Cross Checks: Gary Bettman

LOS ANGELES -- With discussions on a return of the almost forgotten World Cup of Hockey taking longer than anticipated, the next World Cup tournament might take place in the fall of 2016 and could be held in Toronto instead of multiple locations, including European cities.

And that's a good thing.

For a long time, it was believed the NHL was hoping to resurrect the tournament -- held just twice, in 1996 and 2004 -- for the fall of 2015 in the hopes of avoiding having to go up against the 2016 Summer Olympics, during which broadcast revenues, advertising dollars and general interest might be more difficult to come by.

But that’s not likely to happen, sources told ESPN.com, and the fall of 2016 is now the prime target, assuming details between the league and the NHL Players' Association can be ironed out.

Commissioner Gary Bettman admitted while talking to the media Wednesday in Los Angeles it would have been nice to announce a firm date for the World Cup, but that didn’t happen.

"We're not ready," Bettman said. "It's not something that's fully baked."

Still, if the NHL is going to finally get behind the tournament and schedule it on an ongoing basis -- and that is the plan, to grow it into the world's best hockey tournament -- it needs to be in a pattern that makes sense, and that means a logical pattern, starting in 2016.

By having the tournament in 2015, the league would have pretty much cut itself off from future Olympic competition with the next Winter Olympics set for South Korea in 2018. How would the World Cup fit in with that rotation if the NHL had a tournament in 2015? The short answer is, it wouldn't.

At some point, the NHL will decide whether it will continue to take part in the Olympics, although Bettman said Wednesday the league has not given it much, if any, consideration, even though the Sochi Games in Russia in February were considered, on most levels, a terrific success.

The two events are not related in that the World Cup is intended to happen, regardless of whether the NHL continues to take part in the Winter Olympics, but they are related in that they both fall under the long-term planning being undertaken by the league and the players’ association toward building a comprehensive international calendar.

I still feel the NHL needs to be part of the Olympic experience, in spite of the negative elements, such as difficult time zones and injuries to top players. The tournament is too good, the drama too high, the stage too great to walk away simply because it's hard to get the games on in prime-time television in North America.

But, regardless of the Olympic decision, the return of the World Cup stands as a crucial undertaking, and, in a perfect world (or our perfect world), it will roll into a rotation that would feature a World Cup every four years, two years after the Olympics. That’s why the '16 World Cup makes sense, as it will be at the midpoint of the Olympic cycle.

Bettman said the World Cup is an important entity on a number of levels.

"It's something we know is very important for our players, to be able to represent their countries,” Bettman said. "We understand that and appreciate it."

These tournaments provide a way to make money in terms of ticket sales, sponsorship and broadcast rights, but they also play a role in the development of hockey players around the globe. Think about the Slovenian national team’s surprise run at the Sochi Olympics and the value that has to the game in that tiny country.

And it’s clear both sides are looking at this tournament as a monster event. In the same way that the NHL went out on a limb with the first Winter Classic in Buffalo, New York, in 2007, this will be a similar risk/reward proposition.

If the league is ultimately going to sever ties with the Olympics, it needs to replace that tournament with something equally impressive, and it can’t just be about sending out invitations to a bunch of hockey federations and renting a couple of NHL rinks.

That’s why Toronto is being touted as a possible host, given its status as a major hockey, media and corporate center.

The last tournament, in 2004, was held in various cities in North America and Europe and, in general, did not generate the interest it was expected to.

If the NHL and the players decided they wanted to run the tournament in two cities, it’s believed Toronto and Montreal would be the likely host cities.

Whenever, wherever the World Cup of Hockey takes place, it won’t be something held in isolation, Bettman said. There could be things like exhibition games, preseason games, regular-season games, clinics.

"Which is why the discussions are as elaborate as they are," Bettman said.

Talks regarding a new World Cup of Hockey are expected to continue this week.

"Active talks continue with the NHL regarding World Cup of Hockey plans,” NHLPA spokesman Jonathan Weatherdon said Wednesday.

As for discussion of the Stadium Series, the Winter Classic will be held at Nationals Park in Washington, but it’s possible the NHL will dramatically reduce the number of outdoor games from the record six held this past season.

We wouldn’t be surprised if there was just one additional game, and, given the successes of the outdoor game at Dodger Stadium in late-January, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see the San Jose Sharks get an opportunity to host in Silicon Valley, perhaps at Levi's Stadium, the new home of the NFL's San Francisco 49ers.

NHL executive compensation for 2011-12

September, 4, 2013
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Information is courtesy of Sports Business Journal



Figures are for the 12-month period ending June 30, 2012 and come from Form 990, Department of the Treasury and IRS.
* - Total includes base compensation, bonuses, other reportable compensation, deferred compensation and nontaxable benefits.

Bettman: Outdoor games what fans want

August, 9, 2013
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NHL commissioner Gary Bettman brushed off criticism that the league is hurting its product by hosting six outdoor games this season, according to The Globe and Mail.

"For teams and markets that want to host this [event], for fans that want to attend, we can't do enough of them," Bettman said Thursday at Yankee Stadium, where the league was formally announcing two of the games.

"Fans love attending this event, the demand that we're hearing and feeling from our teams and markets and venues wanting to host this game is overwhelming," Bettman added, according to the report. "So if you're actually getting an opportunity to attend this game, you don't think we're doing too many of them."

The Winter Classic will be played at the Big House in Ann Arbour, Mich., between the Toronto Maple Leafs and Detroit Red Wings.

This will be followed by a four-game Stadium Series consisting of two games at Yankee Stadium, one game at Dodger Stadium and another at Soldier Field.

The final outdoor game will be the Heritage Classic between the Ottawa Senators and Vancouver Canucks at B.C. Place.

While some are already saying that six games is too many, it remains to be seen if the NHL will attempt more games in the future.

"We're obviously testing ourselves and our hockey operations department to make sure we can put on these six games. We're confident that we can," Bettman said, according to the paper. "But we'll take a deep breath when all six are over and evaluate what made sense, what we can do better and whether or not we can even do more."
In many quarters, this will be portrayed as, at long last, an ending.

The good folks on Glendale’s city council late Tuesday night agreed by a 4-3 vote to accept a lease agreement with a group of buyers that will allow the sale of the Phoenix Coyotes by the NHL to go forward and allow the team to remain in Arizona.

For anyone who has followed this tortured saga the past four years, a great and loud “hallelujah” rose up when the council finally tallied its votes and decided it was better to have an NHL team in its building even if it’s going to cost the city $15 million a year in management fees over the course of the 15-year lease to do so.

