It is clear to anyone with even a casual interest in the NHL that there is a clear and marked divide in the ownership ranks. One the one hand their initial salvo at the CBA negotiations said one thing, and their growth and this summers contracts say another.

The demand for five year contracts as the maximum is laughable in light of the eight, thirteen and fourteen year contracts we’ve seen. Players can’t sign a contract that the team didn’t produce. This means their are only two explanations for the long contracts. The first is simply that the owners either have no control over their general managers or possibly that they just don’t pay attention. The second is that they acceptand endorse, even reluctantly, the long contracts.

While explanation number one would clear up much about the operation of some franchises, I sincerely hope it isn’t a widespread reality. The second needn’t be universal, just common enough to occur in many teams. Even if very, very few of the eight year or longer contracts get handed out. To my mind, contract length is as close to a non issue for the league as a whole as it gets.

While the NHLPA and NHL Owners have a large gulf between their positions, obviously, the distance between factions within ownership are just as wide, maybe wider. As the NHL is a collective corporate entity, one has to wonder why the voting structure doesn’t reflect this. The owners, and or their governor proxies are shareholders via revenue in the collective that is the league.

Perhaps a weighted system based on contribution to league revenue needs to be developed. If you set the threshold for full voting rights at not receiving any revenue sharing to keep the team profitable (vs revenue sharing of shared marketing monies) you get 1 vote. If you are below this you could either get 1/2 vote or in a more extreme profile, all the owners receiving revenue to keep them afloat could get 1 collective vote. Owners contributing more than 2/30ths of the total league revenue would get two full votes. Any team contributing more than 3/30ths would get an additional vote.

While certain markets are naturally advantageous, the bottom line is the business men who can make their business work the best should have the larges input, and in this system would, and not be shackled to the ‘thinking’ of owners who don’t get it and can’t produce a viable contribution. The way the NHL is currently doing business, the four year olds are telling Neurosurgeon Mom and Aerospace Engineer Dad how manage their 401k’s and what house to buy.

One question I haven’t seen any ask, and certainly no one has an answer for is how badly a lockout will affect not direct revenue, but the secondary information sources, and total fan engagement. The very biggest sites and sources will still be around, mostly. But will they still be in the same form? Will a missed season see experienced, knowledgeable journalists reassigned permanently to other sources?

David Pollock has covered the San Jose Sharks since they came into existence. He’s the voice of the team, even over the teams official mouthpieces. He’s nationally respected, and he knows the players, organization and league. What if he’s assigned elsewhere come January because Mercury News can’t justify someone paid a full time salary to report that league talks are going no where once a week? That’s a team that is tucked in tight with two other NHL teams in a state where hockey comes in after the other big three, and likely surfing, extreme sports, and MMA.

The Columbus Blue Jackets have retooled their team, giving them one of the most interesting defensive units in the entire NHL.  Jack Johnson, James Wisniewski, Nikita Nikitin, and the just drafted Ryan Murray are going to be involved in some exciting hockey in the future. Will the excitement be as widespread in October of 2013? Will the bloggers who have sprung up to cover the team over the last few years of futility maintain their passion over the second lockout in seven years? Two years of lockout to ten years of play is hardly something that motivates a fanbase.

Only the most casual of fans rely on the team or league sites as their primary source of news. The days of sports leagues controlling news that tightly are dead and gone. Even the major news papers and television stations don’t own the fanbases anymore. Neutral news like Yahoo, and Score, or sports specific sites like HockeyThisWeek or Hockey Independent rule the day.  Right behind them are the stand alone bloggers, those linked by advertising driven platforms like Bloguin or who have a self managed site.

Just like fantasy hockey, each blog, each Twitter account, each Facebook group, and every last Google+ profile serve the purpose of keeping fans engaged with the NHL. Regardless of who you blame for the lockout, the NHL owners, the NHLPA, or the figureheads of either, some of these secondary sources will cease to exist with a long lockout. Others will suffer a serious degradation of quality. This serves no one. Well run teams use these secondary news sources to keep fans engaged, and mainstream media on their toes.

