A lot of give, a little get could save the season

Originally Published: December 13, 2004
By John Buccigross | Special to ESPN.com

Two weeks ago, I wrote in this space:

"What is the NHL's miracle drug to a CBA truce? An aggressive NHLPA offer to start. Put the pressure on the owners. Make the offer public. Spell it out. Let us see it."

Last week in Toronto, Bob Goodenow and Associates did that. You can read the proposal in its entirety on nhlpa.com.

There is no doubt that when the players began their meeting with the owners by offering to rollback current salaries 24 percent, Bruins owner Jeremy Jacobs put down his copy of Equestrian Illustrated. The NHL never believed they would hear that number from Bob Goodenow's mouth. And while that number has received a lot of play in the media, keep in mind a couple of things:

LOCKOUT LIP
''We put a proposal on the table to really make a shock and to have the owners think 'hey, this is something we can work with.'"

-- Craig Rivet, Montreal Canadiens defenseman

"It is a serious proposal and certainly they showed a recognition of the economic problems that the game is facing and certainly we're appreciative of that."

-- Bill Daly, NHL executive vice president and chief legal officer
  • The players are currently having their salaries rolled back 100 percent, and THAT number is much more enticing to the owners as they wait for the economic structure they want. The owners are looking to control labor costs long term in order to ensure that their franchise values continue to climb. Goodenow and the players know that. The players still have lots of room to move on the luxury tax area. They know that, as well.

    If there is a deal and it includes a salary rollback, it is my guess it will be lower than 24 percent, probably 15 percent to 18 percent. Goodenow made that offer high so he can pull that number lower as he gives in on the tax/cap/whatever-word-they-want-to-use to save the season or so the NHL may knock it down when they make a counter offer that is cap-like. Or he made the offer to get some less hawkish owners to push or vote for a deal.

    The 24 percent means so many things to so many different people, making it an excellent move by Goodenow and Co.

  • What will the owners do now?

    Certainly, they love the idea of the 24-percent salary rollback. Rod Brind'Amour would go from $5 million to $3.8 million, Alexi Yashin $10 million to $7.6 million, Doug Weight from $7 million to $5.3 million and the entire New Jersey Devils payroll from $60 million to $46 million.

    And while the rollback might make cutting players' paychecks less nauseating, the owners' main concern is the overall control of their labor costs for the long term, a.k.a. a salary cap. The owners will come back with a more aggressive ceiling on salaries. Will it be a hard cap? That is the question. If the owners choose to back off that stance, they will counter with something like a threshold of $35-40 million with a 110-percent tax rate. They also might push the salary rollback down to 20 percent and offer to perhaps lower unrestricted free agency to 28 years old.

    Well, I'm drained.

    All the worrying, all the concern for whether or not we will have a season, and all the hundreds of questions from hundreds of people who have asked me since the summer, "Is there going to be a season?" will all end this week, one way or another, and for that, I'm glad. Closure will be good. Last week, Detroit forward Brendan Shanahan told reporters: "We're not being missed terribly by a lot of people. For me, it's been a real wake-up call. I have a lot of pride in my sport, and most people (in the U.S.) haven't even noticed we're not playing."

    Brendan, you are missed -- by lots of people. I know some claim they don't and say they're done with the game. Perhaps that is true. But there are plenty other people like Mickey Melchiondo of the band Ween, who called me last week and asked for any scoops on CBA talks. He went on to say how much he missed his winter ritual of lighting a fire at 7 p.m. and sitting down to watch all the games on the NHL Center Ice, and how much he missed those late-night fireside games from Vancouver and Los Angeles. For those people to whom hockey is a way of life, the game is greatly missed. It's a warm winter companion.

    I'd argue that if any sports league had a work stoppage in today's day and age it wouldn't cause a significant ripple across the board. Every base has its core that loves and lives the game, but the rest move on to other things our vast entertainment universe has to offer. I think the NHL realizes this and they will sacrifice a season or a season in a half to ensure 20 years of increased franchise values.