For a league that has had its share of ownership missteps and miscreants, this four-year horror story takes the cake, and so, yes, Tuesday on at least one level brings an end to the perpetual to-ing and fro-ing over who, if anyone, would own the team and whether and where it would go if there was no owner.

And so, yes, in some ways, an ending. And for that, hallelujah.

But for Anthony LeBlanc, the Thunder Bay, Ontario, native and former RIM executive who along with some of his business associates hung in until Tuesday night’s vote, this is nothing but the beginning.

And for the Coyotes, it’s at long last a beginning. Because now we’re all going to find out whether this will work.

(Read full post)

Washington Capitals fans against the Winnipeg JetsAP Photo/Alex BrandonLooking at the numbers, it appears the NHL bounced back, fan-wise, after the lockout.

CHICAGO -- Although the salary cap will go down next season to $64.3 million, the league looks to be positioning itself well for a return to pre-lockout revenue totals.

The 48-game, lockout-shortened season played to 97 percent capacity during the regular season, and more than 100 percent capacity during the playoffs, Bettman said.

As for revenues, the NHL is projecting higher than a straight percentage of the games played during the truncated season that began Jan. 19.

“We played 58 percent of our season but we did better than 58 percent of our revenues, we believe," Bettman said. "It’s not done yet, and there’s still some more revenues to be generated over the next couple of weeks. But we believe we did better than a strict percentage would have you think."

Bettman defended his officials, whose standards for calling fouls in the playoffs have come under attack from different quarters this spring.

“The officials in this league are the best in the world, I believe, not just in hockey but in any sport," Bettman said. "I believe they have the most difficult job, and it always seems to undergo even more intense scrutiny this time of year.

“This is a game of errors. Coaches make them. Players make them. And occasionally the officials make them. We constantly critique, supervise and coach them. They’re held accountable for their performance.

“The officiating has been consistent. Whether or not I am pleased with it isn’t the point. We’re constantly trying to make it better but it involves a human element.”

INTERNATIONAL DISCUSSIONS

The NHL and the players’ union continue their discussion with the International Olympic Committee and international ice hockey bodies regarding the NHL’s participation in the 2014 Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia, next winter. And while it has taken longer than anyone had imagined, it is moving forward.

Bettman said the players’ association likely has more “open issues than we do” but that “until it’s all done, it isn’t done.”

The slow pace of those discussions has delayed the release of the NHL’s 2013-14 schedule, and it has also delayed other discussions regarding the NHL’s international schedule -- including a return of the World Cup of Hockey, something both the league and the NHLPA are hoping to see return to a regular rotation. (This likely would be every four years, giving us a World Cup or Olympics every two years.)

The NHL and players’ association will also discuss whether to return to the Premiere Games series of regular-season games played in Europe, along with exhibition games with European clubs, once the Olympic issue is resolved.

NAME GAME

The NHL will reveal the names it has chosen for its new four-division realignment that will go into effect next season likely some time before the schedule for next season is released and the schedule is likely to be released in July. Of course, the process of realignment could need some tinkering pending what happens with the Coyotes’ sale.

Rest easy, here is your new CBA

December, 13, 2012
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We keep saying the two sides are close.

Many players, agents, governors, coaches, lawyers and pretty much everyone outside the key figures on both sides of the NHL lockout apparently believe it to be so.

But is it true? Is a deal within our grasp or is it merely wishful thinking from a group of people dumbfounded as another season appears ready to go off the labor cliff?

Well according to at least one top-level executive on the owners’ side of the table and a number of key players and agents, yes, the two sides are close.

How close?

One NHL governor provided ESPN.com with the framework for a deal he insisted would be palatable to both sides. Assuming the elements that were discussed last week in New York were still in place -- like $300 million in "make-whole" monies, agreements on free agency and arbitration rights -- the governor said he believes the following elements would represent the middle ground in the outstanding contracting, CBA term and transition issues.

Let’s call it the Do This Deal or Get Coal in Your Stocking for a Thousand Years deal.

-A nine-year CBA with a seven-year out for either side.
-A six-year contract limit with front-load/back-diving protection and eight-year limits for players who have been with a team for five years.
-Some simple buyout option as long as the buyouts are within the salary cap.

The ownership source acknowledged that leaving out the buyout element as part of the transition to a new CBA would be the least contentious way to bridge the gap at least as it relates to the owners’ concerns about funding the transition. The buyouts were introduced by the players’ association last week, the timing of which annoyed the owners -- not to mention the fact the buyouts as the players suggested would be outside the hockey-revenue pie, a significant problem for the owners.

Still, the author of the Do This Deal deal felt that both owners and players would support such a framework.

It appears he’s correct.

When the proposal was described to one high-profile veteran player, he agreed it was the kind of offer that at the very least could be put to a vote by the players’ association.

Another player familiar with the often-tumultuous nature of the negotiations agreed that the governor's offer should prompt a vote. He wasn’t certain it would pass, but at least it would give an accurate gauge of the union membership’s feelings about settling. Such an offer would also show that the owners were negotiating as opposed to merely making demands, which is the perception many players were left with after a second attempt at mediation Wednesday in New Jersey.

“I think it's definitely worth looking at,” another veteran player told ESPN.com. "We'd have to look it over and see what the implications are, but it's something to work with for sure. I think that will get some traction.

“But I would like our people to look at it before we say it's worth a vote. We hire them for these reasons, so I would like to hear their input.”

Several players and agents we spoke to asked to reach out to the deal's author.

A veteran agent agreed that this is the kind of compromise on both sides that is needed for a deal, although he remained skeptical that hard-line owners would go for it.

“That type of movement is needed but with Jacobs in charge, it is doubtful,” he said, referring to the chairman of the board of governors, Boston Bruins owner Jeremy Jacobs.

It’s difficult to say how the league might respond to such a framework. Those in charge have insisted that the elements they asked for from the players -- but were rebuffed last Thursday -- are all connected and that to move off the owners’ desires for a five-year cap on contracts would require some give in another area, or to come off the league’s desire for a 10-year term for a new CBA would require movement in another area.

Still, given that this idea came from the ownership side of the table suggests this isn’t all wishful thinking from a group that fears for the game’s very future.

Instead, doesn’t a framework like this suggest that a deal is possible, that it's close? Not to suggest getting there will be easy but that it’s possible, that by talking and moving the pieces around could, should yield a deal.

Sounds almost like negotiating.

Maybe Don Fehr and Gary Bettman would like to try it sometime. Sometime soon, that is.

NEW YORK -- Yes, I still do think a deal will be reached sooner rather than later, and there will be a season. Let’s get that out of the way first.

For all the drama that played out this week, lost in the theatrics was this little fact: the NHL and NHLPA got much closer on an agreement.

