Monday Morning Considerations
It has just seemed too scripted. Since like, May.
There was always going to be a NHL lockout and there was never going to be hockey in October and November. Neither side in the NHL labour battled "wanted" it that way, but only if the solution was that they got a slam-dunk victory dropped in their laps in August or September. Both said repeatedly they wanted the season to start on time, but neither the owners nor the players did anything much to make that happen.
The owners offered up a shocking initial proposal that would have pushed the NHL Players Association back 20 years. The union just basically declined to participate in the process by a peculiar form of passive aggressiveness.
Why did both sides do it the way they did it? Well, the NHL had two major factors motivating its approach. First, they had their backs up with Don Fehr. After dealing with years of union dysfunction and chaos - there were times when they literally had no idea who to contact in the NHLPA offices - they were frustrated to have to deal with Fehr, who they saw from the beginning as a person who wouldn't be able to close.
Second, labour resolutions in other sports all approximated more of a 50-50 split in revenues that the NHL had. No self-respecting NHL owner was going to leave things anywhere near the 57-43 split that was in place in the final year of the old deal.
And the players? Fehr made this about 2004. This was never about getting a deal in time not to miss any paycheques. It was about recovering the collective integrity and backbone that was "lost" in the last lockout. That simply couldn't be done by getting a deal done in the summer. The union came to believe that negotiating and compromising and getting to work in September would be interpreted only as a sign of weakness. Fehr, who was at the mutineers beck and call when Paul Kelly was executed in the middle of the night, had convinced the union that compromise and practicality would send a message that the union was soft.
The combination of these two positions, plus years of mistrust and mutual enmity and propaganda, meant that hockey fans were always going to be shortchanged.
And as if a bell went off, the moment the calender switched over to November, the serious talks began.
Both sides have already achieved a twisted version of what they wanted, which should clear the way for a deal now. The NHL will, in some form or another, get their 50-50 split, and they'll be able to crow that they handled Fehr in a way that baseball never could.
The union, meanwhile, will have its manhood back, and they'll have used a dislike for Gary Bettman as a rallying cry, and they'll know, as they always know, that agents will make sure that loopholes and cracks are found in the new deal that will ensure they end up ahead down the road, just as they experienced enormous salary increases after "losing" the last lockout.
Hey, it could still get screwed up, and in its bloodless calculations, the NHL quite likely never anticipated losing the lucrative Winter Classic. Talks will resume tomorrow after some fruitful weekend discussions produced some intriguing new approaches, and while the nature of labour negotiations probably mandates there will be at least one more occasion when one side or the other stalks away from the talks and panic of another cancelled season erupts, playing by early December looks about right now.
The incredibly frustrating thing for hockey fans and anybody who cares about this industry is that it looked this way last spring, and nobody did much to make sure it didn't happen. The script went as logic dictated it would.
Other considerations from the weekend:
As Canadians, we get to double dip when it comes to university/college football. Our poor American cousins get only NCAA football; we get that and the CIS variety, a cornucopia of riches for the gridiron-minded. They're not the same and don't receive the same attention. Indeed, even CFL fans often look down their noses at the CIS brand. But the weekend's excitement - Guelph upsetting Queen's, No. 4 Montreal going down at the hands of Sherbrooke, Western giving No. 1 McMaster a scare - was rivetting stuff. Meanwhile, the NCAA produced some dramatic football as well, including a terrific comeback by No. 1 Alabama, a survival against the odds by Notre Dame and an absolutely wild shootout between Oregon and USC. If one was interested in the ongoing events on Saturday, one could watch well into the evening without even having to think about missing the NHL on a night it used to own, at least in this country. . .The 2012 tennis season is over for Canada's Milos Raonic, and it was a major success. The next step, quite clearly, is to find a way to perform better in the bigger events, particulary the four Grand Slam events and the Masters series, which includes Toronto/Montreal. With more points to "defend" next year after being much more active in 2012 than he was in an injury shortened 2011, the task of staying in the top 20 for Raonic will be tougher. As if to serve as a warning, 21-year-old Jerzy Janowicz of Poland put on a show last week in Paris, coming out of qualifying to beat five top-20 players in succession before losing in the final to David Ferrer. It was a better single result than any that Raonic had this season, although he had the better overall campaign. Moreover, it was a signal that anything