    So, in the end, the players are probably going to have to accept a deal they really don't like to save the season. The owners have the hammer in these negotiations and they will use it one more time. However, if it's done creatively and conciliatorily, we might able to cue Paul McCartney:

    With a little luck, we can help it out
    We can make this whole damn thing work out

    Hey John,
    Did you hear your good buddy Shjon Podein is trying to buy a Japanese pro team? Your thoughts?

    Lucas Burdick
    Vancouver, B.C.

    Here is Shjon's e-mail to me when I asked him about purchasing the Japanese team:

    Bucci my love,
    I didn't know the team had called the media. I've been talking with this team for a few months. I have a representative in Japan who is negotiating for me over there. Talks have gone well but we are still at the early stages. I've always wanted to go to that area and experience life in a totally different culture. I looked into going there to play and when the owners of the ice bucks started talking about selling the team I became very interested. It would be a great experience. We are still a long way from getting any kind of deal done but we are slowly discussing all options. We'll see what happens. We come home in a week, hope you've been a good boy this year. Santa always knows. Eat hearty and spike the eggnog, Happy Christmas to all and to all a good night.

    Shjon Podein


    Hi John!
    Without getting into the somewhat complicated league system here in Sweden, you could say that the regular season is over for Podes and his Växjö Lakers. They finished in fifth place (13-9-8 in 30 games), just outside of the top-four which will advance to Superallsvenskan ("The Super All Swedish") where teams will face the top four teams from Allsvenskan Norra. Podes played 17 games and racked up 12 points (7-5-12), good enough for seventh place in team scoring (he's no Miikka Männikkö...). He also had 30 penalty minutes, 41 shots on goal and was plus-1. I'll send you more news as Växjö gets on with the spring league!

    Thanks,
    Daniel Elmå
    Umeå, Sweden


    John,
    I was wondering what you thought of the Civic Arena in Pittsburgh? I feel that is one of the best places to see an NHL game today. I mean who else can say that Gretzky, Lemuiex, Lafleur, Roy, and Orr all skated on the same ice as in use today? It will be a sad day when the Pens get a new arena. The boxes are located way up high leaving the fans seats closer to the ice.

    Mark Savannah

    The first NHL game I ever saw in person was at the Civic Arena. It is an awesome place to see a hockey game. I remember sitting in the last row for a game and, you are right Mark, it's a great seat. The NHL should use all the muscle they have to keep the Penguins in Pittsburgh and help build an intimate and as brilliant a venue as the Pittsburgh Pirates play in. This is a special franchise with a significant history. One of the three greatest players of all time is playing there. What is Mario Lemiuex's legacy if the Penguins leave? He'll have no uniform. I was watching a Penguins Classic game from 1991 on DirectTV the other day. What a team! What a power play. Lemieux, Stevens and Recchi in their primes, and Coffey and Murphy on the point! Bob Johnson coached in Pittsburgh. Scotty Bowman coached there. Mike Lang, Jaromir Jagr, Joey Mullen, Craig Patrick, Tom Barrasso, Ron Francis, two Stanley Cups ... and it says here they get Sidney Crosby in the next draft and the cycle of greatness will return.


    John,
    I noticed in your last column that one of your readers wrote in to object to the "one, two, three, fourteen" translation of the opening count-off in U2's "Vertigo." You would think Bono & Co. would be smarter than that -- and it turns out that they are. The "quatorce" is not an error; it is intentional. "How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb" is U2's fourteenth album. Given that this is the first line on the first track of the CD, the count-off serves as a nod to astute U2 fans.

    Mike Steele
    Pittsburgh, Pa. (by way of Section 214, Row M, Hartford Civic Center)


    Mr. Buccigross,
    Here's a story idea for you as the NHL talks focus on salary cap vs. luxury tax. Send a reporter to Wisconsin. Start him in Green Bay, where the team operating in the NFL's smallest market can be as or more competitive than teams in New York and Chicago and can hold onto its marquee quarterback. Then send him to Milwaukee, where the Brewers will never be more than a glorified farm team for the bid spenders. That, it seems to me, is the difference between a luxury tax and a salary cap.