Whether or not the emotion gets in the way of a deal, well, that I can’t predict. But purely from a framework basis, this deal is nearly there.

They have essentially agreed on revenue sharing among teams, the players’ pension issues and the make-whole provision.

That leaves three key issues unresolved:

1. CBA Term. The league wants a 10-year deal (with a mutual option after eight years); the union responded with eight years with an option after Year 6. To me this is a red herring. It’s not a deal breaker. Frankly, I think most players don’t really care about this one. One player even suggested to me Friday that this was more a Donald Fehr issue than a player issue. The reason the league needs to get 10 years is that otherwise it won’t shell out $300 million in make-whole money. For the owners to pay that money outside the system, they need to guarantee themselves more years at a true 50-50 split of hockey-related revenues. Obviously, for the first few years of the CBA, paying out $300 million means in reality it’s not 50-50 yet. On this issue, I predict the players will be willing to bend.

2. Contract term limits. The league proposes five-year limits (seven years if it’s your own player) while the players countered with eight years. Deputy commissioner Bill Daly said this was a hill they were willing to die on, that’s how important the owners feel about getting a five-year limit on contracts. The reasoning for that is long-term deals got out of control during the last CBA (that would be owners messing up their own system, by the way) and the league wants to rein in the kind of financial commitments that exist right now all over the league in long-term deals. But the players feel just as strongly that five-year limit is unacceptable, it removes way too much flexibility from the system, the players argue. "I guess Bill Daly’s hill will be the battleground," one NHL player told ESPN.com Friday. So where is the middle ground in the battleground? Can the league live with six years instead? Can the players live with that? This will be the final, toughest hurdle to a new CBA. But I think for a deal to get done, it’s the league and owners who have to move a little here on this one.

3. No compliance buyouts or caps on escrow in transition. Don Fehr brought up this up this week, a desire to either limit escrow early on in the new CBA and allow teams to buy out players but not have that payment count against the salary cap. The league vehemently opposes this because it’s money outside the system. As one league source said Friday, they’re already willing to shell out $300 million in "make-whole" outside the system, they’re not going to shell out more. Instead, the league believes that allowing teams to exceed the salary cap for the first 12 months of the CBA allows enough time for teams to get under the cap eventually and adjust to the new system. I’m not sure what Fehr’s angle is here. I mean, the whole point of make-whole is to alleviate the financial pressure the players will feel by going from 57 percent of HRR down to 50. Truth be told, some owners were furious when they found out the league offered $300 million this week. It’s a number every owner is comfortable with. Why Fehr needs other transition avenues on top of make-whole seems a bit of a reach to me.

The skinny: Commissioner Gary Bettman said the offer was off the table, but the reality is, if the players next week are willing to play ball with what the league proposed, that deal is still available. What the players have to figure out for themselves is whether waiting this out longer will help them get more. There’s no question the patience that Fehr has preached to his membership has paid off, the best example being the owners moving from $211 million to $300 million in make-whole. But at some point you have to know when you’ve played this out long enough. I believe that time has come. If I’m a player, I push hard to get back to the table next week and work with the league on its last offer. If the players do that, this lockout ends.

You have got to be kidding me

December, 6, 2012
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NEW YORK -- What should have been a fairly doable mathematical adjustment this past summer has transformed into perhaps the most ridiculous labor impasse in the history of pro sports.

Honestly, I can’t wrap my head around this one.

Are the owners and players really going to let the season get canned over the differences that remain in the two offers?

I would make the argument that the players are crazy to take that kind of financial hit rather than accept what the league and owners offered Wednesday night.

Similarly, the owners are out of their minds if they don’t see elements in the NHLPA’s counteroffer that they can live with to get hockey back this season.

Are we really going to drop the ax on an entire season because the owners are THAT adamant about five-year term limits for player contracts? And are the players THAT opposed to five-year contract term limits that they will let an entire season’s worth of salary go down the drain?

It’s pure madness in my opinion. All of it. Both sides.

NHLPA executive director Don Fehr has done a masterful job throughout this lockout of telling his players to stay patient and wait because the deal would get better. And when owners upped their "make-whole" provision from $211 million to $300 million Wednesday night -- something the league said it would never do -- Fehr was proved right.

Thing is, you can’t wait and wait and wait forever, and believe the offer will always improve. You have to know when the time is right to cut a deal.

To that end, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman promptly pulled the "make-whole" offer off the table Thursday night, as well as other concessions on player contracting rights. The league had been willing to not touch unrestricted free-agent eligibility, the entry-level system and salary arbitration. Now that’s out the window as well.

You know exactly what Fehr will tell his players. That those things aren’t really off the table, that it’s just a negotiating tactic.

Perhaps. Or maybe Fehr just managed to infuriate the most player-friendly owner in the league, Ron Burkle, a man who has won labor awards for his work in his private business life but somehow finally found a place where his negotiating expertise was unable to penetrate. Yes, the Pittsburgh Penguins' owner absolutely wanted to explode Wednesday night.

Conversely, I question Bettman’s decision to halt talks Thursday night. Why not respond to the NHLPA’s counteroffer Thursday night by saying it’s still not good enough but, hey, let’s meet again Friday and keep plugging away?

Well, I’ve got one theory on that. Given reports that players were having intense, sometimes heated debate internally Thursday as they decided how to proceed, it might very well be that the NHL and the owners smell blood. They might believe the players are finally cracking and that by pulling this week’s new elements off the table, they’ll get those players who are questioning union leadership to nullify Fehr and make a deal with the league.

Who knows, maybe their calculation is right about that. But as one player told ESPN.com on Thursday night after the theatrics were done, why wouldn’t the league submit a full formal offer? That’s the only way players would have a chance to vote on it membership-wide, he figured.

Again, good point.

In the end, once again the drama has overtaken the facts on this night.

I don’t believe the two sides are that far apart at all.

One NHL governor told ESPN.com that they were shown both offers from the league and NHLPA in the board of governors meeting.

"I looked at them both and wondered how this thing isn’t done already," he said.

And those were previous offers. Not the ones from the past 24 hours that showed more movement from both sides.

What we need now is for both sides to exhale and get back to the table no later than Monday.

For the millionth time, there is a deal here. Stop the politics and get it done.
Today, Scott Burnside and Pierre LeBrun weigh the pros and cons of the NHL-NHLPA owners-players meeting scheduled for Tuesday. Bring it, fellas.

