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.

The Fleury-Murray watch in Pittsburgh is on

TAMPA, FL - MAY 24:  Matt Murray #30 of the Pittsburgh Penguins celebrates with his teammate Marc-Andre Fleury #29 after defeating the Tampa Bay Lightning in Game Six of the Eastern Conference Final with a score of 5 to 2 during the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Amalie Arena on May 24, 2016 in Tampa, Florida.  (Photo by Mike Carlson/Getty Images)
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This post is part of Pittsburgh Penguins day at PHT…

After a spring and early summer filled with speculation, Marc-Andre Fleury is heading back to where he’s always been — Pittsburgh.

But while his city stays the same, the circumstances are more different than ever.

It’s still not 100 percent official what in capacity Fleury will report to camp next month, though logic suggests that — after watching Matt Murray backstop the club to the Stanley Cup in June — Fleury will enter the season as Murray’s No. 2.

But he wants to be the No. 1.

“I love Pittsburgh, and the Penguins are my team; I want to stay with them for the rest of my career,” Fleury said this summer, per NHL.com. “I had some good conversations with management after the season. Nothing is written in stone. I want to come to camp ready to win my job back.

“I have to get back to the same level of play and help the team, win games.”

The Fleury-Murray dynamic is complex, to say the least.

A few angles to consider:

— For as good as Murray was last year, he’s still only 22 years old with just 13 career regular season games on his resume. It’s a remarkably small body of work, and there’s always the looming specter of a sophomore slump.

— There’s also the looming specter of Fleury, who’s clearly gunning for Murray’s job.

— Next year’s expansion draft is a fly in Pittsburgh’s ointment. The way things stand now, they’d be forced to protect Fleury because of his no-movement clause, which would force them to expose Murray.

— No chance that scenario plays out, so Fleury and the remainder of his four-year, $23 million contract will (theoretically) be on the move at some point.

— Calgary reportedly made calls about Fleury’s availability earlier this summer, prior to trading for Brian Elliott at the draft. But the Elliott acquisition might not close the door completely. The former Blues netminder is heading into the final year of his contract, and there’s been no word from Flames GM Brad Treliving about an extension. Elliott could be a one-year stopgap solution, especially if he doesn’t perform.

— Pens GM Jim Rutherford has been artful in dodging queries about Fleury’s future with the team, dating all the way back to last year’s playoffs. He was at it again prior to the draft, saying he would “like to start next year with both goalies.” The key part there, obviously, is “start.” Nothing about both finishing the year as Penguins.

While this situation doesn’t figure to derail Pittsburgh’s championship defense — as Rutherford pointed out this summer, having two good goalies is a good problem to have — it will be a constant source of speculation and banter until a solution is found.

So yeah, the Fleury-Murray watch is on. The question now is how long it’ll last.

Poll: Are the Pens poised to repeat?

SAN JOSE, CA - JUNE 12:  Sidney Crosby #87 of the Pittsburgh Penguins celebrates with the Stanley Cup after their 3-1 victory to win the Stanley Cup against the San Jose Sharks in Game Six of the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Final at SAP Center on June 12, 2016 in San Jose, California.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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This post is part of Pittsburgh Penguins day at PHT…

By now you know the statistic, but here’s a refresher anyway.

The NHL hasn’t had a back-to-back Stanley Cup winner since Detroit turned the trick in ’97-98, and hasn’t seen a reigning champ return to the Final since Detroit turned the trick in ’08-09.

Doing it once is tough. Doing it twice has become nearly impossible.

In fact, winning the Stanley Cup in recent years has, more often that not, paved the way for an extremely difficult encore. Chicago won it all in 2015, and was bounced in the opening round last year. L.A. hoisted Lord Stanley’s mug in ’14, and missed the postseason entirely in ’15.

Which brings us to the Pittsburgh Penguins.

On paper, this year’s Pens are a virtual carbon copy of the club that won the Cup in June. Their most noteworthy departures were defenseman Ben Lovejoy (off to join former Pens GM Ray Shero in New Jersey) and third-string netminder Jeff Zatkoff, who signed in L.A.

And that’s it.

Everyone else is back.

Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang are back. The HBK line is back. Both goalies, Matt Murray and Marc-Andre Fleury, are back. Even the depth guys that some weren’t sure the Pens could afford — Justin Schultz and Matt Cullen — are back.

