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SBD/December 6, 2012/Leagues and Governing BodiesPrint All
The NHL and NHLPA could be "closing in on a deal after a long and bitter lockout, the stalemate seemingly broken by two long days of direct talks between players and owners without" NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman or NHLPA Exec Dir Donald Fehr in the room, according to Slater & Ebner of the GLOBE & MAIL. Players and owners yesterday "exchanged proposals and stayed in talks for almost nine hours before concluding after midnight, as they did on Tuesday." Key issues to be settled are "length of player contracts and length of the collective agreement, with owners gunning for a decade and players thinking half that." Sources said that while the "momentum in the player-owner talks was positive, the situation is 'fluid.'" One source said that should a deal "be done in the next three to five days, the governors are looking at a '50-something' game schedule." Slater & Ebner note there was "optimism but there was also a worry that a misstep in talks could be severe and lead to a lost season." Still, pessimism "was fading" yesterday (GLOBE & MAIL, 12/6). In Toronto, Rob Longley notes when talks ended at 12:50am ET this morning, there was "a sense from both sides that, if they collectively pulled their act together, another lost season could be avoided." Neither side "offered many details of what was discussed," but another negotiation session is scheduled for this afternoon, "fuelling optimism at salvaging a season." Where those talks "will end -- or if -- depends on just how critical the remaining stumbling blocks are" (TORONTO SUN, 12/6).
NOT ON THE HOME STRETCH JUST YET: In N.Y., Jeff Klein notes last night's "sudden end tempered the hopefulness that had prevailed throughout the day Wednesday, when it seemed that a settlement to save the NHL season was within reach." NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly and six owners "shuttled back and forth hurriedly between league conference rooms and those of the union well into the evening, a sense of urgent momentum suffusing the talks for a second straight day after 11 weeks that had produced mainly stalemate and rancor." As the talks "ground late into the night, only three owners remained on the league side, and the original cast of players was reduced from about a dozen to roughly half that number." Neither side was "offering specifics on the proposals or what progress had been made." But the "apparent intensity of the negotiating suggested that the two sides had gotten down to the hard business of hammering out a settlement." Reports emerged afterward indicating that "tensions had been high at times during the long day and night of talks." Bruins Owner Jeremy Jacobs and Sabres G Ryan Miller, one of the "more militant members of the players' union, reportedly both lost their tempers during an angry exchange" (N.Y. TIMES, 12/6). In Toronto, Damien Cox notes Miller had "angrily vented when the owners said they were disappointed with the players responses to an earlier offer and threatened to pull everything off the table." But with Jacobs "poised to abandon the talks, other owners spoke up, and then both sides dramatically backed away from the precipice" (THESTAR.com, 12/6). The CP's Chris Johnston notes Jacobs also was seen "having an animated conversation" with Daly outside the negotiating room (CP, 12/6).
PROPOSAL DETAILS EMERGE: ESPN N.Y.'s Katie Strang notes the sides yesterday exchanged proposals, although it is "not believed the proposals resembled the formal, all-encompassing offers that have been traded -- and subsequently rejected -- in recent months." A source said that contract term limits "were part of each side's respective proposal." A source said that the NHL offered to "raise the amount of the 'Make Whole' provision, one of the key bargaining points in negotiations, to $300 million in total, up from $211 million in its last offer." The league also is "backing off contracting rights demands on unrestricted free agency age (27) and salary arbitration, offering to keep both the same." However, the league is "staying firm on asking for five-year term limits for contracts and a 5 percent salary variance; the only exception is a team signing its own free agent, in which case a contract could go to seven years in term." As details "filtered out about concessions made by the league, so did concerns about the players-owners-only format moving forward." Sources said that there is "some concern among the union's membership that the format may be an attempt to divide the players" (ESPNNY.com, 12/6).