SCOTT BURNSIDE: Good day, my friend. Well, this promises to be an interesting -- dare we say seminal? -- week in the NHL and in the lockout that now approaches the three-month mark. The NHL’s board of governors meets in New York on Wednesday, but first, on Tuesday, a group of NHL owners and select players will meet for a powwow, accepting commissioner Gary Bettman's suggestion he and NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr step back after federal mediation fell apart after two days. Stunt? PR move? Or catalyst to a deal? We’ll find out soon enough, but there are lots of questions about whether this will amount to anything. First, a source told ESPN.com on Monday morning that the lineup for the two sides was entirely at the discretion of the individual groups. So it was up to Bettman, et al, to exclude New York Rangers owner James Dolan and include the oft-vilified Jeremy Jacobs of the Boston Bruins in the group of six owners. Does Jacobs’ presence destroy any benefit of this kind of gathering before it starts? Still, lots of new faces and voices at the table from the owners’ side, including Ron Burkle of the Pittsburgh Penguins and Jeff Vinik of the Tampa Bay Lightning, both of whom are seen as moderates. And while the top American team in terms of revenues, the Rangers, won’t be represented, the top-earning team in the league, the Toronto Maple Leafs, will be represented by Larry Tanenbaum. So what do you think?

PIERRE LEBRUN: Burkle’s inclusion is the key, in my opinion. Hugely successful in his private businesses, the billionaire has a reputation as a deal-maker. Heck, he was once named "Man of the Year" by the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor. He negotiated with unions many times in his business career. How could he not be a benefit to this process? Burkle, I’m told, has strongly wanted to get involved of late and I believe he’s going into this meeting with the intent of doing everything he can to close the gap between the sides. And I don’t think Jacobs' presence in the room means a newbie like Burkle is going to take any marching orders from him. So I can only take it as a positive that Burkle, with his impressive track record in his real-life business world, is taking a stab at this. Fresh voices are needed in this impasse, that’s clear and obvious. But it’s not just new voices that are needed, but rather voices that matter, voices that can make the difference. And I think, in Burkle, there’s a real positive here.

BURNSIDE: Things could hardly be worse, no? The two sides have stumbled along for weeks and I think the poisonous air that has existed in the room from the very beginning has been a significant impediment to getting a deal done. I’m not so sure that Jacobs’ presence is a nonfactor. The players can’t stand him, so I'm not sure why he needs to be in the room if this is about bridging a gap that most people believe isn’t that significant. And you’ve already got Murray Edwards from Calgary in the mix and he’s been part of the NHL’s bargaining committee from the get-go. Still, I’m with you, the new voices are imperative for creating some sort of momentum. Another NHL source whom I spoke with this morning said he thinks this can’t hurt. This source pointed to Mark Chipman, the top man with the Winnipeg Jets, as an important presence in the room. It’s interesting Chipman was included as there were reports, vigorously denied by all concerned, about a flare-up between Jacobs and Jets officials at a board of governors meeting. Still, this meeting only works if there is a free flow of ideas about where the two sides are coming from. If it devolves into more finger-pointing and boo-hooing about how the two sides have behaved during this process, then it just amps up the potential for the entire season to go pfffttttt.

LEBRUN: I’ve been saying it for weeks, but the reality is that both sides aren’t actually that far away from a deal. Once both sides move a little on the "make-whole" provision and on player contract rights, the deal is done. The problem is that the growing level of mistrust between the two sides has paralyzed any ability to push this over the final stretch. So hopefully fresh voices in the room will help ease that mistrust and lead to a more constructive discussion. I know some players I spoke with over the weekend had hoped both Jacobs and Edwards would be left behind, but it’s no surprise they remained part of the league’s lineup. Of course, the other part of the intrigue is just who will enter the room for the players. Like Jacobs and Edwards, no doubt there will be some level of continuity with players who have been there for most of the meetings. But certainly there will also be big names in the mix. And it’s no surprise to hear that Sidney Crosby might be there. He’s already taken in a few bargaining sessions. And his presence is important.

"Crosby really should be in there," one NHL team executive told me Monday morning.

BURNSIDE: Crosby has really emerged this fall as a player who understands his place in the pantheon of NHL players as well as the importance of his presence and profile toward maintaining what has been a unified player front in the face of lost paychecks and untold damage done to the game. I still wonder about the logistics of how this will work and whether the unusual setup will allow for the kind of frank exchange between the two sides that will be needed to come up with fresh ideas that could help move the two sides toward a deal. With the board of governors set to meet Wednesday, do you think this puts unnecessary pressure on the two sides to come up with something right away? Here’s hoping that both groups understand the urgency attached to this process. You and I are both of the mind that we could see hockey by the end of the month. I still believe that. But I’ll believe in it a lot more if we get a sense of strong dialogue Tuesday. My fear is that if this doesn’t provide traction right away, the two sides will throw up their hands and walk away. Then what? If that happens, it’s hard to imagine a scenario that allows for a deal to be made. If things do break down, the two sides will have no one to blame but themselves. The players have long complained about not hearing other voices from the ownership group and the owners have questioned Fehr’s motivation in the process. Now the table is set for something different. Here’s hoping they don’t jab each other in the hands with their forks.

LEBRUN: It’s important to understand the framework of Tuesday’s meeting. It’s not as if either side will come armed with a new proposal. That’s not happening; rather, you can expect discussion of the key issues that have continued to separate the two sides.

Honestly, once there’s a breakthrough on the core economics -- "make-whole" and the players’ share -- the rest of the deal's components should fall like dominoes. Once the league gets something it can live with in terms of the core economics, it will finally back down on some of its player-contracting rights demands. I’m sure of that. The league has held firmly to its list of player contracting demands because it hasn’t seen the NHLPA sign off on a "make-whole" solution it can live with yet. But you’re right, if this latest attempt at bridging the gap blows up, I’d be very concerned over what happens next. I have to think decertification talk would ramp up big-time on the players’ side if Tuesday's meeting implodes.

For hockey fans who still care, let’s hope this isn’t yet again a monumental setback, but rather the long-awaited breakthrough that this process has so desperately needed.
Scott Burnside and Craig Custance discuss the merits of a players-owners only meeting.

BURNSIDE: Well, my friend, interesting times in Lockout Land, no? After spending, oh, about 10 minutes with federal mediators before those mediators ran screaming from the room, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman offered to go off the negotiating grid by allowing the players to sit down mano-a-mano with the owners. Sources told ESPN.com that there were no restrictions on the offer and, as of Friday, the players were mulling over just how to respond to the curious offer.