The bottom line is that every fantasy hockey league slot not filled, every blog that stops covering the NHL, and every knowledgeable person permanently reassigned and replaced, if at all, by someone who doesn’t understand the league at the gut level is a loss that shouldn’t happen.

The NHL Owners are set to end the greatest financial era of the NHL as a whole has seen in the modern era. They are doing that despite knowing the consequences. They earned money hand over fist despite an world wide economic recession. There are no grounds, other than greed, on which to base this lockout. Money is important, teams need it not just for day to day maintenance, or for covering the costs of new or upgraded practice facilities, and to compensate the owners for their work and investment, but to take care of the future.

Closing the door to players, denying millions of fans across the globe their addiction, that’s not taking care of the future. The owners claim, the NHL doesn’t need and shouldn’t have contracts longer than five years. Yet 9 of the last 150 contracts on CapGeek.com are for six years or longer. Among those signing long deals are Tyler Seguin in Boston, Jordan Eberle and Taylor Hall in Edmonton, Shea Weber in Nashville, John Carlson in Washington, Wayne Simmonds and Scott Hartnell in Phily, and one or two others. Of them all, Simmonds is the least well known, and even he’s gotten some traction. How in the world do these deals, combined with the ownership statements convince anyone the NHL Owners are negotiating in good faith?

Just a few short years ago the owners were in a different position, teams like the Penguins were failing. Chicago hadn’t been good in years, the Kings were laughable, the Bruins were just bad, no big involved. League revenue was low because the teams in big markets were at the low ebb. Today that’s not true. The Penguins continue to draw at home and away. Boston, Chicago, and Los Angeles have all won Stanley Cups in recent years and the fan bases are well engaged.

That won’t last through a lockout. No one in the world believes that if the NHL loses a season we’re going to get anything close to the quality product we’ve seen in the last season and two post seasons. The Coyotes and Kings leading up to the Stanley Cup final was tense, physical, emotional hockey, The Pittsburgh Penguins and Philadelphia Flyers having a series long shooting gallery was thrilling to watch. The reason it won’t be as good is players will get out of sync with their teammates. Some players will opt to stay in the KHL or SEL, still more will retire.

Are their some bad deals handed out to NHL players? Absolutely. But the people authorizing those deals have no one to blame but themselves. Some of the NHL’s worst contracts amount to just short of stealing by the players. On the other hand, the simple truth is that those contracts amount to taking some extra pennies from the tray at the store, in comparison locking out for a season is lighting your own wallet on fire.

America’s top youth league is kicking off their year as we speak. The USHL’s teams will take to the ice in preparation for another exciting season of fierce competition among the sixteen member teams. The USHL produces quality players not just for the NHL, but for colleges and universities across the nation. Nationally acclaimed hockey programs like North Dakota, Boston College, and the University of Denver along side schools like Rochester Institute of Technology a school which has produced just two NHL players, Vancouver Canucks teammates Chris Tanev and Steven Pinizzotto.

Tonight’s action will see the Roughriders throw down with the Fighting Saints, the Chicago Steel paying a visit to the Indiana Ice, to kick off the action for a league where it seems half or more of the players have committed to one university or another. You can find out more at the USHL web page, an d individual team sites.

Ever since the speculation of  Jordan Staal moving to the Carolina Hurricanes came into being, what the lines will look like in Raleigh has been question one. There are half a dozen possibilities worth considering, and immeasurable others.

Both Jordan and Eric Staal have played the wings, Jordan more often given his now former teammates. Skinner, and Ruutu have also played out of position as well. If the Canes decide to go loaded for bear and make their top line a three man threat lines could shake out like this( R-C-L) :

  • E Staal – J Staal – A Semin
  • J Tlusty – T Ruutu – J Skinner
  • J Jokinen – T Brent – C LaRose

If they look to go for something that looks more like a top nine than a top six:

  • J Jokien – E Staal – A Semin
  • J Tlusty – J Staal – J Skinner
  • A Stewart – T Ruutu – C LaRose

Personally speaking, I think the latter set of lines is more sustainable over the course of a season.  If Kirk Muller and company are smart, the they’ll make adjustments as the season goes along, and based on the competition. If they aren’t, well we’ll all get to refresh our lists of available NHL coaches. I suspect that a top criteria for figuring out who makes the cut this year at forward will be how well they play defensively because whatever else happens, even if a significant addition is made to the defense, the forwards will have to contribute to the defense of this team even more than last year.

