Joe Thornton is the name of the day. For those who someone missed it, he’s still one of the best centers in the game. He’s got a 200 foot game, plays physically, and nearly as dirty as Sidney Crosby or Danny Briere at times. He skates well, is one of the three best passers of the last 30 years, and he’s never won a cup.

Some teams and how he’d fit in:

  • Boston: a full circle story with him going back almost certainly means a trade package like Krejci,  Spooner or Khoklachev, O’Gara, a 1st and likely another prospect or pick goes back. If the roster isn’t ripped up too much he’s likely the cure for what ails the teams powerplay. He’s done the major hockey market media before so the adjustment would be slight, and he likely still knows his way around the North end.
  • Nashville: This is almost the perfect landing spot for him. Even if half the fanbase hated him yesterday, him landing their tomorrow in the wake of the defection of Suter and the Weber scare means they have not just a high end player to fill out the roster but a face for the forwards and a tutor for the young prospects in the system.
  • Chicago: while their search has been for a  second line center, this might just fill the whole. Kane, Hossa, Sharp and the other wingers probably wouldn’t complain too much about second line minutes next to him. 
  • Calgary: Jarome Iginla has never had a legit top line center to play with. Joe Thornton would be that. The Flames may not have what is needed to ship back in return, but career years for both as a duo aren’t out of the realm of possibility. 
  • Phoenix: The desert dogs are so far under the cap floor they’ve probably got mushrooms growing on their heads. Even if they added Thornton without sending back a single roster player they would still be almost two and a half million under the floor. Throwing Thornton down as an inducement to keeping Doan would probably help a tiny bit. 
  • Florida: If there’s one thing we know about Dale Tallon it is that he is not afraid to pull the trigger on a big trade. The Panthers need a good center, they also have one of Thornton’s buddies, Bryan Campell who stayed at Thornton’s place after being traded out of Buffalo. 
Obviously the pending CBA negotiations are going to be a big factor, especially for teams paying closer to the cap floor than the ceiling, but it should not be forgotten that Joe Thornton does have a NTC/NMC. If Jumbo Joe does get moved, it will likely be the biggest trade of the offseason. Yes, bigger than the possible Bobby Ryan or the just elapsed shuffling of Nash to the Rangers. Both are younger than Thornton, and talented, but neither has the potential to impact the game at the same level. 
Whoever is going fishing in the shark tank should be dangling, forwards, draft picks, forwards and more forwards. The Sharks one strength in terms of prospects is on the backend. Their forward pool is nothing to brag about, and years of trading for established talent and playoff finishes have left them drafting in the bottom half of each round each year for about a decade.

The current labor situation is filled with reasons to reexamine what we know. Let’s start with the facts:

  1. The NHL Ownership has staked out a position that appears to be a draconian assault on the players union.
  2. Anyone paying attention for the last two or three years knows that this CBA is first, second and third a dispute between the various classes of owners.
  3. The NHLPA in the last labor dispute was to put it in precise technical terms rolled and raped.
  4. Despite the war drum beating that led to the hiring of Donald Fehr, the PA has done little to convince anyone they won’t backdown.
  5. The NHL will not survive as we know it if a season is missed.
  6. Star players who take part in the process will take a hit in public perception, regardless of outcome if the dispute drags on.

It’s now been a week since word of the owners proposal hit the media. The owners haven’t made any public move to retreat from what many consider a declaration of war. It is hard to argue that this failure to address it does not in fact amount to an endorsement of the so called leak. The players association has not taken any visible position on this. No player I’m aware of has taken a position. Given Donald Fehr’s reputation, the number of active players, and likely PA employees who were part of the last lockout, it is unlikely that even if Fehr proves entirely ineffective, that the players will agree to the proposed terms.

The owner versus owner dynamic is still the axis of this fight that is most important. Teams like Montreal, Toronto and Boston can spend at a nearly unlimited level. Not every team can and even among the deep pocked teams with abundant fans not all will. Among the 29 ownership groups there are likely four camps of various size and cohesiveness. The first will be the owners bleeding money even with revenue sharing. While likely the tightest group, those who see a fix for their woes will be pliable, it could be an arena deal that gets them out of a bad situation and into more revenue, or could simply be reduction in the amount they are forced to spend.