A lot of folks are skeptical about the offer as though this is some sort of John LeCarre novel and is all some sort of cleverly constructed trap from which the players will never escape (actually, that’s called the Columbus Blue Jackets, but that’s a story for another day). First, kudos to Bettman for understanding the depth of dislike the players have for him. And while it would also take his counterpart Donald Fehr out of the proceedings at least for the time being, I don’t see how the players can’t take advantage. If I am a player (and I rarely pretend to be one), I’d ask that as many owners as possible attend. But I’d be especially interested in hearing from the owners that are believed to be more moderate, owners like Geoff Molson of the Montreal Canadiens and Ron Burkle, one of the owners of the Pittsburgh Penguins.

No one is suggesting the players will have to sign a deal before they’re let out of the room, so why not have an open dialogue about the issues confronting the two sides with a group that has been under a punitive gag order from the commissioner? In short, what’s the harm?

CUSTANCE: We're supposed to be critical thinkers, so I've spent a lot of time since the news emerged trying to think of the downside here for the players. It's been suggested that this is a PR stunt or misdirection by the league to divert attention from the fact that mediation was a complete failure (and if so, great plan, because it worked).

But even if that's the case, what's the harm in opening up the lines of communication between ownership and players? One of the criticisms of the NHL's approach has been that a small number of owners, like Boston's Jeremy Jacobs, have had the most influence and face time with the players. When contrasted with the NHLPA's strategy that has allowed for any interested players to attend negotiating meetings, the strategy looked restrictive. It invited questions as to whether or not moderate owners truly had a voice in these negotiations.

Now, if there's no restrictions on which owners can attend, then I don't see the downside. Players with the Flyers truly can get an idea of where Ed Snider stands, which has been a source of debate. Players with the Red Wings can ask Mike Ilitch, who in non-lockout years they are quick to praise for his generosity, why that organization hasn't been more involved. At the very least, it would appear to provide accountability rather than just pointing fingers at the commissioner.

But ultimately, can you move any closer to a deal without the two biggest players in the room in Bettman and Fehr?

BURNSIDE: That’s a great question. I spoke Friday with a longtime observer of these events, and he suggested that to take Donald and Steve Fehr and the NHLPA staff out of the mix is to put the players at a disadvantage because they’re not lawyers, that’s why the players hire agents, etc. But I think the point is that this is about taking advantage of a dialogue that wasn’t available before. I don’t think the idea is that the players and the owners bring their notebooks and write up a new CBA. Nice idea, but I think instead this will be about detoxifying the air. There is such a level of mistrust between the two sides -- specifically as it relates to how the players view the owners and the owners’ motivation -- that this has the potential to be a real defining moment in the negotiations. For instance, don’t you think the players are curious about why the owners didn’t respond to their last proposal with a counter? Might be interesting to ask Molson or Snider or Ilitch that one, and maybe the answer will lead to something on which to build an actual deal.

CUSTANCE: You raise an interesting point, Scotty. These players are among the best athletes in the world, highly trained to excel at hockey. When it comes to other things, like negotiating and debate, they're smart enough to hire somebody trained to do so. So if I were making the decision, I would sincerely thank the league for being open to a new avenue of dealmaking, but I would request permission to expand the meeting. At the very least, I would ask to include a lawyer or an experienced agent or two who represents a large number of players -- maybe Don Meehan, Don Baizley or Pat Brisson. These guys cut deals with NHL owners for a living; it seems like a waste of a resource to keep their abilities and ideas sidelined for a meeting like this.

But you're right -- at the very least, this a chance for the owners to articulate why the system needs more money and restrictions from the players than has already been conceded. I believe that if there's a compelling case to be made for the health and future of the sport, players might be receptive to it. Maybe I'm naive. I'm sure they'll provide us all with a transcript of this meeting, right?

BURNSIDE: I’d pay to attend that meeting, Craig. Heck, get the NHL Network to televise it, and I guarantee hockey fans everywhere would tune in.

I wonder how this will all play out leading into Wednesday’s board of governors’ meeting in New York. I know the league was hopeful that the players would want to meet as quickly as possible given this new twist to the proceedings. I wonder, assuming they do get together, whether that changes the dynamics at the BOG next week. Does Bettman’s offer to step away really suggest a shift in the power base within the ownership group, an acknowledgment that the league’s process has been flawed? Or is it more that it’s imperative to all concerned that at least some hockey be played this season in order to salvage not just all-important revenues that the players and owners will divide, but perhaps more importantly to give the fans and sponsors something to think about other than the mess that this lockout has been?

Or will this idea, like the stab at mediation, be just another log on the fire that is the 2012-13 season?

CUSTANCE: At the very least, with this offer and the mediation, the league can say it has attempted to exhaust all avenues of negotiation to get a deal done. I've had it suggested to me that this might simply be an attempt to remove Donald Fehr from the equation and speak directly with players without his presence or filter. But players I've spoken with say he's carrying out their wishes and consistently appear more than satisfied with Fehr's transparency and ability to communicate.

"He talks to a you on a level you understand," one player said. "We've been very trusting in what he says."

So if removing Fehr is their only goal, I'm not sure this accomplishes anything. We'll see.

Let's hope instead this is the olive branch that gives us some good news, because hockey fans definitely deserve it at this point.

Ah, Thanksgiving Thursday in the U.S.

A chance for the NHL and NHL Players’ Association to take a deep breath and exhale after all the drama that ensued Wednesday on the labor front.

For all the rhetoric and posturing from both sides Wednesday, and the anger belted out on Twitter by players, the reality is that both sides are closer to a deal now thanks to the NHLPA’s newest proposal.

A lot closer? No. But closer nonetheless.

That might come as a shock to the players inside the bargaining room Wednesday who saw the NHL shred many elements of it, leaving them red-faced as they left the meeting.

Truth is, at least from my vantage point, the players’ latest offer had a true impact Wednesday. I know it doesn’t feel that way right now for the players, who believe they put their best foot forward only to have the league stomp on it. But in fact, the NHLPA’s willingness for the first time to base a framework on the percentage of hockey-related revenue and not a guaranteed dollar amount was a monumental shift.

Sure, hell will freeze over before the owners ever pay out $393 million on the "make-whole" provision, which the NHLPA asked for Wednesday, not to mention that little guarantee the union sneaked in there that the players’ share in total dollars can’t go down less than the previous season in the next CBA. Yeah, that’s going to be left on the cutting room floor, as well, when all is said and done.

But you see, this is the point of actual negotiation. You give and you take, you go back and forth.

There’s a deal here, which is more clear than ever after the players moved to a percentage-based framework.

Somewhere between $211 million and $393 million is your magic number for "make-whole."

The league has to step down on more of its player contracting rights. The owners are still asking for too many and too much in that area. And although I give the union credit for a creative and clever back-diving formula, until it affects not just future contracts but also existing contracts, the league won’t sign off on that, either.

There’s a lot more to mend here in the sizable gap that remains on these matters and more. But it’s there. I can see it. I can almost touch it.