Special thanks to today’s interviewee, Josh Mevris he is Owner, CEO and General Manager of the United States Hockey League franchise the Muskegon Lumberjacks and kindly agreed to put up with my questions and spend some of his time telling the world about an organization he is very proud to be part of.

 

What should fans know about you both as a person and a businessman?

 Jm: That I care deeply for the players, the fans who support us, and our staff. This is a labor of love for me, and I’m deeply passionate about it. I love the league, and I believe in the mission of the league.

What was the decision path that led you to purchasing a USHL team instead of say an OHL team, or NAHL franchise?

JM; I’ve been in junior hockey for the past 16 years, first as an asst coach, then a Head Coach, then as a Team President, and now an Owner – I’ve been a part of a NAHL team, and was thrilled to move that team up into the USHL. The CHL is a great league, I respect it very much, and I’m very impressed with how many of its teams operate, we can learn a great deal from them, however – I believe in what we’re doing, and at this point in time – my immediate future is in the USHL.

Why should young hockey players choose the USHL over other options?

JM: Look at the success of the players who have played in the USHL. Look at how prepared they are at the next level, and look at how many NHL’ers we’ve developed in a very, very short time (the modern USHL). In the USHL you keep your options OPEN, you can turn pro at 18, or you can stay an amateur and take all the time you need to develop – and you can get an education at the same time. You get drafted in the USHL – if you’re fast-tracking, you can skip college and then you can play in the AHL as a 19-yr old (You can’t do that when you are drafted from the CHL or Europe due to the NHL/NHLPA CBA), or if you’re not going to be ready for the AHL as a 19 or 20 yr old – you can stay in school and take more time, utilize every opportunity to fully reach your human potential before you turn pro – you can’t do that from the CHL – remember – that league “ends” at 20, and unless you’re ready to make the jump to the AHL then, your chances of reaching the NHL are minimal. The USHL prepares more players for the NCAA than ANY OTHER OPTION, and it relentlessly prepares players to be successful when they arrive as Freshmen. No other league or level does a better job of preparing a player for success at the college level than the USHL, it’s fact. The question is: why NOT the USHL?

What separates the Muskegon Lumberjacks coaching and off-ice staff from other teams?

Each team has its own way of doing things, we have ours. If you’re a player – then you need to look at the experience of the coaching staff, their backgrounds, past experiences as players themselves, what coaches they played for, what the facilities are, location, everything. From a perspective of the front office, look at the professionalism of the staff, where did they come from, what are their experiences. We’ve worked hard to assemble the organization we have, and it’s taken time do get the right people on board, but I believe that we finally have the right staff. Building one of these programs is not easy, it’s darned hard, and you make mistakes that you need to learn from along the way.

What style of hockey can fans unfamiliar with the USHL expect?

It’s a fast, skilled game. There is a lot of energy and emotion. It’s a tough, physical brand of hockey, and the players play HARD every night, there are no “off” nights in the USHL.

The Lumberjacks are only two years old, what’s been your proudest moment so far?

Making the playoffs our first year was a good moment, the refurbishments to the facility was a positive thing, last year was obviously a setback, but for me – it’s all about the scholarships and the players drafted – that is what motivates me – helping young men to improve and advance their careers, while teaching them valuable life lessons along the way. The wins will come, and building a winner takes time.

The USHL is rumored to be expanding again, is there any information on that you can share?

No, sorry. I don’t speak publicly on league matters that I am not in charge of, you need to interview the Commissioner for that stuff.

Matt Deblouw was drafted this spring by the Calgary Flames, what can you tell Flames fans about him?

