In a pair of radio appearances in Montreal and Edmonton on Friday morning, TSN Insider Bob McKenzie spoke about two big issues in the NHL.
McKenzie spoke in Montreal about the brewing fight between the NHL and NHLPA over Olympic participation and CBA (transcribed by Chris Nichols from FanRag). The current perception is that the owners don’t want to go to the Olympics and are “holding the players hostage” over the issue. The owners are offering Olympic participation at the price of extending the CBA.
The Fourth Period’s Dave Pagnotta reports that it doesn’t seem likely that the NHLPA will accept the offer.
This is because the players’ biggest problem is with escrow. As Nichols puts it, “there may not be a more mind-numbingly awful subject to discuss for hockey fans than escrow.”
McKenzie says he empathizes with the players, because no one would want to lose an additional 15 percent off the top of their take-home salary. The players using the five percent salary cap escalator each season helps raise the salaries of free agents, but ends up hurting players by increasing escrow. While the players say they want a cap on escrow, the issue, according to McKenzie is that “you can’t put a cap on escrow in a hard cap system. I think some players – I’m not saying all players – some players don’t understand escrow.”
This is where McKenzie says the negotiations could get ugly now and when the CBA expires: “if the players actually think that the NHL is going to negotiate a cap on escrow, which would mean that the owners are getting less than 50 percent of the revenue – that’s going to be a motherhood issue on both sides of the fence.”
How will they come to an agreement? “Outside of shutting down the league and going back and fighting the battle over the salary cap and the share, I don’t know how you solve that… There’ll be blood on the tracks for escrow to come down in any meaningful way, other than by not putting the inflator in or the Canadian dollar getting stronger.”
Hopefully for hockey fans, the two sides can figure it out without costing fans the chance to see NHLers at the Olympics in 2018 and beyond, and avoid another season-long lockout.
Another hot button issue in the hockey world is the treatment of superstars. The Calgary Flames’ Johnny Gaudreau will miss six weeks with a broken finger after being slashed 21 times by the Minnesota Wild. Flames coach Glen Gulutzan spoke to the referees about Gaudreau’s treatment earlier in the game, but there was no change in the standard of calls. GM Brad Treliving said “it wasn’t a unicorn” that broke Gaudreau’s finger. Meanwhile, the Flames rivals in Edmonton also have an issue with the officiating: the Oilers super sophomore Connor McDavid has also been hooked and held with few or no calls.
Neither McDavid nor coach Todd McLellan have been vocal about McDavid’s treatment. McKenzie believes that is the right choice, telling TSN 1260’s morning show that complaining to the media won’t lead to the results they want. The TSN Insider suggested the Oilers organization will gather video of the missed calls and “lobby behind the scenes and if [Stephen Walkom’s office] thinks you have a valid point then they’ll send out a memo.”
McKenzie said, “one of the things I used to love about the NHL was it was really hard on the star players” but when that happened, “mayhem was going to follow” and that “often leads to serious injuries or criminal behaviour.”
With most enforcers out of the league, NHL teams don’t have the means they used to police the game themselves. If anyone got in Wayne Gretzky’s face, they could count on a visit from Oilers tough guy Dave Semenko. But now, McKenzie says “it’s up to the referees to make sure that Brandon Dubinsky doesn’t get away with murder on Sidney Crosby.”
Even if there are changes implemented, McKenzie wisely points out that “at the end of the day it’s officiating and no one is ever going to be happy about it.”