If this deal doesn’t get done, it’s because the politics will have gotten in the way of measured thinking. And it’s possible that could happen.

It’s possible, for example, that hard-line owners will pressure Bettman into minimizing the $211 million "make-whole" amount or taking it off the table altogether. That would be plain dumb. And a deal killer.

It’s also possible the league’s negative in-room reaction to the NHLPA’s offer Wednesday will serve to only further galvanize the players, particularly after moderate players had won out over the hard-liners Tuesday in pushing for a proposal that went percentage-based -- i.e., a framework that spoke the league’s language.

Now those moderate players who stuck their neck out in pushing for that might feel beyond enraged at how the league took to their efforts.

"They just united us," one NHL player told me Wednesday night, pointing to the way the league handled the players’ offer.

That kind of players-wide anger could easily entrench their position and allow executive director Don Fehr to really drag this out if he feels that’s the best course of action to get a better deal. And you likely will hear more talk about decertification as an option for the union.

That puts the onus on the league, I think, to come back sooner rather than later with ideas that embrace some of the NHLPA’s proposal and continue to push this negotiation ahead.

And I think that will happen.

I don’t buy all the doom and gloom that was out there Wednesday. It was not a wasted day at all.

If and when there’s a new CBA to save a shortened season, I believe we’ll look back at the NHLPA’s offer from Wednesday and point to it as an important factor in eventually finding the path to concurrence.

Just maybe.

Next move by the union could be vital

November, 20, 2012
11/20/12
10:46
AM ET

The ball is now in the NHLPA’s court.

Which, depending on how that plays out, could mean it ends up squarely back in the NHL’s court soon enough.

The players’ union began working on a new proposal Monday night and was set to continue working on it Tuesday.

If that proposal comes back once again asking for a guaranteed player amount -- the union has been steadfast throughout this lockout in saying the players won’t make a dime less than the $1.883 billion in total salaries they made last season -- the next meeting will be a short one.

But if the NHLPA is willing to drop that guarantee -- a source within the players’ camp said that was being contemplated -- then, perhaps, depending on how the new proposal is framed, there might finally be some traction here. But one has to assume that if the union is willing to drop that guaranteed player amount, and that’s an if, you'd better believe part of the NHLPA’s proposal definitely will have the league drop a number of its player contracting rights demands, and so it should be.

If the players are going to move on core economics, the league must move on player contracting rights if we have any possibility of a deal this season.

The NHLPA’s fear, according to sources, is that it doesn’t want to move on core economics only to have the league not move an inch on player contracting rights. It’s the same reason the league hasn’t budged on player contracting rights before knowing when/if the NHLPA will move on core economics, with the league concerned that, if it backed off, officially, on some player contracting rights, the NHLPA still would demand a guaranteed player amount on core economics.

The league feels it has moved on the "make-whole" provision -- offering up $211 million to players outside the system to help protect some of their existing contracts -- plus has moved on revenue sharing among 30 teams, a key NHLPA issue, moving the total up a few weeks ago to $220 million. The league got frustrated that, despite its doing these things, NHLPA executive director Don Fehr still maintained a desire to protect the guaranteed player amount of $1.883 billion in salaries (the NHLPA says it obviously would be willing to adjust that figure in a shortened season, but, for the overall deal, that’s been the base of its framework economically).

Of course, although the league has been frustrated from that point of view, the NHLPA will point out that it’s the players doing all the moving in this deal. And there’s some truth to that. It’s the players coming down from 57 percent of hockey-related revenue no matter how this CBA ends up looking. But then again, the players should have known it was going to be that kind of negotiation more than a year ago when NBA and NFL players were scaled back in their share of revenues in their respective labor deals. That was always going to be the context of this NHL negotiation: the owners getting the players to back up, just like in other sports.

So, really, the goal here for Fehr and the players should have always been about making the most out of a negative context, cutting the best possible deal out of a reality in which players were going to get downgraded in their percentage from the pie.

And from that perspective, I believe Fehr has done a good job for players in terms of pushing the league this far, getting the league to move on "make whole," on revenue sharing among teams, plus other items.

But it’s clear it would take an ugly war to get the league and owners to sign off on any deal that gives that guaranteed player amount Fehr has been striving for all this time.

So the question in the next 24-48 hours: Will the NHLPA make that next significant step and, in turn, put pressure on the NHL if a new proposal has serious potential of ending the lockout?

Or does Fehr feel the union should wait a bit longer before making that type of concession on core economics?

This negotiation either gains serious traction or falls off the rails again. And if it falls off the rails again, you have to begin to worry about having a season at all.

The damage this time will be permanent

November, 15, 2012
11/15/12
9:36
AM ET
TORONTO -- Who blinks first?

Still no bargaining talks on tap and the clock ticks away toward Armageddon as the NHL lockout reached Day 61 Thursday.

The third paycheck went by the wayside Thursday for 700-plus players who are obviously feeling more and more pressure with their livelihoods on the line.

Of course, owners with empty arenas are feeling plenty of strain, as well.

Know this: It’s too late to declare anybody a winner no matter how this plays out. The buzzer has sounded. Both sides will be declared losers. The long-term damage incurred by this league and industry can’t be undone at this point. There are corporate partners who might never want to reinvest in a sport that doesn’t play every time a CBA is up. There are fans who promise that they were fooled once, but it won’t happen twice. And there are markets that won’t rebound easily, not for a while, even with a shortened season.

And so at this point all that remains is salvaging what’s left of a chance to play hockey this season and pray that by the second or third season of a new CBA the business will have rebounded to some degree. No guarantee there.

The NHL has informed the NHLPA that talks won’t resume unless/until the players have new ideas or a new proposal to reignite things. Owners don’t want to move an inch at this point. They’re furious that their $211 million "make whole" offer was rebuffed so easily. Owners, with the hard-liners leading the way, don’t want the league to lift a finger right now on this offer. Of course, similarly, players tell me they’re riled up by the fact that the league won’t budge on its list of demands involving player contracts.

In short, everyone’s angry.

Know this, Part 2: NHLPA executive director Don Fehr has done a "masterful" job so far of managing this lockout, one NHL governor told ESPN.com Wednesday. Fehr is getting the league to move on key issues such as revenue sharing and is keeping his players on board through it all. He’s also frustrated with the league to no end. But Fehr’s grade is far from complete. His most important test is coming. Unless I’m completely misreading the tea leaves, I can’t think of very many NHL players who are willing to sacrifice an entire season of hockey just so they can make a point to commissioner Gary Bettman. I’m not saying I would sign the league’s latest, updated proposal from last week, but if I’m an NHL player, I demand that Fehr cut his losses over the next 2-3 weeks and try to make the best deal possible from what’s left on the table.

