With the CBA negotiations looking more and more likely to vent heat from both sides, the possibility we will see a large number of high end UFA’s all at once is growing daily. In addition to those top UFA’s this season: Suter, Parise, Semin, Selanne, Whitney, Jagr, Parenteau, Holmstrom, Garrison and more if there is cancellation of this season, the next year the market gets even more mouthwatering. Add in some or all of: Crosby, Iginla, Staal, Quick, Alfredsson, Backstrom (goalie), Perry, Getzlaf, Thomas (goalie), Vishnovsky, Lupul, Streit, Hartnell, Clowe, Howard and well, you get the picture. Coming out of the last lockout we saw a number of players sign with friends to teams and go for it all. We also so the Avalanche load up with a who’s who of hockey in their last cup win.

Even going with just the players from this year, that’s more talent than most teams boast.  Even cup winning teams. If the labor negotiations stretch to a point where the season is shortened, say camp starting the week before (American) Thanksgiving, and the first real games being played on December first, organizations hungry for a championship might be willing to accommodate the wishes of a group of players who all wanted to play together for one (shortened) year for a reasonable sum.

Say for example the Coyotes sale does actually go through. They currently have 17 players signed for next season, and total cap hit of just under $35,000,000. If they somehow magically (wanted and got) all nine of the above, to sign one year deals for $3,300,000 they could trade a few other pieces for roster space and draft picks or assign players back to the AHL, and still have wiggle room under the cap for injuries, and or other additions. The nine would have a total cap hit of $29.7 million, and for a team in need of a shot in the arm that could be just what the accountant ordered. Even Nashville would be in position to make a similar move, they have only 12 players signed for next year and already have a solid goaltender.

Assuming the dispute did cancel next season, the possibility of one or more super-teams goes up. A team that could play a duo consisting of a combination of a well rested Quick, Thomas, and/or Howard in net is absolutely frightening. If they managed to push each other to still higher levels of performance the potential goaltending records for the year are absolutely mind-numbing. Forward lines that had Parise, Staal, Iginla, Afredson, Crosby, Semin, Selanne would be unlike anything the NHL has ever seen. We aren’t talking an All Star semi-competitive practice billed as a game, or even an Olympic campaign where the players practice together for a couple weeks. We’re looking at months of synergy building practice, play, and travel from some of the biggest talents in the game.

Good News Bad News For Both the Bruins and Capitals

Item 1: The Bruins solved Holtby.

Item 2: The Capitals won anyways.

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With Raffi Torres gone for the foreseeable future it will be interesting to see if the much discussed penalty free buyout is included in the next CBA if the Coyotes or whoever they are and wherever they are by next fall, decide to use this on him. His contract isn’t outrageous unless of you believe he shouldn’t have one at all, so it is possible a buyer would decide to bury him in the AHL if he didn’t change his game.

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Missing defensemen are becoming more common. The Florida Panthers are playing without Jason Garrison. The Philadelphia Flyers are definitely missing the services of Grossman. The Boston Bruins will very likely not put Corvo on the ice next game after he blocked a shot earlier today.  Hal Gill hasn’t played in a while for the Nashville Predators.

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The Florida Panthers series against the New Jersey Devils has to be the most entertaining series in the opening round. The tempo has been solid, the play tight. There’s been offense, there’s been defense and lots of drama. You might not be used to seeing half of one roster on TV and in arena advertisements a few dozen times on your way to your seat, but hot damn the actions been good.

The Philadelphia Flyers and Pittsburgh Penguins on the other hand have been painful to watch. The sloppiest hockey the NHL has seen since the preseason following the lockout. Stupid penalties by players who should know better, and goaltending who’s most consistent well executed play is digging the puck out of the back of the net.

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For those who missed it, the NHL network is playing OHL games midday you can get a look at top prospects like Cody Ceci in action.

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How good it is for the NHL as a whole and the teams individually for both the Florida Panthers and Phoenix Coyotes to win their first division titles can’t be understated. Florida will probably not ever produce NHL superstars at the rate that Ontario does, but there is a big enough population there so that even if only 1% of teens reach the USHL, division one college or CHL level hockey, that is still a very large number of young men. Arizona isn’t a small state either and it could if the Coyotes stay and are successful match Saskatchewan or Newfoundland. Between the two states you’ve got a population almost equal to all of Canada which is why they ar ethere in the first place: advertising and tv money if nothing else.

NHL Collective Bargaining Agreement:

One of the things that might make sense to add into the next CBA is a provision to allow a larger roster from the trade deadline forward and or additional NHL contract.

The argument for the first is that if additional roster players are allowed (under the salary cap)  players who are injured won’t be rushed back at the potential expense to their career or long term health. Assuming the number were two additional players on the roster teams could let new acquisitions, call ups and free agent signings integrate into the system while players who are listed “day to day” or otherwise hoped to be back soon are recuperating. It is also a way for teams to integrate black aces and evaluate players heading into the playoffs for potential post season play and or trades around the draft.

The possibility of adding additional contracts, assuming they will drop back below the ceiling on July 1, allows for the signing of free agents coming out of the CHL, USHL and college. Getting those players into the fold and giving them more time to get grounded in the type of physical fitness expectations a team has can be crucial to fitting them into the system sooner. We’ve all seen the affects of “the rookie wall” or the difficulty many college players have with going from the short college schedule to the 82 game marathon that is the an NHL season is going to make serious inroads into the adjustment period of these players.