Matt is extremely fast, and fluid as a skater, he is a very versatile player – in fact – I believe that his professional future will be as a “shut-down” center, a player who can play against the opposition’s top center and shut him down. Matt is an outstanding penalty-killer, and can skate all day – his lung capacity is astounding, so his recovery during the shift is exceptional. Matt can play physical or skill games and is brave. I think he’s got real professional potential.

Concussions have been the talk of athletics for a few years, how have the USHL and Muskegon Lumberjacks addressed this issue?

First we have to identify the issue: 1. What is the cause of the explosion in concussions? 2. What steps can we take the reduce the number of events that cause concussions? I don’t know that the Lumberjacks alone can do ANYTHING to reduce the number of concussions. Incidents that cause concussions are a matter of play, and the league and the referees have more “control” over that than an individual team does. What we do have control over – we certainly want to improve upon. First off is to make sure we have baseline readings – we do that with EVERY player right away when they come into our program. The 2nd step is to teach our players that they must report any contact to the head that causes any affect for them. We have taken great pains to make sure that our players are educated about head contact – from a playing point of view – we teach them, remedially, proper checking form, and we teach them to self-report any head contact issues. Our training and medical staff are up to date on every aspect of concussion recognition, and our trainer is instructed to watch the play specifically for any head contact that occur. The big key is to know when a player has been hit, and to identify if there is a concussion. The key is to know if a young man has an incident, and then to make sure that he doesn’t return to play until he is COMPLETELY healthy/recovered. From what I’ve been educated on (so far) the biggest problems occur when a player returns too soon and gets hit again – it’s the 2nd concussion that really hurts a player. Obviously a catastrophic event can far outweigh anything, but we want to make sure no one returns to play unless they are FULLY healed. As a league the USHL is about to introduce outstanding player education protocols, unique rules changes, and game play standards so the league is on the cutting-edge of trying to address this issue.

In addition to the hockey skills, what type of young man makes the Lumberjacks say “we want this guy on our team”?

Character. Life skills. Team skills. You don’t win with bad kids. I’ve done this too long to be fooled by talent. That’s why I had to step in last season and we had to remake the team – we didn’t have enough character on the team, in fact – we had too many “characters”. We’re looking for great people with strong value systems, that’s a Lumberjack.

 

 

You can find the Muskegon LumberJacks on the web: InsideMuskegonLumberjacks.com

The official team twitter account: @MuskegonJacks

Josh Mervis is @MuskegonJosh

Dear Owners,

 

You will lose the most. Short term, long term, medium term, it can’t work any other way.  It really is that simple, the playersmight lose a year of pay if they don’t make arrangements to play in another league, for you it isn’t that simple.

Short term:  Owners will lose ticket and advertising sales. You can’t sell tickets to events that aren’t happening, you can’t replace events that should still happen. Worse, the rot of disdain has already set in.

Medium term: Very few of the owners can afford to keep their concession staffs employed and paid for their normal hours without the sales of beer, soda, food, jerseys, tshirts and the rest. This means loss of talent. Loss of talent off the ice means you will have slower, less expert, and less composed staff. Poor staff means less sales when everything finally does open. Not just because things will be slower, but because things will be misplaced, lost, not ordered, and staff synergy will be non existent. Even more than pro-sports, retail and food service staff synergy is critical to performance. There is also the impact on businesses that do business with the NHL and in the arena districts across the continent.

Long term: For prospects who are kept in the CHL, USHL or European leagues a year longer instead of playing in the AHL or NHL this season, there is a loss in development. This isn’t just a loss in development for those prospects who are ready for the jump now it is a loss for the ones behind them. The players in their draft year who should be flying to their limits will be playing behind guys who should be in the big show. The guys who should be breaking into the development league and should be earning eight to twelve minutes a night, might get stuck at a lower level, only play four to six minutes, or not at all. This means less developed players over the next three to five drafts, whichwill translate to lower quality draft picks.Essentially with a lockout, each round’s value slides, half round to a full round in worth. Poorer players means poor ratings, attendance, and concessions.

Note, none of this is about this years on ice product, relationships with players that will drive salaries up even fast than the last lockout due to increased animosity. The current and near future on ice product will recover, mostly.

Stop the Insanity,