As one NHL team executive said Wednesday, "The reality is, neither side is really going to like this deal no matter where it ends up. But to wait until next season to get a deal done helps absolutely no one."

And here’s where the read on Fehr gets widely different takes. On the one hand, there are people who believe Fehr has always shown an ability to feel the pulse of his membership, and if it’s a deal they want, he’ll deliver one when the time is right. But there are others who doubt his true intentions.

"I think he wants to rewrite labor negotiations; the game is not his priority," said one NHL team executive.

A sentiment, by the way, that the players don’t buy whatsoever. Those I’ve spoken with all believe Fehr's intentions are to make a deal.

Regardless of whom you believe and what they say about Fehr, both positive or negative, he’s going to determine his own hockey legacy very shortly.

One NHL owner I exchanged texts with Wednesday believes that if next weekend (after U.S. Thanksgiving) comes and goes without a tentative deal, then it might be too late to save the season. I’m not so sure about that -- the league didn’t cancel the entire 2004-05 season until February '05, and while I do believe the league won’t wait that long this time, it’s still too early to be jumping off the cliff. But the clock is ticking.

Still, this owner’s belief tied into much of the doom and gloom that has come from the owners/league side over the last few days. How much of that is meant to be a scare tactic to get the players to finally break? Tough to tell. Some of it surely is a message to players that time is of the essence. I also believe some of that anger/anxiety about a lost season is genuine. But I would think that feeling is shared by both sides at this point.

There’s a lot at stake for everyone.

Back to the lockout: Now, where were we?

November, 13, 2012
11/13/12
12:02
PM ET
TORONTO -- And now we bring you back to your regular scheduled programming, "24/7: NHL Labor Hell."

The Hockey Hall of Fame induction weekend gave us a nice respite from the soul-sucking reality of what’s currently plaguing the NHL.

As we wait for bargaining to resume at some point between the NHL and NHL Players’ Association, it gives us a chance to sit back and ponder where things are.

Three key areas remain a road block to a deal right now:

1) The core economic issue. The league offered $211 million in guaranteed money last week in a revised "make-whole" provision, payable via one-year deferred payments (plus interest), money that would be outside the cap system in order to try to make players whole on existing contracts. The union feels the money isn’t enough (as one union source said, try $600 million instead). Instead, the NHLPA last week told the league it wants to guarantee that players on a whole don’t earn a dime less than the $1.883 billion in total salaries earned last season plus 1.75 percent in interest on top of that.

My take: On one hand, I’m on record as saying I believe it’s more than fair for players to want to protect existing contracts as much as possible, especially given the appearance of some owners of rushing to sign contracts this summer in the veiled hope of getting a shave off those deals in the form of escrow in the new CBA. Having said that, I’m not exactly sure how NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr expects to protect that $1.883 billion salary threshold in this new CBA. I mean, that figure alone is why the league -- which claims more than half its teams lost money last year -- triggered a lockout to begin with. The point of wanting the players to go down from 57 percent of hockey-related revenue down to 50 percent is to say that $1.883 billion out of $3.3 billion was too high for its industry. That’s not to say players won’t get back up to $1.883 billion or beyond as league revenues grow in the next several years, but to try to guarantee that right out of the gates, at least to me, just won’t cut it with these owners. To me, when push comes to shove here, if I’m the NHLPA I push the league for more money on "make whole" and cut my losses once I feel the league has gone as far as possible on that front. With each passing day, 50 percent of HRR becomes a smaller and smaller target as the business becomes more damaged.

2) Player contracting rights. This has become a much bigger issue over the last week than I would have ever predicted. My understanding all along in this process is that this was a bit of a red herring, in the sense that I always believed the NHL would stand down on some of its player contracting demands once the NHLPA signed off on the core economic issues, especially "make whole." And I still believe there is some level of flexibility in this area once/if the two sides agree on "make whole." But what we have here is the chicken and the egg. The league won’t move on its player contracting rights until it has "make whole" figured out, and the NHLPA doesn’t want to give an inch either on player contracting rights, feeling its willingness to go down to 50 percent of HRR at some point in the new deal is a large enough concession on its own. Several NHL players reached out to me via text messages over the last two days saying they are through-the-roof frustrated on this issue, feeling the league is giving them a take-it-or-leave-it option on their player contracting demands. Of course, that assertion frustrates the league, which says it wants the NHLPA to come back and counter in this area but instead says the union simply says it is not interested in any of it.

My take: If I’m the NHL, to try to get a deal done, I step down on wanting to move UFA eligibility to eight years' service or 28 years old (from the current seven/27), I step down on wanting to change the entry-level system or salary arbitration, and I give up on trying to limit terms on contracts to five years. The key areas I stick to my guns on if I’m the league: the 5 percent rule introduced in the Oct. 16 proposal, in which salaries from year to year can’t go up or down more than 5 percent (this rule essentially makes the five-year term limit needless because it foils any attempt at front-loaded/back-diving deals); the Wade Redden/stashing-players-in-the-AHL rule; the Roberto Luongo back-diving rule (even if a team trades a player, if he retires before end of his deal, the original team that signed him to that contract gets nailed with his cap hit even in retirement). To me, those are the three rules that matter the most to the league because they deal with cap circumvention and, frankly, I’m not sure why the players would even care much about any of those three.

3) The damage of the lockout. NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly estimated the revenue losses at $720 million when November games were canceled, and that doesn’t include the carnage of the Winter Classic. And what remains unresolved -- and it becomes a bigger looming issue with each passing day -- is just how the NHL and NHLPA will agree to share in the pain of the damage caused by the lockout when it comes to adjusting the core economic language to a shortened season. No question the league will see this as a 50-50 proposition, since both sides in the league’s view are equally guilty of being unable to negotiate a new deal. But I suspect the NHLPA will make this an interesting issue by pointing out that it was the NHL that locked out the players and triggered this lockout. Fehr has set up the league for this moment by repeatedly suggesting since last June that the players would have been willing to play this season while CBA negotiations were ongoing. So yes, another hot potato in the offing, another hurdle to a deal.

Last week was not a total waste of time in New York City, the two sides getting closer on one key element to the deal: revenue sharing among teams. The league pushed its total money on revenue sharing to $220 million, up from $150 million in the last CBA, and while the NHLPA might still want to modify how the program is run, the money has the two sides in the same ballpark.

