Gary Bettman

Why there won’t be an NHL lockout after 2011-12 season

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Chances are you’ve heard a thing or two of late about how the NFL lockout ended and since you’re here and you’re a hockey fan it made you start thinking back to the dark days of 2004-2005. You know, back when the NHL owners held the NHLPA over a barrel trying to fix the economic standards of the league and went so far as to sacrifice an entire season to do so.

You remember how that felt when NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said there would be no season, no Stanley Cup awarded, and most importantly, no hockey played at all. All those feelings bubble up every time there’s a labor dispute to be had in pro sports and while the NBA is dealing with their own lockout, the NHL could once again be back in the same position after next season.

The Collective Bargaining Agreement the NHL and NHLPA worked out to end the lockout back in 2005 expires after next season meaning that it’s time for the two sides to go back to the table. Hockey fans are still scarred over what happened in the past but fear not, both sides have a few reasons to get things worked out without having a work stoppage.

The National Post’s Sean Fitz-Gerald outlined a few things that show why there might be a lockout once again, but here’s a few things to show you why that’s not going to happen.

1. Cash rules everything around them

While the salary cap and salary floor keep going up and that can mean trouble for some of the poorer teams that have to spend more, it does mean one really good thing: Revenues keep going up. With money continuing to flow in, television ratings continuing to rise, the game’s popularity growing with the merchandise sales to match and a new TV deal in place… Figuring out how to best divide up a bigger pie should be a pleasant problem to have.

The one thing both sides need to figure out is how to make sure getting to the salary floor is less painful for teams that don’t make as much money as the Maple Leafs, Flyers, Red Wings, and others. Some teams are still struggling to make the big bucks and while there’s some revenue sharing now, there’s not a lot of it to help offset losses for some teams. While they’re not going to go full on to keep teams afloat, giving out more money to hurting teams would help.

2. There’s actually a working TV contract

When the NHL locked out the players back in 2004, it came at a rough time as the NHL’s deal with ESPN and ABC had an opt-out clause for them. Once the lockout was wrapped up, ESPN and ABC got out of hockey and the already publicly damaged NHL had to suck up their pride and make a deal any way they could.

Now there’s a new, fat contract signed and sealed with NBC and NBC Sports Group with lots of money behind it, ticking off the newly re-upped rightsholders by not giving them what they paid for doesn’t really do a lot to help out the mutual business. It all comes back to money again here, but when there’s nothing about the sport on TV that hurts everyone’s bottom line.

3. Both sides know how bad for business a lockout is

Sure, lots of fans are nervous that Donald Fehr is leading the NHLPA and not a lot of fans really care for the job Gary Bettman does, but both sides have one big thing in common. Both Fehr and Bettman have been through sport-crippling work stoppages.

Bettman, of course, had two work stoppages to his record. The stoppage in 1994 caused nearly half of the 1994-1995 season to be missed as just 48 games were played that regular season and the entire 2004-2005 season was nuked. Fehr was head of Major League Baseball’s Players Association when the 1994 World Series was canceled due to a mid-season lockout. While he was able to help the MLBPA and MLB avoid further issues later on getting another deal agreed to, his reputation has been sealed thanks to getting the World Series canceled.

With track records like that, both sides know they can’t afford to allow things to get so bad once again and cause there to be games missed. Things aren’t so bad in the NHL that they need to fight tooth and nail all over again, tweaks are needed and will be handled with the right amount of mutual griping.

4. They can’t afford to lose the fans

With memories of how much the last lockout affected the NHL, both the NHL and NHLPA know that they can’t risk doing that to hockey fans all over again less than ten years after kicking the fans in the crotch. Letting the game suffer again so soon after that would be a death blow for the sport. Hockey fans are loyal and they’ve put up with a lot of crap from its leaders.

When the NHL came back, they promised fans lower ticket prices and plenty of other perks to buy them off. The lower ticket prices never showed up, but the fans came back in droves in most places including a few of the old traditional places. Screwing the fans over again while the game is at its most popular in places like Chicago and Boston while continuing to pick up steam in other cities would be about the worst business plan around.

No business can survive while making terrible decisions and for the NHL and NHLPA, slapping the fans in the face again while old wounds are still healing would go down as a historically bad decision.

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Guaranteeing labor peace is a foolish thing to do and while both the NHL and NHLPA are going to fight for their needs, wants, and piece of the CBA turf, they know they can’t afford to let things get out of hand. Fans will fret and will continue to do so until a new deal is done, but there’s no reason to think that we as hockey fans will be sitting here sweating things out the way NFL and NBA fans have done and will do.

Eaves to stick with Benn, Seguin on Dallas’ top line

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Patrick Eaves‘ cameo alongside the dynamic duo of Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin looks like it’ll continue at least one more game.

Eaves, who along with Benn assisted on Seguin’s goal in Saturday’s loss to Chicago, practiced on Dallas’ top line today and should be there tomorrow when the Stars take on the Wild.

“Seguin, Benn and Eaves were in on 11 chances [Saturday against Chicago],” head coach Lindy Ruff explained, per the Stars’ website. They could have three or four [goals]. They should have had three or four. We missed too many good opportunities.”