Group two will be the group who are in a market they haven’t managed to saturate yet and are most sensitive to the effect a lockout will have, likely this will be the group of “swing voters” who go in whatever direction they think will prevent even the threat of a work stoppage. Group three is made up of the owners who believe they can spend their way to success and don’t care who they run over. Ten minutes before the next CBA is ratified they’ll have half a dozen ways to circumvent the parts they don’t like as part of their general operations plan.

Group four is the most interesting to me. This group will be the owners who have money and intend to keep it. They aren’t interested in a lockout, but won’t allow a deal that will affect long term revenue negatively. They will be in favor of any plan that keeps revenue sharing at just barely above the point where average management of an NHL team will keep it in existence. A fly on the wall who hears owners or their representatives talking the non ticket and arena sales revenues benefiting everyone will be listening to this group.

Earlier this year, two time Vezina winner, Jennings Award winner, Conn-Smyth Winner, and Stanley Cup Champion Tim Thomas would (likely) be taking the season off.  He has one year remaining on his contract, had some personal issues to deal with and even waived his no trade clause after years of balking at doing so to give the Bruins some room to work with. He’s also a politically aware American who went through the last NHL labor dispute. Given his level of play in 2003-4 in the AHL where he put up a .941 save percentage in 43 games, and then went to Finland during the lockout with a lot of other NHL talent and put up world beating numbers, the last lockout probably cost him a great deal of money. By making it know ahead of time he was dedicating the year to family, the hockey camps he’s protecting his health, his brand image by being semi-retired, and staying out of the infighting that will likely consume another NHL season.

There are three things the Flyers should want back in any trade that removes their captain and best player:

  1. Skill. It doesn’t matter if it is offensive skill, or defensive it has to be a player who will get top six or top two minutes.
  2. Leadership, if the worst for the Predators does happen and they lose their Captain after having lost Suter already, there is no way the current team is going succeed without an infusion of additional leadership.
  3. Marketability. The loss of Weber to the Predators is greater than the loss of Sundin to the Toronto Maple Leafs, greater than the loss of Lidstrom to the Detroit Red Wings and greater even than the loss of Gretzky for the Oilers, Kings or New York Rangers. He is their first great star. He is the team identity, he has a solid shot at the hall of fame, and their is no one on the roster to fill that void.

Of the players currently under contract to the Philadelphia Flyers, there are some players who are highly desirable. Danny Briere is talented, a playoff wizard, hasattitude and might just be the perfect player to slide into the gap in the Post Weber-Suter era, having played in Buffalo when they were at low ebb he’s seen unsightly situations before and still gone on. If only he didn’t have non-movement special (aka The Calgary Special). Claude Giroux is almost certainly off the table from the Flyers standpoint. If he’s not, you have to take his two concussions in four seasons into consideration.

Brayden Schenn and Sean Couturier are both young, dynamic and highly respected players. It is uncertain what they will be in the next two or three years. Schenn produced even in the playoffs, but might get less interest from the Predators for a certain lack of defensive prowess. Couturier on the other hand has a both offensive flair and defensive chops.

While recently added to the team, Wayne Simmonds could be a godsend to the Predators. He’s big, he plays a touch mean, he’s got skill and he put up 28 goals playing essentially third line minutes. The question with Simmonds is can he keep up or increase that production playing first or second line minutes? Hartnell is a bit older than any of the other forwards the Preds should consider except Briere, but there’s upsides. First he played in the Preds system before and knows what to expect from it and the fans. But, consistency is not Scott Hartnell’s thing. Over the last four seasons he’s scored 30, 14, 24, and 37 goals without having missed any time.

