Posted on: December 5, 2011 11:07 pm
Edited on: December 6, 2011 11:27 am

Realignment winners and losers

By Brian Stubits

In one hour of the Board of Governors convening in Pebble Beach, Calif., the NHL changed radically. It actually reverted back to the way it used to be, just with a lot more teams (you can thank expansion).

So with all that said, here's our Winners and Losers of realignment. Let's get right to it.


Detroit Red Wings and Columbus Blue Jackets

They wanted more games within their time zone and fewer trips to the West. Mission accomplished. Now those two will be with teams in Chicago, St. Louis, Dallas, Nashville, Minnesota and Winnipeg. With only one visit to every non-conference arena, that means each team will only play four games in the Pacific time zone as opposed to the eight they currently play.

Dallas Stars

In that same vein, the Stars have to be thrilled with this plan. Considering they have been playing 11 games in the Pacific time zone, they now also cut that down to four games. These things will greatly help the fan bases watch more games and, in theory, more fan support.

"Everyone knew our position on this," GM Joe Nieuwendyk said. "We wanted out of the Pacific Division. This makes total sense for us."

The mid-Atlantic

Particularly the Washington Capitals. Under the original four-conference format, the Keystone State rivalry was broken up and the Capitals and Penguins were in separate divisions. Not under this. Now the Atlantic Division is staying completely intact and it's adding the Capitals (Carolina Hurricanes, too). Who doesn't want to continue to see six games a season between the Flyers and Penguins? Now we'll also get six between the Penguins and Capitals. The Caps will now get to rekindle all those old Patrick Division rivalries.

"We understood, particularly in the mid-Atlantic region, which rivalries were very heavily embedded," Gary Bettman said.

Displaced fans

Now if you're a Devils fan living in Los Angeles, you are guaranteed you will get a chance to see New Jersey play in person every season without having to hop on a flight. The same can be said for all of those ...

Northeastern snowbirds

All those people from the Northeast and Canada that have their parents living in Florida? This will be nice for them. There are obviously a lot of people who migrate south for the winter and they will get an extra visit to the teams in Florida. The local scribes will appreciate this, too. Many have already dubbed this the snowbird conference.


The Florida duo

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Of the four votes that were against this realignment plan, it's a good bet that two of them came from the Panthers and Lightning. The two teams still have each other, but that's it. Now their closest division foes are in Buffalo and Boston. There will be a lot of long flights to Canada and New England.

But there are two bits of good news for the Florida teams. They will sell a few more tickets, albeit to opposing fans. The Maple Leafs, Canadiens and Bruins will be much bigger hits for them than the Hurricanes and Jets.

The other bit is more games in Canada for the players. At least it's good news to Panthers center Stephen Weiss. “We do a lot of travel anyway. I think that would probably make it even more,” Panthers center Stephen Weiss said. “But that's the nature of the beast. It's where we live, and you've got to do what you've got to do.”

The players

The only potential speed bump in all of this? The NHLPA. It won't be fond of all the increased travelling, which there will be or pretty much everybody. With guaranteed trips to every arena, that's a few additional trips cross country. It will hit players at some point, travelling is already one of the worst parts of the job.

Expansion foes

Yes, this format seems perfect for either two more or two fewer teams. And contrary to popular belief, contraction isn't likely to happen. So more expansion is possible. The same cities will be the candidates; Kansas City, Quebec City (if they don't get the Coyotes to move to them), Seattle, Las Vegas and Houston. Arenas are needed in most of those places -- K.C. has that part covered -- first, so it wouldn't be for a few years at least. But it could happen eventually. Andy Strickland of True Hockey says that is already being discussed.

Islanders, Devils and Hurricanes

OK, all isn't completely perfect for that Atlantic Division. These three teams are at a pretty big deficit when it comes to resources vs. the other teams in their division. It's going to be tough sledding for these teams to get into the playoffs with the Penguins, Flyers, Rangers and Capitals around. This is probably akin to the Group of Death that you always hear about in the soccer World Cup.

Photo: Getty Images

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @BrianStubitsNHL on Twitter.