This latest development is a positive in what’s been a tough year for Eaves. He was hurt early in the season after an awkward fall against the Oilers — a game in which he opened on the club’s top line, next to Benn and Seguin.

All told, he has just three goals and six points in 33 games.

Last year, Eaves was plagued with concussion issues but still managed to produce well, scoring 14 goals and 27 points in just 47 games.

After re-upping in Winnipeg, Byfuglien says leaving ‘never really crossed my mind’

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There was some speculation Dustin Byfuglien would be out of Winnipeg by the Feb. 29 trade deadline or, failing that, when free agency hit on July 1.

But according to him, leaving was never really an option.

“I’ve been here five years and from where we’ve started and where we’re at now, I don’t feel as an organization or a group that we’re far off,” Byfuglien told TSN 1290 on Monday, after inking a big five-year, $38 million extension with the Jets. “My family and I have found Winnipeg nice, and we’re very happy to stay here.

“It never really crossed my mind of going anywhere, and I’m excited to be a Jet.”

Prior to this extension, though, some thought leaving had definitely crossed Byfuglien’s mind.

Back in mid-December, the Free Press reported his initial ask was a whopping eight-year, $55 million deal. Some viewed that as his first potential step out the door.

It would’ve been big money and a lot of term for the Jets to commit, especially given 1) Byfuglien is 30, 2) the team still hasn’t signed captain Andrew Ladd, and 3) the club has some prized youngsters that need new deals this summer, specifically Mark Scheifele and Jacob Trouba. (In that same Free Press report, Trouba’s ask was $56 million over eight years.)

Then, there was Byfuglien at All-Star weekend.

When asked about his future — sign, trade or head to free agency? — Byfuglien said he had “no problem” with Winnipeg, adding “I just want to put on a jersey, to be honest with you.”

Some, like TSN’s Frank Seravalli, who was in attendance for the Byfuglien media scrum, noted the response “did not exactly sound like a ringing endorsement.”

Of course, Byfuglien later clarified his remarks following the All-Star Game.

“Yeah, I’d love to,” he told reporters when asked about re-signing in Winnipeg. “I’ve met a lot of good people and now some really good friends. I’ve been here for a long time. You never want to leave home. I’ve been here long enough; my family has been here and I’ve had two kids here.

“It’s somewhere you don’t want to leave.”

And now — well, for the next five years anyway — Byfuglien won’t have to.

Video: Jets’ Stafford suspended one game for ‘forceful, reckless’ high-stick

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The NHL has dinged Winnipeg forward Drew Stafford one game for his ugly high stick on Colorado’s Nick Holden over the weekend.

“While we accept Stafford’s assertion that he did not intentionally strike Holden in the face, he is responsible for the consequences of swinging his stick in such a forceful and reckless fashion,” the Department of Player Safety explained.

Stafford, who wasn’t penalized on the play, will now miss Winnipeg’s next game — tonight, in St. Louis — and will be eligible to return on Thursday when the Jets host the Bruins.

Stafford will also forfeit $23,387.10 in salary to the Players’ Emergency Assistance Fund.

Big Buff, Big Bucks: Jets ink Byfuglien to five-year, $38 million extension

Dustin Byfuglien
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One of the most prized trade deadline targets is no longer.

On Monday, Winnipeg locked in pending UFA d-man Dustin Byfuglien to a five-year, $38 million extension, one that carries a $7.6M cap hit and makes him the highest-paid player on the team.

Byfuglien, 30, was in the last of a five-year, $26 million deal with a $5.2M average annual cap hit. One of the league’s most unique players — a 6-foot-5, 265 pounder that’s played forward and defense, and participated in this year’s fastest skater All-Star skills competition — his bio from the Jets’ release pretty much sums up how much he means to the club:

[Byfuglien] has recorded 32 points (15G, 17A) so far this season while appearing in all 52 games and sits in a tie for second amongst all NHL defencemen with his 15 goals.

Byfuglien leads the Jets so far this season in shots (163), penalty minutes (78) and ice time (24:14 per game).

The native of Roseau, MN, was named to the 2016 NHL All-Star Game in Nashville, TN where he recorded a goal and an assist for the Central Division team.

Byfuglien has been named to the All-Star Game in each of the last four seasons that the game has taken place (2011, 2012, 2015, 2016).

The deal keeps Byfuglien in Winnipeg through 2022 and is the latest long-term deal on the blueline: Tobias Enstrom is at $5.75M per through 2018, and Tyler Myers is at $5.5M per through ’19. Byfuglien’s deal also comes after some questioned how badly he wanted to stay in Winnipeg — at All-Star weekend, he raised eyebrows by responding “I just want to put on a jersey, to be honest with you,” when asked about his playing future.

The five-year term is also down from Byfuglien’s reported original ask, which was $55 million over eight years.

With this move done, Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff can now turn his attention to another prized pending UFA: Andrew Ladd, the club’s captain and another player that’s believed to have high interest around the league as a trade deadline rental.