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SBD/January 8, 2013/Leagues and Governing BodiesPrint All
The timeline for the start of a shortened NHL season "remained up in the air" one day after the NHL and NHLPA agreed on a tentative CBA deal, according to Chris Johnston of the CP. NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly yesterday said that hope for a 50-game schedule "had already faded as the sides continued to finalize the memorandum of understanding their constituents will each vote on later in the week." As a result, the league is "likely to return with a 48-game season starting Jan. 19." As of last night, the sides had "yet to complete a memorandum of understanding which was likely to run over a couple hundred pages when completed" (CP, 1/7). In New Jersey, Tom Gulitti notes league and union attorneys yesterday continued to "put together a memorandum of understanding, which will be what is voted on for ratification." The CBA will "take longer to be finalized." The NHL BOG will meet tomorrow in N.Y. to vote, while the players’ ratification vote "will take place electronically" on Thursday and Friday. To allow for that, training camp "won’t start before Saturday and that might be pushed to Sunday or Monday." The full schedule will "not be announced until the deal has been ratified by both sides, but it’s possible the teams’ season openers and other schedule highlights will be released earlier" (Bergen RECORD, 1/8). USA TODAY's Kevin Allen noted players already have "been allowed to use team training facilities, but training camp won't start until players approve a memo of understanding." If training camp does not start until Sunday, Daly said that it is "still possible to start the season on Jan. 19." That will mean players "will be in training camp for only six days." The last possible date for a Stanley Cup Final game "will be June 28, although the league is still trying to get that down to June 26" (USATODAY.com, 1/7).
WORKING OUT THE KINKS: Kings RW Kevin Westgarth said that players, fans, coaches and owners "must be patient while the last steps to starting the season are completed." He said that the union would "conduct a conference call to answer questions about the new CBA." Westgarth: "Of course the league will say if the players hurry up, we can play more games, there's a reality to consider as well. But the first step is for the people who are good with words to get on paper what both sides agreed to" (L.A. DAILY NEWS, 1/8). In Ottawa, Bruce Garrioch reports teams have been told to "only speak in general terms about the CBA." The threat of a $1M fine "remains in place if any owner, president, general manager or club personnel speaks out of line." Players are "permitted to return to club facilities and it’s up to each individual team to decide if they want to open the doors to players before the CBA is ratified." There can be "no formal workouts, practices or team meetings" (OTTAWA SUN, 1/8). In N.Y., Jeff Klein notes the NHL yesterday allowed "players to go into team dressing rooms and talk to the news media." But "no coaches or management officials were permitted to interact with players" (N.Y. TIMES, 1/8). In Winnipeg, Tim Campbell noted chatter around the league is that some clubs "would like to squeeze in one exhibition game before the regular season starts" (WINNIPEGFREEPRESS.com, 1/7). ESPN’s Michael Wilbon said this year for the NHL will be a “compromised season but I’m glad we’re going to see a season.” ESPN’s Tony Kornheiser said, “I don’t see it as compromised. ... The playoffs are the playoffs" (“PTI,” ESPN, 1/7).
NHL owners ended up with a new CBA "that eventually will shift more money to their side of the ledger, potentially boosting profit margins, with franchise equity values theoretically moving up in lockstep," according to an analysis by Kevin Paul Dupont of the BOSTON GLOBE. The players "will be made to do with less," as they "agreed to settle" for 50% of all hockey-related revenues (HRR). A team exec yesterday said, "It’s probably actually Year 4 that we finally get to a true 50/50. Some clubs won’t like that. It’s not like all clubs like this deal, by any means. But the win here for both sides is that this should be, could be, might be a CBA that could extend for up to 20 years or more." What the owners "wanted most" all along was a 50/50 split. Their other major gain "came on player contract lengths, which the new deal limits to 7-8 years, with year-to-year variance limitations imposed on salary payouts that should prevent GMs from writing contracts specifically aimed at skirting the salary cap." Previously, there was "no limit on contract length." The Maple Leafs "led the way in pushing for reform on those so-called long-term 'backdiving' contracts." A league source yesterday confirmed that the Sharks, a "mid-tier team in terms of revenue, also adamantly opposed such deals." Of all that was bargained "across the five-plus months, those two changes are the most significant." An NHL agent said, "It’s pretty clear how [NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman's] operated here. If you look at the document, you can tell he’s ignored the input of hockey people, especially his own GMs, who are the guys who have to work with it every day. Nothing changed in no-trades, in arb, in age threshold for free agency ... guaranteed contracts." A league source said, "Not everyone is happy. There will be guys in there not happy about the revenue sharing, others who think the cap is too high to start, that it takes too long to get to 50/50" (BOSTON GLOBE, 1/8).