Posted on: November 13, 2011 11:40 am

Report: NHLPA finds unreported team revenues

By Brian Stubits

Every day I look at what the NBA is going through with its lockout and hope hockey doesn't face the same, again. I keep my hopes buoyed by the belief that so many of the people currently involved went through it then and don't want to lose another season.

But perhaps a bit of good faith in negotiating has slipped away after a report from Larry Brooks of the New York Post.

We can’t tell you whether this is a case of hide-and-seek, but Slap Shots has learned from several sources that after exercising its right for the first time to audit select NHL clubs, the NHLPA believes it has discovered unreported revenues from last season.

This, in addition to a dispute over whether the $25 million Glendale, Ariz., paid the NHL to keep the Coyotes from absconding to Winnipeg should be considered hockey-related revenue, is what is holding up issuance of the escrow refunds to the players and checks to the owners who qualify for the second round of 2010-11 revenue sharing.

We’re told Washington and Nashville are among at least a handful of clubs that have been cited for failure to declare hockey-related revenue, with the matter now more likely than not to be decided in arbitration.

You can credit the NHLPA's findings to Donald Fehr, the new union head who ordered the audit to be done, something the NHLPA hadn't done in past years. I doubt knowledge of this won't harden Fehr's stance as he prepares to begin negotiating a new collective bargaining agreement after the All-Star break.

It's possible that this missing income was unintentional; I don't want to rule that part out. But it doesn't seem likely and the appearance certainly isn't pretty for the owners. The question remains and will remain; how much had owners been withholding in past seasons? The NHLPA can't find that out now as the books are closed.

Brooks also reports that a high-ranking executive identified only as one from a team that is doing well on and off the ice that players “will get 48 to 50 percent, and there will be a rollback” in the next CBA. Certainly this will be the owners' stance to begin with, but making it happen is another thing altogether. The players are receiving 57 percent of the revenue right now, it will be tough to get them to back down much off that number, especially now that it was revealed some teams weren't being forthright and the players weren't getting all of their 57 percent.

Now please don't let this hamper the negotiations. I'm not ready for another lockout, the offseason is bad enough.

Photo: Getty Images

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @BrianStubitsNHL on Twitter.

Category: NHL
Posted on: September 20, 2011 3:16 pm
Edited on: September 20, 2011 3:50 pm

Goal verification line, change to net OK'd by NHL

By Brian Stubits

There has been a late addition to the changes for the upcomming season as the NHL Board of Governors was given conditional approval to implement the verification line in the goal as well as a plastic skirt and a thinner mesh for the net. This is according to TSN in Canada.

The line is expected to be in place by the start of the regular season in all venues whereas the changes to the net will take a few months to prepare, assuming the NHLPA gives its consent, which is likely.

The verification line is a second line that sits inside the goal zone designed to help review officials determine if the puck fully crossed into the goal. The concept is that if the puck touches the green second line, then you know the goal is good.

The idea was tested at the Research and Development Camp earlier this summer and that carried over into the preseason game between the Maple Leafs and Senators last night.

It is unlikely to save us from any more reviews on goals, it's just supposed to help the officials more easily determine goal or no goal. My initial reaction left me wondering what the difference is in the puck touching a second line or not touching the first line. But then when you realize the red line has a tendency to bleed while the green line will be actually in the ice, it makes more sense. The line will remain straight. The additions of the thinner mesh and plastic apron that will make the big difference in the visiblity.

Here is a little more explanation on the goal verification line from the R&D camp. The shallower nets will not be instituted yet, perhaps not for another year or two until it gets full approval from the NHL and NHLPA.

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @BrianStubitsNHL on Twitter.

Posted on: September 15, 2011 3:20 pm
Edited on: September 15, 2011 5:03 pm

Look at NHL CBA with exactly one year to go

By Brian Stubits

We don't do this often, but this one is worthy ... On this day in NHL history, the current CBA was signed in 2005, bringing an end to the lockout after an entire missed season.

