2012 Off-Season

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“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.

We came back after 1994-95, and again after 2004-05. We'll be back after this one, too.

No Hockey League

We came back after 1994-95, and again after 2004-05. We’ll be back after this one, too.

There’s been a bit of a hiatus on the site as we focused on our personal lives in the offseason. Leave it to us to start writing when the league is locked out.

I simply can’t be angry. I’ve tried, honestly. I tried to raise my voice and attempted to flail my arms around like a 70-year-old Italian woman telling a story. I even clenched my teeth once when I’d finally heard enough of about the yet-to-be-clearly-defined “hockey-related revenue.”

None of it takes. I’m just trying to cover up my sadness and disappointment that the NHL has been taken away from me, from us. My subconscious knows it.

The main problem? I don’t know where to direct my anger, and that simply depresses me. The owners, the players, Donald Fehr, Gary Bettman. They’re all guilty. Every last one of them. How do I pick a side when they’re all arguing over my money? And that’s exactly what they’re arguing over – our money, the almighty dollar.

The money we invested into attending games, buying merchandise and whatever else to help make the fourth of four major sports in America – where 23 of the 30 teams call home and where the last 18 Stanley Cup champs reside – grow by billions of dollars over the course of the last Collective Bargaining Agreement.

We watched the NFL lose a traditional offseason and the NBA cancel a chunk of its campaign over money, and we hoped the NHL would be better than that, recognizing it’s place among the sports food chain and knowing the risk of losing the casual fan that’s on their way to becoming knowledgeable because of growing interest.

We’re already living in a world where “record growth” is equivalent to “the Stanley Cup Final having less viewers than “Swamp People.” Take that as you wish – even though I personally don’t care – but less fans means less money for everyone.

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This year's 2nd line center?

Blackhawks Prospect Camp 2012: Bang For Your Buck

Blackhawks Prospect Camp 2012 gets underway today, offering fans who are willing to stand in a pretty cold ice rink for a few hours the chance to see the next generation of Chicago Blackhawks. The boys have arrived and have completed their physicals and fitness testing, and they’ll be taking to the ice during the lunch hour today at Johnny’s Ice House West, 2550 West Madison Street, in Chicago.

The full Prospect Camp roster is available here, with the on-ice schedule for all five days here. Prospect Camp is free, and open to the public. If you’re serious about going, go at least a half-hour before the guys take the ice. There is VERY limited seating, and it goes fast.

In all, 52 players will be on the ice during camp, usually divided into 2 groups either for practice or scrimmage. There is a Team A and a Team B, one would expect each to contain 22 skaters and 4 goaltenders. There will be practices Monday through Thursday, and scrimmage days are Wednesday, Thursday and Friday.

With so many players — more than a third of whom are not even the property of the Blackhawks — how do you know who is worth watching? I’ve narrowed the field for you below: you’ll get the most “bang for your buck” by paying attention to the following 12 players.

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SuterParise

Not Landing Suter, Parise Disappointing, not Discouraging

Stan Bowman took his shot(s) and missed, accomplishing a lot more than it seems most of the fan base thought he would.

The Blackhawks’ GM apparently made strong offers to Ryan Suter and Zach Parise to obtain the services of one or both of the most sought-after free agents of this year’s class, but they eventually chose to start anew with the Minnesota Wild and sign identical 13-year, $98 million contracts.

Suter seemed the logical choice given the ‘Hawks struggles on defense last season, and a pursuit of Parise was something that would’ve intrigued us at best. As it turns out, landing Parise was more likely than getting Suter to don the Indian head.

Such is life in the world of high-priced free agency.

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Photo: AP

Dashed Hopes: Blackhawks Get No Love From New Jersey

Photo: AP

The Chicago Blackhawks’ activity level on Day 2 of free agency was even more depressing than it was on Day 1, if you can believe that. Not one signing was announced, one possible target signed elsewhere, and another perpetrated the troll of the summer on the hockey media and those following along via the Twitterscape.

And unfortunately, none of the big names did anything either, further clogging the pipes in the already stopped up basement toilet that is the 2012 free agent signing period.

