Gary Bettman

What the NHL and NHLPA might discuss next summer once current CBA expires

This has not been an easy summer for the NHL by any means. Perhaps the post-Game 7 Vancouver riots acted as an ominous introduction for months in which most of the biggest stories were negative. From more manageable headaches like Drew Doughty’s contract holdout situation to stomach-churning issues such as Sidney Crosby’s battle with post-concussion syndrome and the troubling series of enforcer deaths, the notion that next season cannot come soon enough takes on added meaning in 2011.

Yet as bad as things have been lately, next summer could be foreboding in its own right for a reason few of us even want to consider: the possibility of another lockout. The league seems like it’s in much, much better shape heading into the summer of 2012 than it did going into the summer of 2004, but the fear is there since the Collective Bargaining Agreement will expire.

The good news is that the NHL isn’t likely to shoot for enormous changes like instituting a salary cap or attempting to radically improve the style of play (among other alterations that the damaging 2004-05 lockout gave way to). That doesn’t mean that the league and its players association won’t be locked in some tough battles, though.

Tony Gallagher took a look at some of the hot button issues that will likely be discussed next summer as the parties try to hash out another CBA. It’s a piece worth reading from top to bottom, but PHT will take a look at some of the most interesting bits.

Let’s start things off on two issues that might have an impact on the league’s poorest teams.

In speaking to a number of informed people around the league on both sides of the fence, it’s clear that one of the league’s biggest problems within the present agreement is the obligation to enforce a floor on the genuinely pathetic franchises around the league.

The teams that have been losing money and crying wolf for the past 10 years are now being forced to pay out in the neighbourhood of US$45 million, which is forcing them into a position of losing money in some cases, and the league will be looking toward either lowering the floor or eliminating it altogether. That is something the players will likely vigorously defend.

(snip)

The Torontos, Montreals and Vancouvers keep handing over money to the same dud franchises year after year with the question being whether that will continue to be the case, and if so, will that pool of money increase or decrease? And how will it be comprised going forward.

A particularly wrangling issue is all playoff teams having to contribute one-third of all revenue sharing from their first-round take, a system that actually rewards franchises (most notably Toronto) for missing the playoffs.

That’s the interesting thing about the current CBA; there are provisions that both hurt and help the league’s less successful teams. (Then again, the high cap floor/playoff revenue sharing combo might have the worst impact on not-so-deep-pocketed clubs like the Nashville Predators, who use their guile more often than big pay checks to make the playoffs.) To make things fair, the league probably wouldn’t want to eliminate the salary cap floor without keeping a minimum payroll for teams who want to benefit from shared revenue.

Naturally, the big money questions will be the biggest sticking points. The other major money matter is guaranteed contracts (and owners’ urges to do away with them). Considering the dangers involved in the sport, it would be a hard sell to roll back guarantees. After all, who’s going to want to risk breaking a bone by blocking a shot if they could lose their job shortly afterward?

Gallagher’s most interesting point comes late in the article, where he claims that NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and NHLPA head Donald Fehr have already won some big labor battles in their day, so they might be more willing to avoid a big standoff. It would be great if that ends up being true, but we’ll need to wait and see if that bit of sunshine turns out to be the light at the end of a (hopefully short) negotiating tunnel or just an example of an incorrect but educated guess.

Click here to read more about the probable talking points during the 2012 CBA meetings.

At season’s end, Holland will ‘plot a plan’ to deal with Red Wings’ goalie situation

Detroit Red Wings' Petr Mrazek (34) replaces goalie Jimmy Howard (35) during the second period of an NHL hockey game against the Winnipeg Jets on Tuesday, Dec. 29, 2015, in Winnipeg, Manitoba. (Trevor Hagan/The Canadian Press via AP)
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“As we wake up today, obviously Petr Mrazek is our number-one guy.”

That was Detroit GM Ken Holland today on TSN 1200 radio in Ottawa, when asked about his goaltending situation.

“Obviously” was the right word to use.

Mrazek, 23, has been brilliant this season, going 20-10-4 with a .933 save percentage. Without him, it’s fair to wonder if the Wings would be in a playoff spot.

But Mrazek, a pending restricted free agent, has also created a problem of sorts for Holland. That’s because 31-year-old Jimmy Howard is already locked up through 2018-19 for a cap hit of almost $5.3 million — and that’s a lot of money to pay a backup, especially one with a .904 save percentage.

Holland said he isn’t focused on that now.

“When the year’s out and I’ve got all the information, I’ll sit down and plot a plan heading into the offseason,” he said. “But for now, we’ve got a top, young goaltender in Petr Mrazek and we’ve got a guy that’s in the prime of his career, Jimmy Howard, that’s been the number-one guy here.

“It’s been tough for [Howard] recently; every time he plays a game he seems to play the second game of a back-to-back. … He’s had some real tough games against some real good teams, hasn’t had a lot of puck luck. Our team really hasn’t played very well for him when he’s been in there, but he keeps battling and he keeps competing.”

The challenge for Holland might be to sell that story to another GM, because Howard’s save percentage has been below the league average the past three seasons.

Related: Howard pulled again, calls his performance ‘unacceptable’

With 1967 expansion, the NHL ‘spread the game from California to New York’

LOS ANGELES, CA - JUNE 04:  Los Angeles Kings fans gather outside of the arena prior to Game One of the 2014 NHL Stanley Cup Final between the New York Rangers and the Los Angeles Kings at the Staples Center on June 4, 2014 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)
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The NHL’s “great expansion” of 1967 delivered hockey to California, led to the “Broad Street Bullies” and legitimized the league as a major force in North American professional sports.