Hockey has had life a bit care-free in the past year in regards to labor, watching the NFL and NBA go through their own lockouts. The NFL has since worked out a deal without any meaningful games being missed. The NBA, meanwhile, is in danger of missing the start of the season, if not a lot more.

But the care-free days are about to wind down. The clock begins ticking now on reaching a new deal to avoid another crippling lockout. It has taken six years, but the league finally seems to have recouped from the wiped-out season, seeing popularity levels returning to and in some cases exceeding the pre-lockout highs. To put it simply, things are going alright for the NHL these days.

You don't need me to tell you how jeopardizing another labor deadlock would be to the sport's growth. There are already multiple cities facing the possibility of losing their teams partly because of a lack of fan support. I'm sure a work stoppage will really help solve that problem ...

The biggest problem that seems to be on the horizon is the ever-escalating salary cap and floor. As each continues to rise quickly, it is doing the smaller markets and those with less money no favors. They are already losing money and their operating costs are forced to go up at an accelerated rate.

On the other side of the equation, the quickly rising ceiling is allowing the teams with greater resources to stay ahead of the pack. I touched on the landscape of the East starting to take shape into a very static conference because of well-off franchises getting more room under the cap to help maintain their lofty positions. This exact problem has caused a lot of the friction the NBA is currently dealing with.

The summer spending spree we just went through will undoubtedly give ammunition to owners claiming salaries are skyrocketing. Expect to hear a lot of "Ed Jovanovski was given $4.125 million per year for Pete's sake!" arguments being made.

Kelly McParland at the National Post wrote about how this year's free-agent blitz was planting some seeds of labor doom, insisting that the owners will only have themselves to blame. But the counterargument to that angle is that many of the owners' hands were forced by the salary floor rising, inducing them to overspend.

Out of the four major sports leagues in North America, it is pretty much undebateable which can least afford a stoppage; it's the NHL. It already has the lowest fan support of the four sports as it is. It can't afford to lose the momentum it has going (and the potential of it growing a lot more if the NBA season is taken away, leaving just hockey). You think hockey suffers from a lack of coverage now? Another lockout would set it back further.

There is no doubt the best thing that can be done to avoid another stoppage is get to work on a new collective bargaining agreement as soon as possible. You might remember there is a new lead man for the NHLPA, none other than Donald Fehr. In case you need a reminder, Fehr was the man in charge of baseball's players union when that sport suffered a strike of its own. I still own a ball from the World Series That Never Was from 1994, an awful reminder of the fall without baseball.

I think Fehr will forever have a taint in a lot of sports fans' eyes as the man that cost the MLB a season. I was still in school during the strike, but my memories of the way Fehr was portrayed was as the bad guy in the whole scenario.

Nonetheless, he is going to be the point man for the players in negotiations and from their point of view, there are few better to have on your side. Fehr plans on doing a lot of travelling the remainder of this calendar year, visiting every team and learning about the sport and all of his clients. After that, hopefully negotiations begin in earnest and the uneasiness that is seeping in can be put to sleep before it truly breaks out.

The biggest hope that the sides will swallow their pride and make concessions to sign a new labor deal is that the lockout is something many of these players and owners have gone through. Nobody would want to have to go through it again. It's those memories that can ultimately be the biggest incentive to find common ground. I mean they decided to bring the shootout to the NHL after the lockout to help interest fans (needless to say, most fans I see don't like it one bit), can you imagine what they would have to bring to the game whenever they would start playing again?

Every time labor battles are being fiercely fought you always hear the mantra of "think of the fans!" In this case, I don't think it will be too tough for the parties involved to do just that. The only question is if that will deter them from holding their ground.

And on a personal note, I hope they think of the writers, too. I don't want to spend my summer like the guys at the Eye on Basketball blog keeping daily tabs on labor talk. Nobody wins in that scenario.

Photo: Getty Images

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @BrianStubitsNHL on Twitter.

Category: NHL
Posted on: September 15, 2011 12:29 pm

NHL, NHLPA adopt new social media policy

By Brian Stubits

The NHL has sunk its teeth into the Twitter regulation business. As a result, no more will you hear from your favorite athletes on Twitter on game days. That's the result of the league's new policy, which was agreed to by the NHLPA.