    RG


    Hey John,
    In your interview with AHL commissioner Dave Andrews, he said that the shootout feedback from coaches was not so positive. This sounds to me like a reason to use it! Coaches don't like it because they can't control what the player does in a shootout. It comes down to skill of the player vs. skill of the goalie. I know it takes away from most that is hockey (the toughness, the teamwork etc), but it also takes away from the 'Americanization' of hockey, i.e. the over coaching. I consider it winning one back for the good guy.

    Jackson Wiegman
    Hamilton, Ontario

    Less coaching the better! I agree. Damage from the lockout has been significant and a good Band-Aid would be to implement the regular-season shootout immediately for this season. It would cause immediate goodwill with the fans and provide positive arena vibes. My argument for the shootout:

    • No more ties.
    • There would be a winner every night.
    • The skill players would have a venue to show off their skills after being grabbed and hooked all night.
    • Shootouts televise well, and shootout winners would be on SportsCenter, and national and local sportscasts. Also, a shootout win would trump the obligatory highlight fight.

    Can you imagine a team needing to win a game to make the playoffs? And a player skates toward the goalie with a playoff spot on the line? The excitement? The anticipation? The shootout is an excitement and rehabilitative no-brainer for the NHL and its players. Bring back the tag-up offside and a NO tolerance neutral zone interference policy, and NHL will regenerate quickly with a 40-50 game season.


    John,
    I play in a men's hockey league here in STL, and the other night I couldn't believe what I saw. Keith Tkachuk, Jamal Mayers, Jamie Rivers and a smattering of other Blues players playing in our "advanced" league. Are you kidding me?!?! While most NHL stars are in Europe competing against world-class players, these guys are playing against local attorneys, CPAs and insurance salesmen. No wonder the Blues never win! As you can tell, there's no bitterness from this season-ticket holder. Or maybe I'm still bitter over a Red Sox-clad Tkachuk running up and down the aisles at Busch stadium during the World Series making a fool of himself. Point is (yes, I have one) the minute they resume playing and Tkachuk pulls on the Bluenote, he's the man. THAT'S HOCKEY BABY! Thanks for the open ear.

    Joshua A. McKee
    St. Louis


    Hey John,
    A tragic thing happened last night for music and hockey fans. Darrell Abbott, formerly of Pantera was shot and killed in an Ohio nightclub. I don't know if you're into the heavier music that Pantera played, but the band was big Dallas Stars fans. They held a celebration party when they won the Cup, and the Cup ended up in their pool. Darrell was an amazing guitarist and a passionate hockey fan, and will be sorely missed.

    Craig Cross
    Tampa, Fla.


    Hi John,
    Let's just hope that the Blue Jackets trade away half their team to get Nils Ekman from the San Jose Sharks, and that they finish last during the future shortened season. That way they can pick up Sidney Crosby in June and make him play on the first line with Rick Nash. Doesn't a Crosby, Nils and Nash trio sound good to you? Now only if they can get their hands on Scott Young...

    J-F Sénéchal,
    Gaspé, Quebec


    John,
    I've been to two baseball games since 1994, and they were work-related events I couldn't avoid. I love hockey for the reasons you so eloquently outline every week in your column. My love started with the Columbus Owls, and continued through the Hartford Whalers, all the way to my Columbus Blue Jackets (I consider them mine because of the outrageous price I paid for PSLs and season tickets). I find myself, now at age 40, very indifferent to sports, especially baseball and hockey. I don't miss the Blue Jackets. I am more than likely going to cancel my season tickets for next year, and have already made plans on how to spend my refund for the 2004-05 season.

    Kevin Cox
    Westerville, Ohio

    John Buccigross' e-mail address -- for questions, comments or cross-checks -- is john.buccigross@espn.com.

    John Buccigross | email

    SportsCenter anchor
    John Buccigross joined ESPN as an anchor in October 1996. He currently can be seen as an anchor on "SportsCenter." Buccigross frequently contributes to ESPN.com during the season.