HOW CLOSE ARE THEY REALLY? Sportsnet's Nick Kypreos yesterday said that he is "hearing a deal should be done very soon." Kypreos said, "Apparently Gary is ready to get a deal done. He wants this thing done Friday. Friday!" (CBSSPORTS.com, 12/5). In Winnipeg, Ken Wiebe notes there have been "some suggestions a deal could be completed before the end of the week and that training camps might be up and running shortly after that, with game being played before or on Christmas Day" (WINNIPEG SUN, 12/6). However, in Philadelphia, Frank Seravalli notes both sides have made "such a momentous push -- likely with concessions from each -- to bridge the gap that it would not be a stretch for either one to throw their hands up in the air and walk out if it appears no deal can realistically be brokered this week." The best way to "describe the scene would be 'tense'" (PHILADELPHIA DAILY NEWS, 12/6). ESPN.com's Pierre LeBrun writes the two sides "desperately want to make a deal." Things nearly "blew up Wednesday evening but the NHL and NHLPA did not take their toys and go home." Instead, they "turned the other cheek, persevered and kept at it." However, things remain "at a very delicate stage." The contract term limit is "a tough pill to swallow for the players." LeBrun: "It you're the players, though, you’ve got $300 million now in Make Whole money, which frankly was the total all along I think the union was eyeing when it asked for $383 million two weeks ago" (ESPN.com, 12/6). SI.com's Sarah Kwak wrote the reality is that "little concrete progress was made into Wednesday, no numbers agreed upon." There are still issues "large and small that have not been settled, and they will not be easy to settle." But the league is "still in a better position than it was 48 hours ago" (SI.com, 12/5).
PENGUIN POWER: The GLOBE & MAIL's Eric Duhatschek writes Penguins C Sidney Crosby's involvement in the current dispute "represents such an unusual departure" for a star. But Crosby "jumped into the fray with both feet this past week after being part of the process on the edges." It was his presence at Tuesday’s meeting, opposite Penguins co-Owner Ron Burkle, that "helped the process gain a small bit of traction after a long stalemate." There are "no guarantees that it’ll turn into anything tangible, but it is almost unprecedented for someone of his stature to get so actively involved in the negotiations rather than abdicating the responsibility to obscure enforcers with Ivy League degrees, or fringe players who aspire to study law" (GLOBE & MAIL, 12/6). Penguins RW Craig Adams said that the players involved in the talks "have a particular appreciation for what Crosby has contributed to getting the talks moving in a positive direction." Adams: "He's been very involved in the process throughout. Obviously, he continues to stay involved and engaged. The other players are glad to have him in there" (PITTSBURGH POST-GAZETTE, 12/6). Hurricanes C Jordan Staal, a member of the Penguins from '06-12, said that he "liked the thought of Burkle being involved for the first time." Staal: "I was happy that new ownership came into the room. (Burkle) is a great guy and understands what's going on in the business world. And he truly does care about us playing and getting the league back on the ice" (Raleigh NEWS & OBSERVER, 12/6). In Pittsburgh, Dejan Kovacevic writes Burkle "really has been the buzz of this round of talks." Penguins co-Owner & Chair Mario Lemieux "really has been tugging strings behind the scenes, from testing other teams for alliances to straying from his norm and showing up on the national stage when the sport needs him." Crosby, "always above and beyond in any walk of life, really has been prodding on his own fronts" (PITTSBURGH TRIBUNE-REVIEW, 12/6).
RIGHT MOVE TO STEP BACK: In Ottawa, Bruce Garrioch writes Bettman has "insisted he'll do anything to get the game back on the ice and that's why he made the move to step back" from CBA talks with the NHLPA. A source yesterday said, "It was a smart move. Not only did Bettman take himself out of the room, he also got Fehr out of the room and that may lead to a deal." Garrioch writes Bettman's message was "simple to the governors: He'll do anything for the good of the game and that's why he decided to go this route." The decision to "bow out couldn't have come at a better time." The governors yesterday were "ready to pounce in the meeting because they wanted to send a message to Bettman it was time to get a deal done." The players "don't love Bettman either" (OTTAWA SUN, 12/6). ESPN.com's Craig Custance wrote Bettman "might have saved the season with his idea to step away from the negotiating table along with" Fehr. After a "line of strategies that haven't worked, including mediation and numerous failed proposals, this strategy appears to have given us the most headway yet towards the possibility of a hockey season" (ESPN.com, 12/5). QMI AGENCY's Chris Stevenson wrote under the header, "New Approach To NHL CBA Talks Seems To Be Working" (QMI AGENCY, 12/5).