The Flyers don’t have an impressively deep prospect pool and any conversation for the Predators that doesn’t include Scott Laughton is probably a waste of time. Goaltending? Not the Flyers strong suit. Defense? The Predators might want a medium term fix like Coburn to hold things together until Josi, Blum, or someone else can step into the vacuum. I would, in the Predators shoes also take draft picks. Multiple second round picks are worthwhile, and even third, fourth and fifth round picks are common currency in trades and still able to produce solid NHL players. Weber himself is a second round pick, Chara a third round pick and both of the St Louis Blues goalies last year were ninth rounders.

In bringing players back to the Predators attention does have to be paid to what is going on in labor negotiations. If the owners succeed in shanking the NHLPA with the proposed radical reduction in revenue shared, the cap will drop severely. If that happens and they move too much money back to Nashville’s books, they might be forced to jettison dearly bought offensive depth.

Update at bottom

News broke that Shea Weber had signed an offer sheet with the Predators.

Breaking: Shea Weber agrees to offer sheet with Philadelphia. 14 years, upwards of $100 mil. Preds have 7 days to match. Wow!!
@DarrenDreger
Darren Dreger

Exact details are unknown, but Dreger suggest it is a huge deal. At $100million and fourteen years the compensation would only be two first round picks, a second and a third. As the Philadelphia Flyers are unlikely to finish outside the playoffs anytime soon, that means picks no higher than 16 and probably in the mid twenties. If the total compensation passes $7,835,220 a total of $109,693,080 that compensation would go to four first round picks.

That is where the question gets murky. With their own system depth at defense, and their own picks they can turn four first round picks into a number of players. Next years draft is topped by defensive stud Seth Jones, Marsellis Subban cousin of P.K. is also in that draft class, Jordan Subban is another defender due in the next two seasons. Offensively the Oilers probably need to shed one or two top six forwards to make room on the roster and under the cap for players like Eberle, Hall, Nugent-Hopkins, Yakupov and more. This could be a reformation of the team, and for the better. They’ve never been a balanced team. They do need something in the way of top 30% of the league offensive players which they do not have to compliment the teams defense and Rinne in net.

If the offer hits the four first tipping point it might, just possibly be wiser to decline to match.

The other important question to ask is: Will the Flyers deal fit into the current CBA, or will they get whacked like the New Jersey Devils did over the first Ilya Kovalchuk contract? At twenty-six he’s been mostly healthy through his career, but has had a concussion that cost him games, and the eastern conference as a whole, and the Atlantic Division in particular have a lot more larger, more physical forwards to counter than the Central division offered.

I’m told by Bob Mand @HockeyMand:

it’ll be 4 1st-round picks regardless. After five seasons, the AAV isn’t the basis of compensation – you divide the total salary by 5 y (so, for a 20 y, $2m deal the comp. would be four 1sts, not a 2nd-round pick). Unless total comp is under $40m, its automatically 4 firsts.

Logical, and makes the choice harder.

The owners reported first offer to the NHLPA has been covered in depth both here and elsewhere. Donald Fehr is known to be a firebrand. The possibilities for his response are nearly limitless. Depending on what level they want to respond to the ownership positions there are a bunch of things that could be included with an equal degree of feasibility. I’ll skip the logical middle ground for now and go into that later on.

Possible positions the NHLPA can respond with that are on an equal level to the owners proposals:

  • Pay at the daily breakdown rate of their salary during the playoffs.
  • Minimum NHL game and minute counts on entry level contracts for retention of the player as an RFA.
  • No entry level contract for undrafted players
  • Same pay at NHL, AHL and ECHL for entry level contracts
  • No confidence voting for NHL officials where a simple majority would mean the dismissal of said official (from linesman to announcer to commissioner)
  • Paid transportation to and from home for all players going to official team events
  • 100% pay for buyouts
  • Teams dressing less than the 18 skaters and 2 goaltenders each game would have to give each player in their system, regardless of the level they are assigned to,  a bonus equivalent to 1 days pay at the NHL level.
  • Unrestricted right to use team and league logos, names and imagery when endorsing other products.