Head coach Mike Sullivan and his staff are back, and reigning GM of the Year Jim Rutherford is back.

At first glance, this would make Pittsburgh a likely candidate to “do the Detroit” (as outlined above, in either scenario). But the NHL is fickle, and a grind — and it’ll be curious to see what that does to a Pens team coming off an extremely long season, with six players set to participate in the World Cup of Hockey.

Anyway, go have a vote:

It’s Pittsburgh Penguins day at PHT

SAN JOSE, CA - JUNE 12:  Sidney Crosby #87 of the Pittsburgh Penguins celebrates with the Stanley Cup after their 3-1 victory to win the Stanley Cup against the San Jose Sharks in Game Six of the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Final at SAP Center on June 12, 2016 in San Jose, California.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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It’s been a summer of celebration for the Pittsburgh Penguins. They enter the upcoming season as the defending Stanley Cup champs.

The Stanley Cup made its way to the Toronto Hospital for Sick Children in a heart-warming visit from Phil Kessel. Bryan Rust was photographed cuddling with hockey’s silver chalice, because, why not? Jim Rutherford was named the GM of the year when the end-of-season awards were handed out.

All of it a reward for a Penguins team that was struggling in the Eastern Conference before a mid-season coaching change. And shortly after Mike Sullivan took over behind the bench, the Penguins took over the conference, rolling to a championship.

This summer, the Penguins made their pitch to land coveted college free agent Jimmy Vesey, with Sidney Crosby reportedly reaching out to the 2016 Hobey Baker Award winner. Pittsburgh, like many other teams, was ultimately unsuccessful in its quest, as Vesey signed with the Rangers.

The Penguins did sign another college free agent, forward Thomas DiPauli, on a two-year entry-level contract.

They also re-signed forward Matt Cullen to a one-year, $1 million deal. Defenseman Tim Erixon re-signed to a one-year, two-way contract worth $575,000 in the NHL. Justin Schultz, who initially didn’t receive a qualifying offer from the Penguins, making him an unrestricted free agent, eventually re-signed in Pittsburgh and that could give Derrick Pouliot, another young blue liner, some stiff competition when the season opens up.

A Stanley Cup victory did not come easy. The Penguins came out of the playoffs with injuries to several players, including Kessel, who underwent hand surgery.

But Rutherford is confident all the injured players — The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review listed Trevor Daley (ankle), Kris Letang (foot), Nick Bonino (elbow infection), Rust (hand), Patric Hornqvist (hand) and Evgeni Malkin (elbow) as those on the road to recovery this offseason — should be ready for the opening of training camp.

The Penguins could also have a competition in the crease.

Matt Murray, who turned 22 years old in May, backstopped the Penguins to their championship. But Marc-Andre Fleury, 31, would like the opportunity to regain his old No. 1 spot.

Capitals have big plans for Dmitry Orlov, but there is just one problem . . .

WASHINGTON, DC - NOVEMBER 25: Dmitry Orlov #9 of the Washington Capitals celebrates after scoring a goal in the second period against the Winnipeg Jets at Verizon Center on November 25, 2015 in Washington, DC.  (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
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Dmitry Orlov is still without a contract for the upcoming season.

A restricted free agent, the 25-year-old defenseman had eight goals and 29 points last season, while making $2.25 million in salary for the season, as per General Fanager. His previous two-year contract had an annual cap hit of $2 million. But with training camps approaching, he remains unsigned for right now.

As noted before, there is a cap crunch for the Capitals heading into the new season. Orlov is the only RFA left for the Capitals to re-sign.

From the Washington Post:

According to generalfanager.com, Washington has $3.4 million in salary cap space left, but to allow for in-season roster flexibility or a 14th forward, the Capitals have around $2.6 million to devote to re-signing Orlov.

Still, despite that fact, the Capitals coaching staff has big plans for Orlov for the upcoming season.

“I envision him playing with a [Matt] Niskanen or a [John] Carlson, probably more prime minutes as we try even out our defense a little bit in terms of [workload],” said Capitals head coach Barry Trotz, as per CSN Mid-Atlantic.

“It’s a great opportunity for him. He’s at the right age where he can really contribute. We’ll look for his contributions on the power play, the penalty kill, playing in that top-4 on a pretty regular basis. I just think it’s right for him.”