A labor issue you'll be interested in (really); plus fights, Lecavalier, goalie swaps
We've been told the NHL Players' Association will hold a conference call with the players' executive board (30 player reps) Thursday night in which the group ultimately will decide whether to opt out of the current collective bargaining agreement. (The players' union, as per terms of the CBA, has the right to opt out after the fourth season of the deal, which is this season.)
If the answer is yes, to opt out, who knows whether there'll be hockey next season? If the answer is no, there'll be at least two more years with the current CBA and labor peace.
The players' executive board also will examine the results of the 30-team survey that was conducted during the NHLPA's fall tour. All 700-plus players were secretly polled about whether they wanted to opt out of the CBA. But keep in mind, the survey is not binding -- the players' executive board has the last word. Mind you, we would be stunned if the board were to go against what the 700-plus players want.
In the end, we'll be very surprised if they decide to opt out. Although the players in no way believe this is a great deal, given the current real-life economic reality, we can't see them wanting to give the owners a chance to go after guaranteed contracts, for example, should the CBA discussion be reopened. And although life under a salary cap is never great for a player, keep in mind the average player salary still has risen from $1.8 million before the lockout in 2004 to $2.23 million this season.
If the players decide not to opt out, expect an announcement sometime next weekend in Montreal during the All-Star festivities. If the decision is to opt out, we're told the players would wait after the All-Star Game so as not to overshadow the event with negative news.
NHL executive vice president Colin Campbell told us this weekend he'll bring up the topic of fighting at the next GMs meeting in March. Campbell, the NHL's director of hockey operations, wants a serious, all-encompassing discussion on the issue. He wants to hear about ideas that would make fights less dangerous, such as perhaps keeping helmets or gloves on, etc. But he'll also ask the toughest question of all: whether fighting still has a place in the game.
This is a very political and delicate subject. But if anyone is going to handle this hot potato, it might as well be Campbell, who dropped the gloves more than a few times as a former NHL player in the 1970s, then was behind NHL benches as a coach in the 1980s and '90s. His son, Gregory Campbell of the Florida Panthers, also drops the gloves once in a while. So the Campbell family has had a front-row seat to the issue for four decades.
Our gut feeling is the GMs still won't be ready to budge on this issue. But someday, within the next 10 years, something will happen. And keep in mind the NHLPA has a big say. The majority of players will need to back a ban on fighting before anything can happen.
Some people still believe Vincent Lecavalier would never want to play for his hometown Canadiens because of all the pressure or distractions of being a French-Canadian superstar playing in Montreal. Let's clear this up: We can tell you with confidence that Montreal would in fact be the No. 1 destination on Lecavalier's list if and when Tampa Bay Lightning GM Brian Lawton goes to him and asks him for a list of teams.
Let's look at the fallout of the Edmonton-Pittsburgh trade Saturday, which saw Mathieu Garon go to the Penguins and Dany Sabourin to the Oilers. As far as Edmonton is concerned, its NHL roster is down to two goalies, Dwayne Roloson and Jeff Drouin-Deslauriers. Sabourin will be put on waivers and sent to the AHL, or the Oilers will try to move him somewhere else.
This is just me talking, but how about Long Island for Sabourin? The Islanders lost Wade Dubielewicz on waivers to the Blue Jackets on Saturday, meaning they still need to find a goalie because Rick DiPietro and Joey MacDonald are injured. If not Sabourin, we wouldn't be surprised if Isles GM Garth Snow gets a call from Canucks GM Mike Gillis to see if there's any interest in Curtis Sanford, who cleared waivers and was sent to Manitoba (AHL).
The Toronto Maple Leafs, meanwhile, appear not to have any interest in Sabourin or Sanford but may again decide to promote Justin Pogge from the AHL to play a few NHL games in the second half of the season.
Then, there's Martin Gerber, who was sent down to AHL Binghamton on a conditioning assignment. One month ago, Gerber asked the Ottawa Senators for a trade, but GM Bryan Murray couldn't find a taker. Gerber is earning $3.7 million this season, the last year of his deal; so, at this point, he would cost a team about half that. When the conditioning assignment ends, the Sens likely will put Gerber on waivers again and, if he clears, send him back to the AHL. Gerber's other option is to play in Europe. The Sens already told the Gerber camp to try to find a team in Europe to pay some of his salary, and then the Senators would agree to lend him overseas.
Given the financial problems in Russia's Continental Hockey League, with rumors of a possible rollback on player salaries, it's been assumed by many that star winger Alexander Radulov will return to the NHL fold with Nashville next season. And although it may still happen because he has an out clause in his three-year deal, the reality is he's playing for the team that has the deepest pockets in the KHL, Ufa Salavat Yulayev. He makes $3 million (tax-free) a season there; that's equivalent to more than $5 million in the NHL. As long as his team keeps paying him, why would he leave?