THE FINE PRINT: ESPN.com's Pierre LeBrun broke down more "key components of the tentative agreement" (ESPN.com, 1/7). USA TODAY's Kevin Allen noted the NHLPA "sent agents a list of some of the changes" to the CBA, detailing how the minimum salary "will rise from $525,000 to $750,000 over the course of the 10-year deal." Other issues that "caught agents' attention: Teams can now trade a player and retain some of the salary cap hit, a significant change, particularly for teams that previously had players who seemed next-to-impossible to trade because of high salaries" (USATODAY.com, 1/7).
WINNERS & LOSERS: SI.com's Adrian Dater wrote small-market teams are "winners" of the deal. They got the "salary cap ceiling ($70.2 million prorated for 2013; $64 million for 2013-14) and floor ($44 million) lowered for next season, and they'll get more money in revenue sharing ($200 million) from the big-market teams" (SI.com, 1/7). In New Jersey, Andrew Gross echoes that small-market teams are "a possible winner," as the salary cap "will be lower and there's increased revenue sharing, though still not enough." Gross writes among "the losers" in the lockout are the players and Bettman (Bergen RECORD, 1/8). In Detroit, Gregg Krupa writes the deal may do "little to solve the financial problems of the league, the very issue that supposedly caused Bettman and the owners to take an onerous, hard line in negotiations." Bettman and the owners were "out to repair a broken business model," but with the "huge disruption in the sport, they may have fallen short" (DETROIT NEWS, 1/8). In Buffalo, John Vogl has owners winning with HRR, contract term limits and yearly salary variance. He has the players winning on the salary cap and pension. Sabres LW Thomas Vanek: "It wasn't worth it" (BUFFALO NEWS, 1/8). NBC’s Pierre McGuire said, "This deal could have been done in early December. ... But there was so much negative energy between both parties and I think this is why we ended where we are right now.” McGuire added, "Nobody won” (“NBC Sports Talk,” NBC Sports Network, 1/7).
FINANCIAL DISPARITY: The GLOBE & MAIL's Mirtle & Gordon note the split between "big-money franchises and those struggling in less hockey-friendly markets remains." Already there are "concerns this could be an agreement -- like the last -- that is unable to help those poor teams, many of them the southern expansion franchises that have been a hallmark" of Bettman’s tenure. However, this remains a league "where the gap between the two appears poised to grow as money pours into the seven Canadian cities and a select few successful American markets, just as it did under the previous" CBA. Canadiens President & CEO Geoff Molson said, “I think it’s a situation where there are no winners." Asked whether he is "satisfied with the outcome," Molson "smiled" and said, "I’m satisfied because we’re playing hockey." Molson said, “But I think what [Bettman] has done is to make sure that each team is satisfied to the highest potential of being satisfied. But there are no perfect answers for every team" (GLOBE & MAIL, 1/8).
Bruins D Andrew Ference was one of a group of people that "ousted" former NHLPA Exec Dir Paul Kelly, and he believes that the move was “clearly a good one,” according to Steve Conroy of the BOSTON HERALD. Ference: “I think there are a couple of writers here who are in love with our last director and think I’m the devil, but despite what they think, it’s so far from the truth. We’re in such a better position of strength with [NHLPA Exec Dir Donald] Fehr and his brother [NHLPA Special Counsel Steve Fehr], the lawyers that he has and the economists they have.” Ference added, “To finally have some stability and finally have some real leadership and have a guy come in and do a really time-crunched job of getting to know everybody and unifying everybody in a tough situation was awesome.” Meanwhile, Kelly responded by saying, “We sued the league (over a pension fund for NHL widows) and we infuriated people in the league office. Andrew Ference doesn’t know me at all and he doesn’t know my world view. And to suggest that we would have been soft or rolled over or capitulated in any way has no basis in fact. It’s laughable, really” (BOSTON HERALD, 1/8).