NHL Entry Draft

One of the purposes of televising the NHL Entry Draft, and plastering the prospects all over NHL.com is that it’s good marketing to give people a glimpse of the future. So why is it done so erratically, and mostly half-assed? There are a couple prospects blogging for the NHL when there schedule permits which is fantastic. But can someone explain why there are no USHL  or QMJHL players? How about a video blogger? Of all the hundred or so players likely to be taken in the first three rounds, there has to be be at least one in either of those two leagues, who can write intelligibly or who’s engaging enough to be a good vlogger. The NHL needs to remember it is marketing to people across about six or seven decades, the US, Canada (yes even Quebec) and that promoting any of its development leages is good for both parties.

NHL Playoff Official Infractions

Last year the official infraction of the NHL playoffs was “too many men”. I think we were treated to more too many men calls in the first round of the playoffs last year than we saw in the entire regular season, the second round didn’t provide any let up. Judging by all the noise being made in the wake of the latest GM meetings, it looks like its set for a reprise of the leading role that made it a household name last year.  It also looks like it’ll be sharing the marquee with the always entertaining goaltender interference.

Given that these are possibly the two most inconsistently called rules in the book I predict a great deal of teeth gnashing, swearing and wrath, Social media will doubtless be awash in a deluge of reactions to each call. Goaltender interference has gotten so muddied that when the Anaheim Ducks had a goal disallowed against the Boston Bruins in their most recent matchup Bruins fans were described the call as something organic and odoriferous. In common parlance when the average homer fan shows disgust for calls that go their teams way “a bad thing” for NHL officiating.  By the letter of the rule it was the right call, but the rule is largely ignored, and called for things so widely scattered even knowing the rule doesn’t help anyone figure out what should and shouldn’t be an infraction.

Call it a NFL strike, call it a lockout, call it a stoppage the NHL should call it a golden opportunity. Matt Jordan (@InfamousMJ) and I were discussing how the National Hockey League should respond to a non season by American sports rating juggernaut. The short and simple answer is aggressively. There are three key things they need to do. It’s arguable that they should do them regardless of what happens to the NFL, but inexcusable to do nothing in the even of a work stoppage.

Step one, secure a better national television deal.  Easier said than done, but with the popularity of the Winter Olympics, a lack of the NFL, and the success of the Winter Classic, easier now than five years ago, and probably easier than at any time since Gretzky was on the ice.  The deal should specifically include former NHL players as announcers and analysts. They should be low on bias, high on knowledge and above all engaging. We all know how deep the homerism runs in many of the regular announce guys, and while hearing the virtues of a certain number 87 or 8 or 91 extolled on a nightly basis work great when you are calling for the home squad in a regionally available game, doing the same when two other teams are on the ice is just inexcusable.

Step two, attack the NFL time slots. People who are football fans arrange their entire week around the game, tailgating, the game, pregame shows, post game shows and yet more games and coverage. Stacking Sunday with three high profile, high energy, and may play into traditional geographic rivalries of the NFL would be a huge boon. The first three weeks of the stoppage would be critical. Having a 1pm Boston Bruins – New York Rangers game, followed by a4pm Chicago Blackhawks – Detroit Red Wings tilt, and a 7pm Dallas Stars – Colorado Avalanche could draw huge ratings from traditional hockey fans and traditional sports fans alike. Following it the next week with a Stanley Cup Final rematch, and then the Capitals – Penguins,  and Sabres – Kings or something similar that drew on big name talents, and big markets. Monday night could be even more critical than the Sunday games though. Having a top flight on announce and studio team, a long enough time slot for pregame, and post game show and a good half hour of general NHL chatter to point to other interesting games on the weeks schedule. Ideally all of the Monday Night Hockey games would be playoff rematches or competitive rivalries from within divisions.  Realistically, their should be just one game Monday that everyone can talk about the next day.

Step three, don’t apologize. The shameless courting of soccer moms as the saving demographic for hockey is so nonsensical I won’t waste any more wordage on it. Mixed Martial Arts has blown up faster than Charles Barkley did after he hung up his sneakers.  Movie franchises like Saw, and the never ending series of vampire movies, books and television shows such as Underworld, True Blood and Twilight show that the American populace as a whole has no real aversion to blood or violence in its entertainment.  So when Shawn Thornton and Derek Boogard square off, the camera crews should not have been directed to pan the audience or get a nice shot of the ice girls, or the announce crew.

With even decent execution of these three things, the NHL could slide up the American sports ladder, and maybe, just maybe not only avoid contraction, but be able to expand in both America and Canada. If things were executed well, it’s not outside probability for the teams struggling in Tampa and Sunrise Flordia, and in Phoenix Arizona, or Columbus Ohio to grab enough new fans to take root and grow the sport hugely. Its conceivable that with a work stoppage, proper exploitation of it by the NHL and NHLPA that in ten or twelve years we could have a forty team NHL. New teams could be set down in places like Indianapolis, Houston, Winnipeg, Quebec City, Las Vegas, Seattle, and who knows, maybe the Toronto and Montreal areas could support second teams.  On top of the potential work stoppage by the NFL, the NBA collective bargaining agreement was made for six years back in 2005.