July 31, 2012

Fischler Report: Examining key issues for NHL's next CBA

By Stan Fischler

Now that labor-management negotiations are getting serious, it behooves us to check out an analyst with an Argus eye on the situation. Jesse Spector of Sportingnews.com makes a lot of sense in his appraisal of key issues. 

NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr (Getty Images)

The following is a condensation of Spector’s recent view of the NHL-NHLPA showdown:

PLAYER SAFETY

Equipment reforms and quiet rooms can only do so much—the players themselves still have to take responsibility for their health.

Paul Martin, who admitted to playing the first three games of the playoffs with a concussion, said he felt the Penguins were being “overly cautious” after concussions suffered by Sidney Crosby and Kris Letang.

Everyone involved, on both sides, needs to continue to work to eradicate the idea that there is such a thing as being “overly cautious” with a brain injury.

While that responsibility falls largely on the players to change the culture of the game they play, there are things the labor talks can do to foster a safer environment. One would be to use the opening games of the NHL preseason as a laboratory for potential rules changes.

Then there is the discipline aspect, in which the past season showed that Brendan Shanahan is in a no-win situation as the league’s master of supplemental discipline. Further codification of disciplinary guidelines are needed and would help to remove the feeling of randomness so often attached to the process.

One thing that would not be random at all would be if the league and players could agree to a system that would penalize not only the plays that are furthest outside the bounds of the rules, but also patterns of misbehavior that lead to those most dangerous hits.

GOING GLOBAL

It is in the best interests of hockey for NHL players to continue to participate in the Olympics.

Instead of just planning for the Olympics, the NHL and NHLPA should put a plan in place to make the schedule more easily adaptable to international competition. A real World Cup would be one possibility.

Such an idea obviously would require further negotiations between the NHL and KHL, but having the NHL and NHLPA come together now on plans for regular international competition, in Olympic years and not, would benefit the game, especially with the potential revenue streams that would open up.

International play is good for the game, and the time off for the vast majority of players is much-needed in the midst of a long season.

REALIGNMENT

The NHL thought it had a plan in place back in December to switch from six divisions to four, while alleviating the geographical nuisance of the Winnipeg Jets being in the Southeast Division, but the NHLPA would not accept the plan.

The union’s concern about teams from eight-team divisions having less of a chance to make the playoffs than teams from seven-team divisions was valid, but what really torpedoed realignment for 2012-13 was the uncertainty about how much more travel a post-realignment schedule would mean for the players.

The most obvious way to make a four-division setup work would be for the NHL to expand to 32 teams, which would make the union happy because of the jobs created and the owners happy because of the expansion fees they would collect.

Until the league is ready to add two teams, though, an easier compromise would be to go with four divisions for scheduling purposes, but maintain two 15-team conferences to determine playoff berths and seedings.

The important thing is that both sides consider in negotiations that the NHL of today is not the NHL that will exist at the end of the deal they hammer out.

The league and the union must work together to make that league of the future as strong as possible, for the good of the game.

REMEMBERING JESSICA REDFIELD

When a gunman opened fire on a packed movie theater in Aurora, Colorado last week, the hockey community suffered a shocking loss.

Jessica Redfield, an up-and-coming sports journalist, had a bright future ahead of her.

In the aftermath of her tragic death, co-editors Jordan Schoem and Allyson Gronowitz honor a fallen member of the hockey media family and discuss the Foundation instituted in her memory:

Jessica Ghawi was both an inspirational trailblazer as well as an everyday, fun-loving hockey fan.

Known professionally as Jessica Redfield, she was an energetic young hockey journalist and blogger. Her death at the Aurora, Colorado movie massacre on July 20th hit home with many in the hockey family, especially media types.

Those who have made names for themselves in the business look at Jessica and see a younger version of themselves. She possessed a contagious enthusiasm along with the intensity to pursue her dream of working in hockey.