ASSESSING THE DEAL AND FEHR: Blackhawks RW Jamal Mayers: “There were some things that both sides gave on, but I think overall it's a good deal for the players. There's no denying we made a lot of concessions and gave up $2 billion, and it could be $3 billion over the course of the agreement. The one thing we did get out of this was the pension and having it be a defined benefit plan. The young guys might not appreciate that now, but in time, looking back, it's something that will definitely be in our favor." Mayers said of Donald Fehr, "He kept his cool the entire time and was able to get players the best deal possible and save the season. He’s been doing this for 30 years so there's no question we just leaned on him and were thankful he was there” (Illinois DAILY HERALD, 1/8). Panthers RW George Parros said, “The pension’s an incredible feat on our part. Credit Don Fehr with that. It was his idea. He brought it up to us from the early get-go and it’s really the one thing we can hang our hat on as players. It’s the one thing we’ve gained out of all of this.” Parros added, “There’s no doubt in my mind Don Fehr saved this union, saved the game. He was a burr in their side, I think, a bit, but what he did was absolutely incredible (given) the shambles our union was in, not too early before these negotiations took place” (L.A. TIMES, 1/8). Canucks C Manny Malhotra said, “I can definitely say I am proud to be a part of this union with the solidarity we showed and the level of education that the guys had.” Malhotra added, “I think that’s what Don Fehr has done for our union, taking us from a place of dysfunction to where we are now. It’s been a privilege to watch it and be a part of it.” Canucks C Henrik Sedin said, “I think the guys I was most impressed with were maybe the fourth-liners or the sixth, seventh and eighth defencemen who don’t make a lot of money. They were still sticking by the union and that’s impressive. I think it’s a fair deal. I think both sides are happy to get things going and get back playing” (VANCOUVER SUN, 1/8).
TOOK LONG ENOUGH: Red Wings D Ian White said, “All along we thought there was a time line on when they wanted to sweat us out until, and it looks like that's what happened. It doesn't seem like a good way to bargain, thinking we got to go to this date and seeing how much we can get from the players, and at the end they'll settle and give us a deal. It's unfortunate because I think we could have had a deal in the summer” (MLIVE.com, 1/7). The CP’s Alan Robinson noted Penguins C Sidney Crosby “wonders why the extra month was needed” to end the lockout. Crosby said, “It’s pretty close to what was there in New York. There’s no great explanation for it.” Penguins RW Craig Adams said, “No player should be under the illusion we got a great deal. But we did very well under the circumstances. There are a lot of things in this deal that aren’t as good for the players as they were. I think the owners got a really good deal, and hopefully we got enough things in there and held onto enough things that it will be a good deal for us in the long run” (CP, 1/7).
BETTMAN UNDER FIRE: In Boston, Kevin Paul Dupont reports “speculation around [NHL Commissioner Gary] Bettman being fired has cropped up in multiple reports around the league since the pact was announced Sunday morning.” A source said Bettman will “never be fired." The source: "But in a year or two, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him shift to another job in the front office -- some advisory role, or Commissioner Emeritus, or whatever.’’ Another source was “unwilling to agree that a third lockout would lead to Bettman being moved off the job.” But the source said that NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly “would be the likely choice and prohibitive favorite as the next commissioner” (BOSTON GLOBE, 1/8). In DC, John Feinstein writes Bettman and the owners have “infuriated NBC ... by costing the network the Winter Classic and the All-Star Game, not to mention more than three months of inventory desperately needed by the NBC Sports Network.” If there is “one thing no commissioner wants to do, it is upset his television partners.” Bettman “clearly has come out of this battle weakened.” He “did not deliver on his promise to take down Fehr” (WASHINGTON POST, 1/8). In Ft. Worth, Mac Engel writes of Bettman, “Now is the time for him to step aside.” Engel: “What should be represented right now is the survival of the game itself, and not just the best interest of the NHL owners. … If this league wants to truly grow, it needs to hire a salesman, someone schooled in media and public relations” (FT. WORTH STAR-TELEGRAM, 1/8).
BAD BLOOD: ESPN.com’s Pierre LeBrun wrote it will “take years to build up trust between both sides,” as the “mistrust between players and owners, between the union and league, is perhaps at an all-time low.” Sabres G Ryan Miller in an e-mail wrote, "I would like to believe that if larger groups of players, owners and executives were able to interact more often and contribute ideas to the game and the business, then there would be at least a little bit of trust built over time.” Miller added, "The problem now is that I am not sure any player will ever forgive the league executives, let alone start to trust them. The league needs to reach out to the players after they take care of the fans and start to build some trust again.” LeBrun wrote, “Time to heal, time to rebuild, time to grow. Time to give back to the fans, those who matter the most” (ESPN.com, 1/7). The Red Wings' White said of possible lingering feeling between owners and players, “I think, fortunately, it wasn’t most of the owners who were doing this (lockout). I'm sure most of them wanted to play right from the get-go without having to go through all the shenanigans. I'm sure there's going to be a couple owners that guys aren't going to be too happy with going forward, but for the most part most of the owners are decent guys” (MLIVE.com, 1/7).