The whole concept behind the policy is to make sure sensitive material isn't being revealed. I'm sure it had a little to do with organizations seeking some help, possibly feeling that their players could a) tweet said sensitive material, or b) be distracted by the social medium.

“The policy is sensible,” Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly said. “It lets our players and clubs participate substantially in the opportunity of social networking while identifying and mitigating some of the risks. To date, our players and clubs have been exemplary in connecting with fans on social networks, and fans should not expect to see any material difference as a result of this policy."

Specifically, the policy calls for a blackout period of two hours before the game until the player's media obligations are completed. This has been a window of time that has pretty much been quiet anyway. Players haven't exactly been active in the locker room or on the bench.

For hockey operations staff members, the ban kicks in at 11 a.m. on game days. So Blue Jackets GM Scott Howson, for example, won't have much to say on game days, even if it's something as innocuous as "GAME DAY! See you there Jackets fans!" for an example.

My visceral reaction is to reject regulation, it feel so draconian. It is a chilling effect, even if it is a restriction that was already being adhered to by 99.9 percent of the involved parties, if not 100 percent.

"To date our players and clubs have been exemplary in connecting with fans on social networks," Daly said.

So withdrawing the knee-jerk reaction to regulation, this simply establishes a guideline. Now teams would have actual recourse if a player were tweeting, say, during intermission. Although I think that would be pretty cool. Anything that would separate the NHL from the other leagues and make it stand out, I'm all for. But I understand this would never, ever fly and it's unlikely players would tweet mid-game even if they could.

The biggest tweeter of them all, Paul Bissonnette of the Coyotes (@BizNasty2point0), doesn't seem to have an issue with it.

“People asking about NHL's new policy on Twitter. I think its good. I don't even play much and I don't tweet on game days. Plenty of off days,”

And for those who are still resisting Twitter (I was once one of you, but it is truly perfect for sports fans) then this will have no impact whatsoever on your hockey fandom.

Photo: Getty Images

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @BrianStubitsNHL on Twitter.

Posted on: June 21, 2011 4:07 pm
Edited on: June 21, 2011 5:43 pm

NHL tweaks head hit, boarding rules

The NHL and the its players union agreed to broaden rules that govern hits to the head and boarding.

The changes --- which had already approval by the league’s general managers and the player-run competition committee --- cover both boarding (Rule 41) and illegal checks to the head (Rule 48) got the OK from the board of governors, who met at New York on Tuesday. Both rules were be in place for the start of the 2011-12 season.

Under the revised boarding rule, players must avoid or minimize contact if his opponent is in a defenseless position. (It will be up to the referee to determine if the player who was checked put in a vulnerable position immediately before contact.) A penalty will called if the collision with the defenseless to hit the boards “violently or dangerously.”

As expected, the words “lateral or blind side” were taken out of Rule 48, which was put in place late in the 2009-10 season after a rash of concussions. Now, a penalty (and possibly supplemental discipline) will be assess whenever an opponent’s head is “targeted and the principal point of contact.”

Here is the complete wording for the new rules:

Rule 41 – Boarding

41.1 Boarding - A boarding penalty shall be imposed on any player who checks or pushes a defenseless opponent in such a manner that causes the opponent to hit or impact the boards violently or dangerously. The severity of the penalty, based upon the impact with the boards, shall be at the
discretion of the Referee.

There is an enormous amount of judgment involved in the application of this rule by the referees. The onus is on the player applying the check to ensure his opponent is not in a defenseless position and if so, he must avoid or minimize contact. However, in determining whether such contact could have been avoided, the circumstances of the check, including whether the opponent put himself in vulnerable position immediately prior to or simultaneously with the check or whether the check was unavoidable can be considered. This balance must be considered by the referees when applying this rule.

Any unnecessary contact with a player playing the puck on an obvious "icing" or "off-side" play which results in that player hitting or impacting the boards is "boarding" and must be penalized as such. In other instances where there is no contact with the boards, it should be treated as "charging."