 

A bit back this was part of a post of mine:

When the NHL CBA talks eventually become the top news in the hockey world, don’t think for a minute this will be as simple as owners vs players. This will be big market teams vs small, older players vs younger, stars vs role players. Divisions will center around revenue sharing both among teams and with players. Escrow figures and who if anyone will be be exempt from them are a likely topic as well. One of the favorite topics of pundits over the last month or two surrounding the next collective bargaining agreement is if there will or won’t be a one time get buyout period similar to the NBA’s to rid teams of bad contracts. An issue that might or might not come up is Olympic play. With the 2014 Olympics looming, some players will be very eager to represent their country even if the NHL doesn’t formally break for the festivities. Realignment will also end up on the table. I would not be terribly surprised to see ownership pushing for a unilateral right to rearrange divisions and schedule formats.

The proposal leaked last night reminds me forcibly of what I’ve heard called “The Best Buy Model”. When Best Buy did their rapid expansion from a regional chain to the largest electronics brick and mortar store, they did it with high end product, and they paid the best to be the best. Once they hit the top of the food chain, much of that changed. The sales teams lost commissions and their service quality spiraled. Their “Geek Squad” has been accused of multiple acts of misconduct along the way, and there is serious doubt as to the longterm viability of the entire company. Labor quality is inextricably linked to financial well being for companies. When labor is the product that is even more true. Hollywood can’t survive without reasonably able actors, directors and writers, nor can the NHL survive without both star and rank and file players. I don’t take the RDS reported ownership positions as set in stone, merely as ominous.

Going over each point there is a lot of ground the owners are failing to notice or simply failing to acknowledge.

Revenue split roll back:

Dropping the cap floor would work far more effectively. Setting it to about 38-40 million and letting the ceiling rise will have a better regulating effect on salaries than just dropping the ceiling with a rollback. Better still, it allows teams more room to pay entry level players and role players like role players.  Stars who hit UFA status can be paid 8 to 15 million a year if you you’re not paying third line wingers who play twelve minutes a night four million. Multiple stars. There will be less European talent staying in Europe, and less chance of the KHL or other leagues expanding to North America.

Contract length limits:

Don’t let your general manager give out long contracts. Just like might not allow more than one no movement clause or more than two or three no trade clauses. It’s your team, run it your way. Some players however can be counted on to play well even if they have a “lifetime contract”. I doubt anyone sees Jonathan Toews putting on forty pounds and no longer backchecking if he signs an eight year contract. I don’t think Shea Weber will start showing up to the rink and doing the morning skate with a 40 of Natty Ice if he gets an eight year contract. Are some players slugs? Sure. But offering a contract to any given player isn’t something a team is forced to do. Is there a risk a player will go elsewhere for two more years on deal? Yes of course, but all business is risk. Have the right environment and the type of players who it takes to win will stick to it.

Elimination of signing bonuses:

This is honestly the most silly. For entry level contracts there is a good reason for them. Teenagers have no or limited credit, and buying a house or condo or renting an apartment requires a credit check in most places. If you don’t pass, you don’t buy or rent, or do so at a much higher price. For older players, they should be like NMC’s or long term; given to players who are worth it only.

Flat contracts:

This one is self defeating for owners. It makes trading players who may have been eclipsed by younger players harder. Yes it will allow other teams to sign $100million contracts worth 80 million in the first 5 years and 20 in the last 10 to spend cap dollars and not real dollars, or trade the cap space to other teams, but it allows all thirty teams the same room.

Five Year Entry Level:

This is another one of those things that is self defeating. A player on a three year deal knows every game counts. Telling your aver 18 year old “Yep if you suck this year, in 5 years when you don’t have arbitration we’re gonna hold it against you.”  isn’t going to do much to motivate them to improve day over day, week over week, and year over year. It can’t, it won’t. Now, a minimum of two years played full time in the NHL until expiration or three full years in the AHL/ECHL is saner.

Next post on the CBA will be a same middle ground and or counter proposals for the NHLPA.

There are quite a few things that separate the good teams from the bad, and the perennial contenders from the serial pretenders. In some cases it is money. In others it is ownership that is either over involved or under-informed. Unrealistic pressure brought on by a fan base who has been whipped into a frenzy by local media owns a place on the list as well. But one of the clearest hallmarks of serial failure to flourish is an inability to draft and develop talent.