The NHL lockout "set the Senators back a full year in terms of hitting their season ticket goal," so their hope is to "now get the number to 13,000 next season, when originally that was the desired target for 2012-13," according to Don Brennan of the OTTAWA SUN. Senators President Cyril Leeder yesterday said that about 10,500 fans "remain committed to season tickets, and the club is immediately shooting to lift that total to the 11,300 it was last year." He added that the "35 front-office employees who had been laid off have been brought back, and 25 more will be hired." Leeder said that the "message we would like to convey to the fans first and foremost is we are sorry. ... We really are sorry that they had to endure an extended work stoppage" (OTTAWA SUN, 1/8).
CALGARY: Flames VP/Sales Rollie Cyr yesterday said, "We made offers to all of our season ticket holders that they could get refunds for their tickets." In Calgary, Jenna McMurray notes Cyr "didn't have an exact number available, but said the number of people who requested a refund was in the 'low hundreds.'" The Flames have "about 7,000 season ticket holder accounts." Cyr said that translates "to about 14,000 seats." He said of the refund opportunity, "Very few people took advantage of that." He added that as of yesterday afternoon, "no one had requested a refund since news of the deal broke." However, Cyr said that "at least 10 people had reconsidered surrendering their tickets and requested them back" (CALGARY SUN, 1/8).
EDMONTON: Oilers President & CEO Patrick LaForge said that he hopes the league will "release revised schedules by this weekend." He said, "The season-ticket holders are already in, but it is a bit more complicated for the mini-pack guy." LaForge: "A lot of people are telling us to simply send them a list of new games to choose from. But for those people who are interested in certain teams, we won't be able to replicate the packages in every case." He said that refund requests "will be honoured" (EDMONTON JOURNAL, 1/8).
COLUMBUS: Blue Jackets Senior VP & CMO John Browne said, “There’s been a lot of activity, not only with existing season-ticket holders but with people we’ve been talking to over the last couple of months who were waiting to see how things turned out. We sold a number of season tickets to people who were waiting on the sidelines.” Browne said that the team increased its season-ticket base during the lockout: "Not huge numbers, but the numbers actually grew." The Blue Jackets had "about 8,500 season-ticket holders last season." Browne said the team is “still in that ballpark" (DISPATCH.com, 1/8).
PITTSBURGH: Penguins co-Owners Mario Lemieux and Ron Burkle, and CEO David Morehouse issued a statement to the team's fans that said, "We offer our apology. There is nothing we can say to explain or excuse what has happened over the past four months. However, now that the NHL is back, we want to assure you that the Pittsburgh Penguins will do everything we can to regain your trust and show how much we value your amazing support" (TRIBLIVE.com, 1/7). CBSSPORTS.com's Brian Stubits wrote, "It's a nice start and certainly seems a bit more genuine than thanking the fans." Noting Burkle's role in the talks, Stubits added, "The opening two lines of the apology read like they came from an owner who tried his best" (CBSSPORTS.com, 1/7). ESPN.com's Pierre LeBrun wrote, "Credit the Pittsburgh Penguins for their candor." LeBrun: "Talk about honest. And gutsy" (ESPN.com, 1/7).
NASHVILLE: Predators GM David Poile in a statement said, "I’d like to apologize to the fans and anybody who cares about hockey and especially the Nashville Predators. ... We’re all disappointed that it turned out the way it did. It’s really unfortunate, but like anything in life, whether it’s your relationship with the Predators and hockey, or your personal relationships, sometimes things go wrong and you need to apologize, and I’m apologizing. Sometimes you need forgiveness and you need to move on, and that’s what we’re going to do today" (TENNESSEAN.com, 1/7).
ST. LOUIS: In St. Louis, David Hunn notes the Blues e-mailed "an apology to ticket holders, began arranging to get players back to the city and returned the team’s 100 staffers back to full-time -- and full pay -- for the first time since mid-October" (ST. LOUIS POST DISPATCH, 1/8).