but moving forward is moving backwards in tennis because there's always someone else pushing. Raonic has been the Next Big Thing for a while. He can't be forever. . .Another curious trade, another bullpen arm. Its been a while (since Shawn Marcum for Brett Lawrie?) that Alex Anthopoulos did something that made people really take notice. . .The six-game Subway CHL Super Series, now in its 10th year as a annual fall collision between a travelling Russian junior team and all-star outfits from the QMJHL, OHL and WHL, begins tonight in Blainville-Boisbriand, Quebec. The Russians will feature Nail Yakupov, which will give Edmonton Oilers fans a chance to look at the progress of their latest saviour. The series moves to Val d'Or on Wednesday, then to Ontario for two games, then out west. Leaf draft pick Stuart Percy is the only OHLer scheduled to play in both games, while 15-year-old Connor McDavid was selected to play Thursday in Guelph. Nathan McKinnon, battling for the No. 1 draft position in next summer's NHL draft with Portland's Seth Jones at the moment, will be in the "Q" lineup tonight. Teammate Jonathan Drouin won't after injuring his foot on the weekend. . .People who benefit can pump up the Argos TV numbers all they want. But the Argos, who get a set share of league TV revenues, don't benefit directly from that. Where they would benefit is at the gate, and they can't draw anybody. At times they've announced in the neighborhood of 22,000 and less than 15,000 have actually walked through the doors. Let's see how many bodies show up Sunday for their first playoff home game in five years. Maybe they'll surprise us. . .It's always amusing those who blast the NHL for leaking bargaining proposals publish memos from Don Fehr before some of the players even see them. . .There's talk of Rafael Nadal returning for an exhibition Dec. 28. That might have him ready to come to Canada in February with the rest of the Spanish Davis Cup team. . .Little known fact. Yan Gomes was first Brazilian ever to play in majors. Now he's an ex-Jay. . .The cancellation of Winter Classic also evaporates the pending battle royale between me and my boss over coverage of the event. Sorry, but spending New Year's Day in Ann Arbour isn't on my bucket list. . .Rosie DiManno's book on Pat Burns will be released this week. The combination of subject matter and talented writer makes this already the most worthwhile sports book to buy for Christmas. . .My seven-year-old daughter and I are both reading Margaret Atwood these days. She's reading "Bashful Bob and Doleful Dorinda," I'm reading "The Year of the Flood." She's enjoying herself more. . .There was no team luckier than Notre Dame on the weekend. And that's okay with me. . .Oregon is fun to watch. But its odd to see a team give up 51 points and still leapfrog another school in the national rankings. And don't you wish the new NCAA playoff system kicked in this year? . . .Don't look now, but early season struggles have the Marlies at the bottom of their division. . .Justin Schultz, the prize of free agency in the summer and won by the Oilers, looks to be like the real deal. . .Dave Andrews says hybrid icing is working beautifully in AHL. . .It looks like the Brampton Battalion will finally abandon the battle and move to either North Bay or Hamilton. And how long will the Steelheads last in Mississauga before the GTA is without major junior hockey again?. . .The WHL Saskatoon Blades are pulling themselves together a little bit, now 7-9 on the season. The Blades are the host of the Memorial Cup next spring and their early season problems have many worried about what quality of team they'll be able to ice for the national championship event. It has also conjured memories of the 1990 Memorial Cup in Hamilton. The Dukes of Hamilton were forced to drop out as host after winning only 11 games that season. . .You may have seen the feature I wrote on Leaf blue-chipper Morgan Rielly in the Saturday Star. The GM of the Moose Jaw team for which Rielly stars is Alan Millar, who cut his teeth in the business back in the 1989-90 season as an intern out of Durham College who was hired by Bob Stellick to work for the AHL Newmarket Saints in their final year before the team was shifted to Newfoundland. That was the season Floyd Smith hired U.S. college coach Frank Anzalone to coach the Saints and a group of older AHL veterans who wanted nothing to do with Anzalone's rah-rah ways or his obsession with having the players eat bananas. It was not a smooth operation. Millar's clearest memory is of John Kordic sitting in his office in full uniform while the rest of the team was practicing. . .Interesting that RGIII is getting most of the ink, but Andrew Luck is having a more productive season. . .If Kyle Quinlan really hopes to be the next Canadian to get a shot at being a quarterback in the CFL, he better learn how to slide. . .Right now Julio Jones and Roddy White look like the best pair of wideouts for any one team in the NFL. . .Andy Fantuz wasn't a bust as a free agent for the Hamilton Tiger-Cats. But he was hardly a success. Last week in the season-ending loss to a bunch of Argo backups, Fantuz couldn't hang on to the ball and he coudn't handle the snap from centre on place kicks. . .Hamilton, in case their fan base is wondering, still doesn't know where it will play games next season. This should be in place by now.