My take: As bleak as things look, one thing I learned after covering the last lockout in 2004-05 is that the breakthrough in talks can come completely out of nowhere with absolutely no apparent momentum leading up to it. Out of nowhere during a secret meeting between Bill Daly and Ted Saskin in Niagara Falls, N.Y., came the NHLPA’s acceptance of a salary cap, which for better or for worse was the first step in finally reaching an eventual deal seven years ago. I suspect the same will hold true here. That without any obvious hints or signs, the two sides will finally find a trigger on the core economic issues, which will provide a domino effect for the rest of the deal.

The question is, how long do we have to wait for that moment to come?

I still think there’s chance for hockey sometime in December. But don’t hold me to it.


TORONTO -- NHL commissioner Gary Bettman took the stage for his usual annual address during Monday night’s Hockey Hall of Fame induction show.

Of course, this isn’t your usual year.

"Being here in this great Hall, the sanctuary of our game, celebrates everything that is good and right about hockey," Bettman said during his speech. "Even in difficult times, we find ourselves reassured to be here to recognize ultimate achievements on the ice. All of us, fans, teams and players, look forward to the time the game returns there."

On the front of trying to get the game back "there," still no official bargaining talks scheduled as of Monday night, NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly told ESPN.com before the induction, which was also echoed by NHLPA executive director Don Fehr as he entered the Hall. Fehr otherwise politely declined to speak to the media out of respect for the night's festivities, a decision Bettman also made.

Fehr said Sunday after the last meeting between the two sides that he hoped talks would resume this week in Toronto, but, at this point, things appear to be on hold after the sides hit a snag once again in talks last week in New York City.

Hull and Oates

It goes without saying that the Hall of Fame induction ceremony is an emotional moment for the inductees, and it was so for Adam Oates. He singled out teammates Ray Bourque and Cam Neely of the Boston Bruins and, of course, his St. Louis teammate Brett Hull. All three are Hall of Famers and all three were in attendance Monday night.

Hull and Oates formed one of the most dynamic duos in NHL history, although they played together for only parts of three seasons before Oates was traded to Boston.

“I can’t believe it was only three years, because it felt like forever,” Oates said.

Lockout still topic of discussion

The annual Hockey Hall of Fame induction ceremonies provided a pleasant respite from the mind-numbing stalemate that is the NHL’s lockout, but the labor dispute was a constant source of discussion.

Take Hall of Famer Peter Stastny, who warned that the NHL and its players are doing what could be irreparable harm to the game.

“Extremely frustrating. It’s frustrating to me as a father, but even more as a person who is connected to the sport,” Stastny told ESPN.com Monday. "Every day, every day there is more and more damage done. Some of it’s irreparable. So the sooner the better.

“They’re not that far apart, they’re relatively close. ... They’re talking a few hundreds of millions or a few 10s of millions per year, and they’re ready to sacrifice $3.3 billion almost. It doesn’t make sense mathematically.”

Stastny recorded 1,239 points in 977 NHL games and his son, Paul, is a center with the Colorado Avalanche.

“I was hoping they would meet tonight,” he added.

Another Hall of Famer, Igor Larionov, echoed Stastny’s frustration.

“Watching the game develop and gain [new] heights, and now [a] stoppage for another two months or three months, it’s not very good for the game,” said Larionov, who is now a player agent. "Obviously frustrating because you want to see the young talent coming up and they’re ready to play."

Larionov, who along with Stastny was instrumental in breaking down barriers that allowed European players to play in the NHL, warned that if the NHL loses a second season to a labor dispute, “that’s going to be big trouble for the game."

Still, Larionov remained optimistic that a resolution will come sooner than later.

“I hope it’s going to be resolved soon," he said. "I’m very positive it’s going to be resolved by in a matter of weeks, maybe two weeks, three weeks and we’ll see the game back in shape."

Glenn Anderson, inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2008, said the fans are the ones that feel the most pain during a time like this.

“Any time that you’re not playing hockey, it’s going to be a difficult time,” Anderson told ESPN.com.

“I’ve done this my whole career, it’s just another situation that we have to deal with. It’s like with any other sport, you have to ride the wave and go with it. It’s just sad that it takes away from the fans. And that’s what’s really sad, that you don’t have the capability of watching it.”

Stastny hints at son's next team

Speaking of Paul Stastny, the Avs center is contemplating going to Europe.

“We were trying to get him to Nuremberg and get him to play with his brother. That was my dream,” Peter Stastny said, referring to Paul’s older brother, Yan, who is in his second season with the German elite league team.

“Didn’t work out, but if everything works out, [Paul] might at the end of the week, he might be playing in Europe somewhere. I know where, but I’m not going to tell you where. You’ll find out.”

Larionov enjoying Yakupov's performance

Although Larionov is new to the agent gig, he said he is watching a lot of hockey -- everything but NHL hockey, as it turns out -- and is hoping to grow his business slowly by adding two or three high-end players every year.

One of his clients is the first overall pick in last June’s draft, Nail Yakupov.

The skilled forward is tearing it up in the Kontinental Hockey League with 10 goals and four assists in 13 games for Neftekhimik Nizhnekamsk.

The Edmonton Oilers prospect was initially slated to play in the Ontario Hockey League’s Sarnia Sting before an agreement was worked out for him to return to Russia to play during the lockout.

“I guess when you’ve got a player 19 years old score more goals than Ovechkin and Malkin and Datsyuk and Kovalchuk, I think it’s good. Thirteen games with 10 goals, it’s not bad playing for an average team,” Larionov said.

Pressure of Toronto

Being a captain in hockey-crazed Toronto is no easy chore. But Mats Sundin would never have it any other way.

"It’s a special place to play, it adds pressure to the team, the city cares so much about the team and it’s great," Sundin said Monday. "At the same time, it asks a little bit more of the guys than playing in a Tampa or Carolina. Which is not always easy. It’s great when you win, but when things aren't going as well as they should, it affects the team and you get more pressure from the outside. A 10-game losing streak in Carolina, no one’s going to notice. But you lose 10 games here, the guys on the team don’t really want to go out and have dinner. It affects it a lot more."

Fellow HHOF inductee Joe Sakic marveled at Sundin’s ability to stay calm under pressure in this market.

"He did it with nothing but class. What a tremendous leader," Sakic said. "When you thought of the Toronto Maple Leafs, you thought of Mats Sundin. He really carried this team."

Sakic on Quebec City

A few times this weekend, Joe Sakic paid homage to his NHL roots, recalling the fans of Quebec City.

When Sakic arrived in Quebec as an NHL rookie, the team was rebuilding and suffered through a lot of losing.

"I wish we had been a little better earlier," Sakic said Monday. "When we turned the corner, what an exciting place, you saw the passion of the fans. Really, and I mean this, I don’t know if there’s another city that has as much passion as fans have there."

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