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Photo: Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

Bait & Switch: Blackhawks Nearly Silent on Free Agency Day 1

Photo: Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

The first day of NHL free agency is like Christmas for fans of any team. Last year, Blackhawks GM Stan Bowman was very active right out of the gate, gift wrapping several key role players within the first 3 hours. That flurry of activity gave Blackhawks fans hope for a pony under the tree on July 1st, 2012; but instead fans will have to settle for a hamster.

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Blackhawks Add 8 During Eventful NHL Entry Draft

Photo: ESPN

There were teams holding multiple first-round picks, teams looking to move disgruntled stars, teams looking to shed salary, and teams looking to improve their draft position. The 2012 NHL Entry Draft had all the makings of a first-round free-for-all — and for once, it did not disappoint!

Even before the first 10 picks were in the books, there were players and picks flying all over the room. Jordan Staal sent to Carolina for Brandon Sutter and the Hurricanes’ 1st round pick; Lubomir Visnovsky traded from the Ducks to the Islanders; Mike Ribiero went from Dallas to Washington.

And Blackhawks General Manager Stan Bowman was smack dab in the middle of all the action…

Observing quietly.

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Shooting Skeet While Blindfolded: Who Will Blackhawks Pick First?

One concussion, one car accident, one too many moguls, one too many beers, one of any number of things can deep-six your carefully-chosen and highly-coveted first round selection in the NHL draft. In some ways, the pick has more value before it turns into a living, breathing human being: because once it is, you’re stuck with it — and whatever happens to it.

So in some ways, your first round pick is kind of like shooting skeet while blindfolded. You do your best and prepare carefully, but in the end your success rate depends just as much on luck and fate as it does on anything else.

When presented in that light, maybe we’re taking this draft business a little too seriously. But let’s face it: most of us aren’t interested in seeing who the Blackhawks pick with their #18 selection; we’re hoping that some deal gets done during the draft that changes the ‘Hawks roster, or draft position, or both. So let’s explore some possibilities.

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End Of Season Reviews: Patrick Kane, Part II — Now Let’s Talk Hockey

Photo: MSN/FoxSports

Breaking down Patrick Kane’s season by looking at his end-of-year totals is impossible. All you see is the fact that his goals, assists, and points were all down against the last 2 years. The story of the boy’s season is much more intricate, and it all started last summer when a certain Blackhawks executive who shall remain nameless (but whose name rhymes with “Dan Showman”) decided to cover up his inability to obtain a second-line center, and in the process throw a wrench into Kane’s season.

In short, Kane was put in a position to fail, and I don’t hold him responsible for his statistical slump. It’s most demonstrably the fault of the guy who has never played a single minute of time in the NHL.

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End Of Season Reviews: Patrick Kane, Part I — Booze & Barter

Photo: ESPN

When the season ended, the five of us here at Cheer The Anthem held a “draft” of sorts, to determine who did which player’s evaluation. A couple of rounds went by and I saw that nobody had picked Patrick Kane yet. So I said, “Okay, sure, why not.”

That was late April.

Now, regretting that decision, I decided to separate this evaluation into two parts — to dispense with the off-ice shenanigans and trade discussion up front, then on Monday we’ll talk about how Kane plays hockey.

*     *     *     *     *

We’ve all seen the pictures and read the articles about Patrick Kane’s Cinco de Mayo visit to Madison, Wisconsin, so I’m not going to re-live the experience with you now. But from this we know three things: first, the kid is a binge drinker, if not an actual alcoholic; second, that this behavior has established itself as a pattern over the last 3 summers; and third, that he is to the point where he needs help. Arguing with these points is merely denying reality and making excuses for a kid who doesn’t need people to make excuses for him anymore.

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End Of Season Reviews: Johnny Oduya

Photo: Bill Smith/Getty Images

The 2012 NHL trade deadline was awash in armchair quarterbacking, as is usually the case; but this year, nobody could agree on what the Blackhawks needed to add to the mix. There were advocates for replacing nearly every position on the ice, including misinformed Moneyball disciples treating players like futures contracts and suggesting that “Jonathan Toews‘ trade value has never been higher!”