Following the end of the NHL lockout, the "best thing the NHL and its teams can do is keep quiet and play," according to David Shoalts of the GLOBE & MAIL. Individual apologies to the fans from the players are "fine, since none of the three lockouts under [NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman] was their idea, but the league had better not entertain any ideas like the cheesy 'Thank you fans' that was painted on the ice in NHL rinks when it resumed business after the 2004-05 lockout." Shoalts: "Just shut up and play." Ticket discounts "might be a good idea," and NHL GameCenter, the league's online broadcasting service, "should be offered free." No one will blame NHL COO John Collins if he "went back to work with a sour taste in his mouth." Or if he "decides to chuck it and take one of those jobs with another team or in another sport the hockey gossips say he is always being offered" (GLOBE & MAIL, 1/8). A Raleigh NEWS & OBSERVER editorial states the owners this time "might try another message: 'We're Sorry.'" Cutting concession prices for the delayed and shortened season "might be a way of saying they mean it" (Raleigh NEWS & OBSERVER, 1/8).
ACADEMICS WEIGH IN: Queens Univ. School of Business marketing professor Ken Wong said the NHL has a "big job ahead of them." Wong said, "Their No. 1 priority is to recognize what the reality is. Don't think it's going to be business as usual. You owe the fans a statement of apology or regret. They've been done a great disservice. They have to know you're doing everything you can to make this up." Wong added, "Will the Canadian fans come back? I think they will but it will be with a chip on their shoulder and that's a bad thing" (Vancouver PROVINCE, 1/8). Univ. of Michigan sports economics professor Rodney Fort said of the fans, "They will come back. And in fact, we may not even notice any difference." College of the Holy Cross economics professor Victor Matheson added, "My real sense is that hockey didn't lose their core base of fans, but I think they really did do something to marginalize the sport among casual fans" (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 1/7)
PLAYERS RESPOND: Flames RW Jarome Iginla said, "I know a simple apology doesn’t make up for it. We know we’re going to have to win back fans. We know they’re rightfully upset and some may be a little turned off. That’s the business side, that’s the ugly side and hopefully that’s behind us and we can move forward and not go through this again for a very long time.” Flames C Mike Cammalleri added, "There’s not much the players can do except to play their hearts out." Capitals D Karl Alzner: "The fact that it’s only 48 games will make it easier for people to sit out a few, which is going to suck, but if we play well, then hopefully, they’re going to buy back in." The GLOBE & MAIL's Eric Duhatschek writes it "appeared as if the players were prepared to share the blame for the lockout." Publicly, fan reaction "ranged from anger to bitterness to apathy, although it remains to be seen how that translates into action" (GLOBE & MAIL, 1/8). Devils LW Patrick Elias: "I think the players did a good job to stay behind each other. Hopefully the fans will get it. It wasn't a matter of being greedy. It was a matter of being fair for the future" (NJ.com, 1/7). Jets C Olli Jokinen: "They have all the reasons to be angry. If nobody shows up in our games, I respect that, too. They have all the reasons not to show up" (WINNIPEG SUN, 1/8). Wild LW Zach Parise said, "Everyone has to apologize to the fans." D Ryan Suter added, "We definitely have to apologize for putting the fans through that. That's not right. You shouldn't have to do that to them" (ST. PAUL PIONEER PRESS, 1/8). Rangers C Brad Richards: "I totally understand if fans don't come back, that's very understandable" (N.Y. POST, 1/8). Flames D Chris Butler: "Fans are great and they love the game and I hope they come back, but, to be honest, I'll understand if they don't want to come back." The Flames' Cammalleri added, "I think it was a shame that it had to take place" (CALGARY HERALD, 1/8).
