Louis, Vancouver, and Detroit (*spitting noise*). They’re laughing at us in Music City, counting the ‘Hawks as an easy win, and hoping that they manage to land Chicago as a first-round playoff opponent instead of the Red Wings.

Nashville fans are laughing at us. That has to fucking stop. Tonight. And that means the Blackhawks had better deliver a crushing blow to this Predators team, and make it clear that taking Chicago lightly will be a costly mistake.

More >

Blues Clues: Blackhawks Try To Solve St. Louis

Photo: Associated Press

How did the Blackhawks beat the St. Louis Blues two weeks ago? By pounding them into submission? By Jamal Mayers making dents in B.J. Crombeen’s melon? By Brandon Bollig trying to tenderize Ryan Reeves? So many will say ‘yes’, and assert that a physical game will be imperative to beating St. Louis tonight. I’m going to disagree.

Chicago beat the Blues by first of all, recovering from a 3-goals-against meltdown by Ray Emery in the first period; and secondly, by throwing 46 shots at the Blues’ goal while limiting their shots against to just 24.

Tonight will be no different. If the Blackhawks use their speed, press their forecheck, take advantage of a demonstrably slower St. Louis defense, and not waste time and energy throwing the body, they will win. How do I know? One week prior to that game, the Blackhawks managed only 20 shots on goal against St. Louis while allowing 31 shots against. Chicago lost 5-1. And Bollig and Reaves went at it in that game too, precious little good it did.

More >

Speak The Truth: Blackhawks Try To Shame The Devils

Photo: Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Having just done a brief tour of some of the less scenic parts of New Jersey, I can tell those of you who haven’t been there to skip it. New Jersey is to New York City what Gary, Indiana is to Chicago — except with half the smell and twice the abandoned buildings. Got the picture?

Hey, the truth hurts. And with the Blackhawks’ ranks depleting faster than they can call up reinforcements from Rockford, the truth is more painful than usual these days. But we’ll go there later.

Right now, the matter at hand is a New Jersey Devils team that, fortunately, won’t land in the basement of the Atlantic Division thanks to an Islanders team with a nice lottery position. But a team that is nonetheless in big trouble as its latest bout of losses presents the real possibility of missing the playoffs. Surging teams in the form of Buffalo and Washington may just use the last 6 games of the season to kick New Jersey straight to the golf course.

Will offensive titans Ilya Kovalchuk, Patrik Elias, and Zach Parise be able to light the lamp enough to make up for Martin Brodeur’s fading talents between the pipes? Hopefully not tonight…

More >

Sunday Bloody Sunday : Preds 6 – Hawks 1

Two Hall of Fame goaltenders in this photo. (Nuccio DiNuzzo, Chicago Tribune)

So, this game is getting the recap it deserves. This was the sort of game where the Blackhawks give up 6 goals to a team that shuns offense. It was almost like Corey Crawford and Ray Emery decided to have a contest seeing who could suck the worst. Somehow, Brendan Morrison found a way to top them both.

This was a game the ‘Hawks just have to forget about and move on from. They have played very good hockey the last two weeks and its not like this game broke their backs, although pulling even with the Predators would have been awful sweet.

The ‘Hawks had a chance  midway through the 1st period where Johnny Oduya was stoned cold by Pekka Rinne and they didn’t do a damn thing the rest of the evening. The Predators had goals from Matt Halischuck, The Other Kostitsyn, Patric Hornqvist, Francis Bouillon, Shea Weber and Mike Fisher. Crawford was pulled after the 4th Predator goal. Pekka Rinne was spectacular – per usual.

More >