Rule 48 - Illegal Check to the Head

48.1 Illegal Check To The Head – A hit resulting in contact with an opponent's head where the head is targeted and the principal point of contact is not permitted. However, in determining whether such a hit should have been permitted, the circumstances of the hit, including whether the opponent put himself in a vulnerable position immediately prior to or simultaneously with the hit or the head contact on an otherwise legal body check was unavoidable, can be considered.

48.2 Minor Penalty – For violation of this rule, a minor penalty shall be assessed.

48.3 Major Penalty – There is no provision for a major penalty for this rule.

48.4 Game Misconduct – There is no provision for a game misconduct for this rule.

48.5 Match Penalty – The Referee, at his discretion, may assess a match penalty if, in his judgment, the player attempted to or deliberately injured his opponent with an illegal check to the head.

If deemed appropriate, supplementary discipline can be applied by the
Commissioner at his discretion.
-- A.J. Perez

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @cbssportsnhl on Twitter

Category: NHL
Posted on: March 2, 2011 5:52 pm
Edited on: March 2, 2011 8:53 pm

Professor: NHL players take "aggressive posture"


NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman encouraged reporters before the NHL All-Star Game not to read a ton into the fact the league’s players recently tapped Don Fehr as their union head. 

"With respect to the NHLPA, I can tell you I am glad that there's an executive director and I look forward to building a relationship with Donald Fehr," Bettman said minutes before the exhibition in January. "We certainly will have lots to discuss. But collective bargaining is a year and a half away. We've got plenty of time on the current collective bargaining agreement. Three major sports besides us go first."

A couple professors quoted in Wednesday's USA TODAY, however, said NHL fans -- many still stung from the lockout that wiped out the 2005-05 season -- may have reason to be concerned. 

"That certainly suggests that NHL players are thinking about a more aggressive posture," says Geoffrey Rapp, a professor of law at the University of Toledo College of Law. 

Much of the media’s attention is focused on the quickly expiring collective bargaining agreement in the NFL. NBPA chief Billy Hunter has told NBA players to prepare for a lockout when the league’s current CBA ends in June. Major League Baseball’s deal with the MLPBA expires in December, but it’s not expectied to be as contentious as some of the agreements Fehr hammered out as head of that union for more than two decades.

"We have an at-war attitude in the NFL" says Bob Bruno, director of the Labor Education Program at the University of Illinois School of Labor & Employment Relations. "We have an at-war attitude in the NBA. And we may very well be getting to that in the NHL."

Fehr told reporters during the all-star weekend that he was still learning the ins and outs of the league’s CBA, which arose out of the lockout. The owners waited out the players and they got their salary cap, an element that union bosses typically don’t take kindly to -- even if it has gone up each offseason since it was instituted.

As the league begins negotiations on a new domestic television contract set to expire at season’s end, the pot will certainly be bigger. Players’ share of revenue (57%) maxed out last season as the league reached $2.7 billion --  meaning ownership gets to keep the anything over that without sharing it with the players. Minimum salaries have gone from $450,000 to $525,000 and the salary cap for each team sits at $59.4 million, $20 million above what it was coming out of the lockout. 

While who shares how much of the revenue pie will certainly be an issue, there are other factors to consider. TSN’s Darren Dreger reported this week that many of the league’s general managers have an issue with the rule that limits teams to four American Hockey League call-ups after March 1. (Teams are still allowed emergency recalls and the restriction ends when a club’s AHL affiliate finishes the season.) 

It's believed the NHLPA is concerned with its veteran players, perhaps losing ice time to call-ups late in the year, along with the optics for the fans who pay to watch NHL players.  Plus, there's an adverse financial effect players who are in the NHL at the deadline would feel if they were openly shuttled back and forth over the remainder of the season.

There’s also the issue of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Russia, which the NHL has yet to commit to despite the fact that the players are on board. 

  "If you feel compelled to write about collective bargaining, go do it on another sport, please," Bettman quipped in January. “We've got plenty of time until it's us."

Call me a worrier.

Photo: Getty Images
Category: NHL
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com