CREDIT WHERE CREDIT IS DUE: ESPN.com's Scott Burnside wrote, "Credit Bettman for understanding that with the season hanging in the balance, the air had become so toxic in those rare moments the two sides actually found enough reason to be in the same room that the loathing and mistrust trumped all other issues and that the two men stepping back would allow that air to be cleared." Likewise, "credit Fehr, whose plodding strategies had made league officials crazy during this process, for going along with the idea even though his first reaction must have been to tell Bettman to stuff it" (ESPN.com, 12/5). In Vancouver, Tony Gallagher writes this is "how good a job Fehr's done." In an interchange that was "always going to be one way with the NHL taking and the players giving, Fehr at least restrained his troops long enough for the league to move off its take-it-or-leave-it position." And in that sense it "might be said he's done a decent job frustrating the usual Bettman strategy of waiting while the players negotiate against themselves" (Vancouver PROVINCE, 12/6).
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, in simultaneously aspiring to keep the NFL both highly lucrative and safe for the players, is "trying to pull off, in his words, a 'balancing act' that will define his legacy," according to a cover story by Sean Gregory of TIME magazine. Can he "preserve the core of a game that is our national obsession -- and a hugely profitable business -- while responsibly addressing the mounting evidence that the sport can shatter lives?" After "years of downplaying the dangers of concussions, the NFL has instituted policies and rules to reduce the risk of long-term injury." But things "like sanctions for dangerous hits -- especially the punishment handed down to the New Orleans Saints for allegedly running a bounty system that gave cash rewards for injuring opposing players -- and stricter return-to-play guidelines after concussions are just the beginning of a safety-first orientation." The "final verdict on the player-safety debate may be beyond Goodell's control" as the NFL is being "sued by some 4,000 ex-players, plus nearly 1,500 of their spouses and children, who allege that the league 'deliberately ignored and actively concealed' information about concussions for decades." The NFL is "trying to get the suit tossed out of court and denies deliberately causing harm." But "no one can deny that a spate of football players who either suffered from symptoms of depression and dementia later in their lives or killed themselves have been diagnosed" with chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). If football does not "become a safer game, more parents will likely prevent their kids -- the NFL's future players and fans -- from playing." Goodell "insists his motives for the safety measures are pure." He said, "I don't do things for public relations. I do things because they're the right thing to do, because I love the game."
RESPONSIBLE REACTION TO CONCUSSIONS: Goodell acknowledges fans can "always look back and say it could have been done faster." But he "argues that the NFL's reaction to concussions has been 'very responsible.'" He also said that if the league had "put into effect stricter return-to-play rules earlier, players might not have reported their symptoms since the dangers of concussions are clearer now than they used to be." While Goodell will not "take sides on the medical debate about concussions, he now acknowledges that football may do damage." He said, "It doesn't take a lot to jump to the conclusion that constant banging in the head is not going to be in your best interest." Gregory notes the rule changes will not "do much for damaged former players (or dead ones and their widows)." To them, Goodell's reforms are a "painful reminder that the NFL could have taken such precautions years ago and maybe saved them from the memory loss, depression and other ailments they suffer today." Goodell "argues that the NFL is doing right by these injured players." For instance, Goodell points to the last CBA, which "includes $1 billion set aside for retired players." Goodell: "How many industries do that? Go back to people that are no longer involved in the business? I salute the owners and salute the players for doing that -- $620 million of that was in pension benefits alone. So those are very, very significant improvements. We'll try to do more. Can I solve the problems for everybody? I don't think that's possible" (TIME, 12/17 issue).