Originally from San Antonio, Jessica relocated to Colorado to work on the Mile High Hockey blog alongside fellow blogger Cheryl Bradley, and she recently received media credentials from the Avalanche to cover the NHL franchise on behalf of the blog.

Jessica’s kind and generous personality played a unique role in her professional life. An intern for the You Can Play project, she dedicated her efforts to ensuring equality, respect, and safety for all athletes regardless of sexual orientation. (The project was initiated by Leafs GM Brian Burke's son, Patrick Burke, in memory of his late brother, Brendan.)

Jessica adopted the surname Redfield—her grandmother’s maiden name—as a tribute to the woman who, due to her gender, was unable break into the world of journalism. In an industry that is typically male-driven, Jessica was an intrepid pioneer by chasing her dream in a way that her grandmother was unable to do.

In the wake of Jessica’s tragic death, her family set up the Official Jessica Redfield Sports Journalism Scholarship Fund to help upcoming sports journalists attain the success that Jessica was well on her way to achieving.

The L.A. Kings donated $10,000 to kick off the campaign, and numerous others have contributed dollar amounts both big and small.

The initial goal of the Fund was set at $20,000 in 120 days. Incredibly, the Fund raised over $24,000 in 24 hours, and has raised over $38,000 to date, speaking to the close-knit nature of the hockey community.

For more information on the Scholarship Fund and the Jessica Redfield Foundation, visit http://jessicaredfieldfoundation.org.

GOSSIP

Veteran, Manhattan-based hockey writer Allan Kreda has penned a very-worth-reading new book, The Other Side of the Ice: One Family’s Treacherous Journey Negotiating the Northwest Passage. ...

Speaking of books, the Bruins are well-mentioned in a new book by B's GM Peter Chiarelli's father, Frank Chiarelli, but not necessarily with sweet words. Frank Chiarelli does not like Don (Grapes) Cherry, big-time. And if you're wondering how big, look at it this way: Peter's pop spent his own money to publish and distribute the book, titled, "Sour Grapes and Sweet Success." Essentially, the author compares two hockey icons, Cherry and former Canadiens GM Sammy Pollock. But more than anything, Chiarelli points out, "Cherry will get no free pass in this book." (A more detailed review of "Sour Grapes and Sweet Success" will appear in a later issue of TFR in which Chiarelli won't get a "free pass" either! Hey, a review is a review!) … 

Scott Niedermayer was inducted into the British Columbia Hockey Hall of Fame. Although Niedermayer is not from British Columbia, the Edmonton, Alberta native is the only Canadian player to win the ‘Big Six’: Stanley Cup, Memorial Cup, World Juniors, World Championships, Olympics, and the World Cup.

One of the most important NHL quiet-hires has evolved into one of Bettman's Best. That would be ex-NHL defenseman Stephane Quintal. The onetime top Boston draft pick works under Brendan Shanahan as Manager of Player Safety (alongside Rob Blake), yet another superb addition to the Shanny Group. … 

Islanders-watcher Michael Leboff offers a cogent  insight into Garth Snow's (Wrentham, Mass.) signing of Brad Boyes. "The best way to look at it is that Boyes is coming into a low-pressure situation," says reader Leboff, "and that's going to be good for him. Plus, he's a Mississauga, Ontario native. John Tavares and Matt Moulson are from there, too. The three buddies could make beautiful music together for the Isles." …

No NHLer ever played harder over 18 big-league seasons than just-retired Steve  Staios. Signed as part of the Maple Leafs management team, Staios will give his boss, Brian Burke (Providence, R.I.), plenty of bang for his buck. "Steve was a 'working man's player' -- ready to play every night, competing to the best of his ability regularly against the other team's best players," says Burke, "and he was an exemplary teammate." As Toronto's Player Development Advisor, Staios, 39, will advise management on prospects and players at all levels of the organization.

Follow Stan Fischler on Twitter at @StanFischler.