FORGIVE & FORGET? Kings C Jarret Stoll said, "I'm sure we lost some (fans), but time will tell" (L.A. DAILY NEWS, 1/8). Capitals LW Jason Chimera said, "The game's been dragged through the mud here." The Capitals' Alzner added, "For us, the main thing is just letting them know that we're sorry and we obviously didn't want this to go that long. ... All you can do is hope that they all come back the way that they were right before this lockout happened" (WASHINGTONPOST.com, 1/7). Bruins President Cam Neely said, "Whether they come back in droves right off the hop remains to be seen, but I know how passionate our fans are and I hope they can forgive -- I don't think they'll forget, but forgive what's taken place and get excited again about watching us play." He added, "As management and players, we have to make sure we get out and embrace the fans more than ever" (BOSTON HERALD, 1/8). In Boston, Tony Massarotti noted Bruins Owner Jeremy Jacobs was a "lead dog" in the lockout, and "maybe Jacobs feels like a bigger man now that the owners have won another seven percent." Massarotti: "Whatever. But the most loyal Bruins fans have been stripped of at least some joy by their owner yet again, and this latest deprivation comes at a time when the Bruins should be thumping their chests at or near the top of the NHL mountain" (BOSTON.com, 1/7). In Providence, Jim Donaldson wrote fans will return, "at least in hockey hotbeds such as Boston" (PROVIDENCEJOURNAL.com, 1/7).
RETURN SERVICE: A QMI AGENCY editorial stated the fans "won't stay away, at least not for long" (QMI AGENCY, 1/7). In Denver, Adrian Dater predicted the fans "will be back and that the NHL won't see a dramatic drop in attendance" (DENVERPOST.com, 1/7). In Dallas, Tim Cowlishaw writes, "I don't truly expect much fan backlash following the NHL lockout for two reasons: One is that hockey fans are hockey fans." The other is "that you have to ask just how much damage has been done." But something "tells me Dallas will be among the league leaders in empty seats" (DALLAS MORNING NEWS, 1/8). In Detroit, Jamie Samuelson wrote of the fans, "Hockey's back, and so are you. If you're not, you probably were never watching in the first place" (FREEP.com, 1/7). But in California, Marcia Smith asked of the NHL, "How can we trust you? How can we forgive you?" Smith: "Most of all, you'll have to apologize to us. And then maybe, we'll love you again" (OCREGISTER.com, 1/6). SportsNet N.Y.’s Brandon Tierney said, "You’re either a hockey fan or you’re not, and when the puck drops, the real fans will be back” (“The Wheelhouse,” SNY, 1/7).
INSIDE THE ECONOMICS: Fitch Ratings service noted that while a potentially brand damaging full-season stoppage was averted, there still are concerns related to possible harmful long-term effects to the NHL brand and fan support. Fan attendance and corporate support for the '12-13 season, as well as '13-14, could be materially different, given the combination of weak and uncertain national and regional economic conditions and various sport entertainment options (Fitch). Canadian investment firm BMO Nesbitt Burns Deputy Chief Economist Douglas Porter said that the NHL's return will "prevent about [C]$700-million from melting away from the Canadian economy this year." He said, "Since a bit less than half the season looks to have been lost, the economic damage will be contained at less than 0.05 per cent of GDP." But Lake Forest College economics professor Robert Baade disputed that by saying, "To say there is [C]$700-million in lost revenue is to completely ignore the fact that people are going to be spending this money on other entertainment activities" (GLOBE & MAIL, 1/8). In a special to the GLOBE & MAIL, Ken Dryden asks, "How much will the fans punish" both the NHL and NHLPA? For most teams it takes "only the last 5 or 10 per cent of the fans in an arena to make the economics of a team work -- or not." If only a "few people stay away, the effect is great." The question for a fan is, "How can I spite my face without cutting off my nose?" (GLOBE & MAIL, 1/8).
If the NFL Playoffs are to expand, there is "a chance an eight-game first round would be spread over two weekends," according to sources cited by Peter King of SI.com. Another possibility is three games per day on Saturday and Sunday, "with two of the games pushed to Monday night, a la the first weekend of the season on ESPN." King wrote this is an "extremely bad idea" (SI.com, 1/7). In N.Y., Judy Battista writes the NFL this offseason will "ruminate on an idea to expand its playoff field by two or four teams," but the league, "among the most reliable draws in entertainment the last few years, might risk turning off fans with an extra week." The "extra layer of playoffs could come in exchange for a preseason reduced to two games, while the regular season would remain at 16." That makes expanded playoffs "seem more appealing," but last weekend’s games "do not." This year's Wild Card round "limped along with mistake-riddled, sporadically competitive play that raised the question: they really want more of that?" The games were "so unmemorable that the biggest story lines" yesterday were Redskins QB Robert Griffin III’s knee injury and a "ginned-up spat between Houston running back Arian Foster and the Boston Globe’s Dan Shaughnessy, who wrote a column mocking the Texans’ chances of beating the Patriots next weekend." No single play or individual performance "captured the imagination" (N.Y. TIMES, 1/8).