The Detroit Red Wings built their system over the years by draft talent they believed in regardless of the round and making those players perform to the best of their abilities within the Detroit system. Henrik Zetterburg 7th round pick, Pavel Datsyuk 6th round pick, Jonathan Ericsson 9th round pick, Joey MacDonald undrafted. All these players were on the Red Wings roster last season. All of them contributed to yet another playoff run.

Then there are the Edmonton Oilers. Once the NHL’s finest team, today a safe bet to be in the lottery. Why? That’s pretty easy. They can non draft and develop talent. In the drafts between 2000 and 2011, they took 36 defensemen. Of those defensemen, the only two to play more than 150 NHL games are Matt Greene (now with the Kings) and Theo Peckham. Pekham hits well, and frequently, blocks tons of shots and averages around 17 minutes an night over his career. Of the other defensemen, 28 have played between zero and fifty NHL games. 2 out of 36 is a pretty damned low success rate. Throwing darts at prospects names would work just as well.

Not all markets will support a team that can’t get out of it’s own way. Edmonton is lucky in that regard. They’ve put up with a pretty putrid product for the last half decade. But this CBA negotiation presents a unique chance to turn a dead letter, the current offer sheet system, into a way to get more talent into the NHL.

The idea is: Any team that misses the playoffs three years in a row, is required to submit at least one offer sheet per year each season after that they miss the playoffs. If a team has a player signed away, they get whatever the current compensation is, an additional 2nd round pick and a contract ceiling waiver for those draft picks. The team losing the prospect would also get protection for that year from any other prospects being signed away. The team losing the prospect could also choose which year they wanted each pick, potentially allowing a team with low talent levels to sign two or three players to offer sheets.

The team submitting the offer sheet gets the talent it can’t find or develop in its own. The team losing a prospect acquires additional draft picks they can trade either as picks or as prospects for mature talent or retain in their own system. Young players have a higher chance of being developed in a useful system, and experienced players will have the chance to play their whole career in one place, and have a chance to win.

It likely doesn’t stop there though. Player movement, particularly of hot young talent, generates merchandise sales, can impact advertising revenue, and obviously the product on the ice. Reasonably speaking teams with more talent are more likely to be entertaining and win. This means that the Boston Bruins, New York Rangers, Montreal Canadiens and other flourishing teams get to keep more of their money. An expansion market or team that was struggling due to the local economy could find a way back to the top with one or two careful offer sheets.

 

One of the things the NHLPA and Ownership desperately need to come together on is a reasonable system for suspensions and fines. Currently Brendan Shanahan and the Department of Player Safety can decide to suspend a player for a hundred games with no real recourse for the player, the players association or the team that player is a member of. Not only is there no written and unambiguous system for fines and suspensions there is no sane appeal system.

As we’re currently experiencing with the Raffi Torres suspension, there is no deadline on the reviewer to enact their decision. Worse the appeals court as it were is the person who put Shanahan in place. So Bettman is put in the position of either undermining his employee(s) or looking ineffectual. Further either call he makes is a judgement call. As it is, he can simply drag out announcing any finding until after the suspension is served in full. Without a firm time limit no one even has firm ground to stand on to say he’s taking too long.

Any arbitrator should not be an NHL employee. It should certainly not be decided by any one person. Either a group of three players or player representatives together with a retired official as tie braking judge and three general managers or team governors should be involved, or possibly an entirely independent arbitrator.

But before there can be an appeals system, there needs to be a valid process for discipline. Currently, as evidenced by the spaghetti thrown at the wall approach we’ve seen this year there is no system, and we don’t even know what’s a capital offense and what’s jay walking. As inadequate as many feel some of the punishments spelled out in the NHL rulebook are, at least they exist.

The jockeying for position at the negotiations has already begun. It would be nice if both sides remembered this minor issue while trying to steer the league into the future. When you can’t get through a single playoff series without one or both teams and their fanbases, not to mention the neutral fans questioning the system, its efficacy, and the quality of it’s agents on a daily basis there is more than a problem, you have a threat to the long term health of the league.