AUTHOR REFLECTIONS: Time's Gregory this morning noted Goodell addressed numerous topics in the story, including the murder-suicide involving Chiefs LB Jovan Belcher. Gregory said when Goodell heard the news about Belcher, “he was stunned.” Gregory: “He knew that there was pressure not to play the game and there were thoughts on that side. He reached out to (Chiefs Chair Clark Hunt) ... and told them to please seek feedback from the players. He basically deferred to the players, and the feedback he says he was getting was that the players wanted to play. Five days, four days later, it seems like it was probably the right thing to do.” CNN’s Carol Costello noted critics "might say the real reason was money, they wanted to play the game because the NFL is a money machine." Costello: "Is that too cynical?” Gregory: “That's a fair argument to make, and he will say and has said it's not about money. No matter what you think of him, he's pretty strong in his convictions … and he doesn't really look back or apologize or regret stuff.” Gregory attended an NFL game with Goodell and the experience "was fairly positive.” Goodell “gets his criticism” from fans when he is in public, but he is "very good at listening to it, smiling and not fighting back." Gregory: "People flock to him. He does have a presence about him and he hugs a lot of people. Whatever you think of him, he's got that politician’s touch to kind of tussle hair, give hugs, shake hands and he's the son of a senator. That has rubbed off on him” (“CNN Newsroom,” CNN, 12/6).
Soccer player David Beckham is "weighing up two offers that could see him become the owner of an emerging" MLS club, according to Ben Smith of BBC SPORT. Prospective MLS franchises in Miami and N.Y. have "approached the 37-year-old, who asked for the option to own an MLS club" when he joined the Galaxy in '07. Both clubs are "hopeful they will become MLS members before 2016, and both are keen for Beckham to play a major role." The prospect of an ownership role is "something Beckham has been keen to explore since moving to the US." While a stake in the Galaxy "remains an option, it is two other offers that are understood to be more attractive to Beckham." A number of investment groups in the Middle East have "expressed an interest in backing Beckham's potential ownership of an MLS franchise, as the likes of Qatar and Abu Dhabi explore the possibility of extending their global reach in football to the United States" (BBC.co.uk, 12/5). In West Palm Beach, Hal Habib notes MLS Commissioner Don Garber has "made it clear that a second club in the New York market, giving the league 20 teams, is a priority." Garber has said that he would "like to see a team in Miami." However, "little progress has been reported toward finding a successor to the Miami Fusion, which folded after the 2001 season" (PALM BEACH POST, 12/6).
While dozens of MLB free agents have agreed to contracts this offseason, with the exception of Braves CF B.J. Upton and Giants CF Angel Pagan, "not a one has received more than a three-year deal," according to Bob Nightengale of USA TODAY. Teams are "adopting the philosophy that it's fine to overpay their players, but in return for the extra loot you'll have less years of security." This philosophy explains why Red Sox CF Shane Victorino is "being grossly overpaid" at $39M over three years. Red Sox GM Ben Cherington said, "There's been a preference to try and keep the deals shorter. In order to do that, we may have to use a little bit of our yearly flexibility to get it accomplished." Nightengale writes this approach is the "new unwritten Economics 101 philosophy." Several high-profile MLB agents said that teams have become "scared committing to long-term contracts and have adopted a new way of approaching free agency." But the agents said that it is "too early to call it the wave of the future." Free agent P Zack Greinke "might get a seven-year deal that's the richest ever for a pitcher," while free agent P Anibal Sanchez "already has a slew of five-year offers" (USA TODAY, 12/6).
ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT: In Detroit, Lynn Henning writes, "We're three days into baseball's Winter Meetings -- and you're free to wonder when a gathering supposedly designed to trade and sign players might actually begin. It's been slow" (DETROIT NEWS, 12/6). Mets Special Assistant to the GM J.P. Ricciardi said, “The media always wants the big, sexy deals and I think right now there hasn’t been that many of them." He added, "There’s a lot of stuff going on, probably stuff that’s under the radar. Everybody’s just trying to make their club better. Some guys do it with a bigger splash. I think there’s a few big splashes coming though” (“Mets Hot Stove Report,” SportsNet N.Y., 12/5).
CHANGING MEDIA LANDSCAPE: MLB Network’s Richard Justice noted MLB is "not immune to technology," which has changed the way the league is covered by the press. Justice said, "You have dozens of reporters running around here and lots of people with tidbits of information, and it’s published instantly, whereas before you had to wait for the morning newspaper. ... You don’t have to talk to people now, and that has infected the Wwinter Meetings. It’s changed the way teams do business” ("MLB Tonight," MLB Network, 12/5).