Fifty years ago this week, the owners of the Original Six teams unanimously approved doubling in size by awarding franchises to Los Angeles, San Francisco/Oakland, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, St. Louis and Minneapolis/St. Paul. No other pro sports league had ever doubled the number of its teams and the move was considered a gamble.

It proved to be one of the most important decisions in hockey history, and helped convince many that the NHL was for real.

“It had a major impact on the league because thereafter there was almost a lineup for other cities to want to join the league,” said Brian O’Neill, the league’s former director of administration who oversaw the 1967 expansion draft and scheduling. “That was a key to the expansion, to spread the game from California to New York. … It convinced a lot of people that hockey was a major sport now and it was coast-to-coast and that selling franchises would not be difficult.”

From 1943 to 1967, the NHL was a stable, six-team league made up of the New York Rangers, Boston Bruins, Chicago Blackhawks, Detroit Red Wings, Montreal Canadiens and Toronto Maple Leafs. The move to expand came in the league’s 50th season amid plenty of internal debate.

Owners considered adding two teams at a time, but at their Feb. 7-9 meeting in New York they unanimously approved what President Clarence Campbell later referred to as the “great expansion.” Hockey had some catching up to do: Major League Baseball had 20 teams, the National Basketball Association had nine and the National Football League had 14, with more on the way.

The MLB, the NBA and NFL all had a presence in California, too, something the NHL needed.

“The big issue, of course, is television,” O’Neill said Tuesday. “They wanted to get national. That’s why it was important to have L.A. and at that time Oakland, and then all the others followed in.”

Owners each paid the $2 million expansion fee, and the Los Angeles Kings and California Seals joined the fold along with the Philadelphia Flyers, Pittsburgh Penguins, St. Louis Blues and Minnesota North Stars. New owners needed the draw of facing traditional opponents while the old guard owners wanted to make sure their teams could still win, so the expansion teams went into the new West Division with the champions of East and West meeting for the Stanley Cup.

The goal was to help the new teams but not hurt the old ones.

“When they made expansion, they took the players that were expendable, put them on a team and called them a team,” said Bob Kelly, who was part of the early Flyers teams. “We didn’t have the real identity that an Original Six team has or the history behind that. (We were) just happy to be in the NHL.”

It worked in most places, as an Original Six team won the Cup the first six years before Kelly and the Flyers’ “Broad Street Bullies” teams broke through with back-to-back titles in 1974 and 1975.

“Really, the Original Six was kind of who we were, and then all of a sudden here we are an expansion team and seven years later we were able to win the Cup,” Kelly said Wednesday. “That’s what you dream about as a kid.”

Despite the Oakland-based Seals never catching on and moving to Cleveland before folding in 1978, the NHL expanded to such places as Vancouver, Buffalo, Long Island and Washington, and reached 21 teams with the integration of the World Hockey Association in 1979.

Hockey returned to the Bay Area with the San Jose Sharks in 1991, and after the North Stars became the Dallas Stars in 1993, Minnesota got the Wild in 2000. The NHL returned to Atlanta (which didn’t work) and Denver (which did) and has landed in nontraditional markets like Phoenix, South Florida and Tampa.

The league stands at 30 teams and is considering expanding once again to either 31 or 32, with Las Vegas and Quebec City under consideration.

Goalie nods: Coyotes turn back to Domingue for key game against Vancouver

Arizona Coyotes' Louis Domingue waves to the crowd after the Coyotes' NHL hockey game against the New York Islanders on Saturday, Dec. 19, 2015, in Glendale, Ariz. Domingue earned his first NHL shutout as the Coyotes won 1-0. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)
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Tonight is a big game for the Arizona Coyotes, as they host Vancouver, one of the teams they’re jockeying with for the final wild-card spot in the West.

If the Coyotes can beat the Canucks in regulation, they’ll move to within two points of Colorado for that final wild-card spot, with three games in hand on the Avs. Not only that, Vancouver’s playoff hopes would be dealt a significant blow.

Of course, that’s a pretty sizable “if” the way the Coyotes have been playing. The Desert Dogs are winless in their last four, with 21 total goals surrendered.

“We have to shore up some things and our goaltending has to be better,” Coyotes coach Dave Tippett told reporters, while confirming that Louis Domingue would get the start versus the Canucks.

Domingue, the NHL’s rookie of the month in January, has struggled of late, allowing five goals in each of his last three starts. In the Coyotes’ last game, they turned to Anders Lindback, only for Lindback to surrender five goals himself in a 5-2 loss to Anaheim.

For the Canucks, Ryan Miller is expected to start, after Jacob Markstrom got the win last night in Denver.

Elsewhere…

Henrik Lundqvist for the Rangers in Pittsburgh, where Marc-Andre Fleury is expected to start for the Penguins.

Craig Anderson for the Senators in Detroit, where Petr Mrazek will make his third straight start for the Red Wings.

Sabres recall Justin Bailey, son of former Bills linebacker

NEWARK, NJ - JUNE 30:  Justin Bailey, drafted #52 overall by the Buffalo Sabres, looks on after he was drafted in the second round during the 2013 NHL Draft at the Prudential Center on June 30, 2013 in Newark, New Jersey.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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The Buffalo Sabres have recalled forward Justin Bailey from AHL Rochester.

It’s the first time Bailey, a second-round pick in 2013, has ever been called up to the NHL. The 20-year-old joins the big club after piling up 11 points (5G, 6A) in his last eight games for the Americans.

Most Sabres fans will know that Bailey is from Buffalo (technically, Williamsville), the son of former Bills linebacker Carlton Bailey. (To learn more, click on this Buffalo News story from July.)

The Sabres play Thursday in Philadelphia, where Bailey will reportedly make his NHL debut.

To make room for Bailey on Buffalo’s roster, Zemgus Girgensons (lower body) was placed on injured reserve.