Please, go launch a hostile takeover or something. Come at me with that nonsense, I’ll implant your graphing calculator in your pancreas — the fun way.

As it turns out, Blackhawks GM Stan Bowman showed his impotence, failing to acquire the 2nd-line center that fans and media pundits had been unanimously clamoring for since 2010. He also added another “Who?” on the blue line, and unpleasant memories of The Chris Campoli Incident flashed before our eyes. Thank goodness Johnny Oduya turned out to be a far better bet, though his first 20 minutes in a Blackhawks uniform didn’t help to ease our fears one bit…

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End Of Season Reviews: Michael Frolik

Ever seen them in the same room together?

We should have seen this coming. Specifically, we should have taken Florida Panthers’ fans seriously when they echoed our, “Ha-ha, you got Skille!” chants with, “Ha-ha, you got Frolik!” Apparently the scouts on both teams had mad cow disease when doing the assessments on these guys. Like just watching them play wasn’t enough to make them walk away for good.

But at least Florida regained its common sense in the off-season. Whereas Jack Skille got re-signed at $825K, our intrepid StanBow somehow thought Michael Frolik was worth nearly double his salary from the previous two years, and on a 3-year contract to boot. Once the ink dried on that deal, it was very obvious who got the better of this trade.

And then the 2011-12 season started…

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Blackhawks fire Mike Haviland

A Blackhawks coach is leaving Chicago, but it’s not Joel Quenneville – yet.

The ‘Hawks fired assistant coach Mike Haviland on Tuesday in a surprising move few saw coming. It’s pretty safe to assume the first head on the chopping block would have been Mike Kitchen, given his responsibilities with the horribly bad special teams.

Al Cimaglia wrote recently he heard Haviland had an “unwritten promise” to succeed Coach Q, but that sure doesn’t seem to be the case now. I’m assuming Haviland was just as surprised as we are.

Then again, the Blackhawks needed a fall guy for another disappointing playoff “run,” and rather than Kitchen, Q decided to let go of supposedly his right-hand man.

So, in a matter of months Haviland went from being a finalist for the Winnipeg job to unemployed. Seems like a tough break.

We’ll be back with an update once we hear from those who made the decision.

End of Season Reviews: Patrick Sharp

There’s plenty of discussions regarding the Blackhawks’ financial situation and the money tied up in either under-performing players or long contracts currently on the roster.

But along with Jonathan Toews, some of the Blackhawks’ most wisely spent money is being given to Patrick Sharp – and he proved it once again with another solid season.

The Handsome One underwent an emergency appendectomy in the offseason, welcomed his first child into the world Dec. 10 – then scored the next night against San Jose – missed eight games because of a broken wrist suffered against Detroit on Jan. 8, played through the break the rest of the season, and still finished with a team-leading 33 goals.

He may have had a rough playoff series, but what Blackhawk didn’t?

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End of Season Reviews: Jamal Mayers

Photo: Chicago Tribune

When the Blackhawks signed veteran winger Jamal Mayers in the off-season, I thought it was the best acquisition they made. 12-year veteran, decent size, decent speed, enough grit and gristle to be useful. Sure, past his prime. But for the price we signed him at, he might chip in for 10 goals and 15 assists and provide some veteran leadership on the 3rd or 4th lines.

Those totals didn’t materialize (6G + 9A, and zippo in the playoffs), but we got a healthy dose of what Mayers was made of in the first 15 games of the season. Before the campaign was a month old he had 2 goals, including a game-winner, plus 2 helpers; and was getting an average of one shot on goal each night. He also took it upon himself to beat the crap out of no fewer than 5 guys. He was the only Blackhawk who registered a fighting major until Daniel “CarBomb” Carcillo went nuts during the Vancouver game on November 6th. Mayers was doing all of this while logging an average of only 10 minutes of ice time a night.

So now the season is over, and Mayers is a free agent. He was, arguably, the best investment Blackhawks GM Stan Bowman made — dollar for dollar — in the 2011 off-season. Hard not to pass on that kind of success again…

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