Saturday, 13 October 2012

Labour Day

Just under a year ago, I started blogging about the Habs because it's a passion of mine. I have been told over the years by many who are smarter than me that I am not only opinionated but that I have a unique perspective on Hockey, and I should put my views and opinions out there in a public forum for others to see and comment on. 

Over the past few months, I have seen my readership grow, I have seen phenomenal guests come to join my blog - and today is no exception. I am very grateful for all the support I have received. I have also been very fortunate not to receive much backlash - however I am always open to opinions that differ from mine.

I have often described myself as a passionate Hockey fan - who happens to follow the Montreal Canadiens, and I have patterned "The Breakdown" on that philosophy. 

Because this blog is a passion for me, I can pick and choose when to write and what topics I would like to cover. I do not cover players personal lives. If I have an issue with a player it will be with their play on the ice. 

One such topic that I do not wish to cover is the CBA. The National Hockey League and it's Players association are currently embroiled in their third labour dispute of the past 18 years. Whatever side of the fence you fall on, the owners or the players, the end result is we the fans are without hockey. Many part time employees of teams are without work. Many local businesses that rely on hockey games as part of their business model are suffering.

If you want to read up to the minute detailings of how negotiations are going towards a new Collective Bargaining Agreement, there are many fantastic resources available to you on the world wide web. 

Recently I sat down with some fantastic hockey minds to discuss the CBA Negotiations, what it can mean for the game and what effect it can have on certain markets. Some of these names will be familiar to regular readers of "The Breakdown", and some are brand new.

I expect this to be the one and only time "The Breakdown" will touch on the CBA. I Hope you will all bear through the lack of coverage on the site.

Joining our Panel today are a host of NHL Journalists. 

Abe Hefter comes to us from Montreal's CJAD 800 radio. Abe covers the Montreal Canadiens, and hosts "The Locker room" on weekends from 6-7pm. 

James Murphy covers the Boston Bruins for ESPN Boston. He has been covering the Bruins for more than 10 years.

Aaron Portzline covers the Columbus Blue Jackets for the Columbus Dispatch newspaper.

Ben Raby is a former Montrealer who now covers the Washington Capitals for and Comcast Sports.

Matthew Ross is the host of "Game Points" on TSN 690 radio in Montreal. His views on sports can be heard Sundays 6 - 8pm and Tuesdays 9pm - 12am.

Charlie Saunier is the senior writer at, a website focusing on the Nashville Predators.

1. Do you believe the 2012-2013 NHL season will start on time?

Ben Raby: Maybe on EA Sports... where the legitimacy of proclaiming 'if it's in the game, it's in the game' may be brought into question. But no, there will not be any NHL regular-season hockey on Oct. 11.

Matthew Ross:  No, the sides appear to be too far apart on fundamental issues. The owners clearly favour the strategy of letting the players twist in the wind a little.

Charlie Saunier : Sadly no, I do not think there is a chance of starting on time.

Abe Hefter: No. From the beginning of this "bargaining process" I never believed it would start on time, and I don't think you can assume that we'll have hockey by January. 

Aaron Portzline: Call me crazy. Call me an optimist. I think it's very possible.

James Murphy: I don't think the season will start on time and in fact I think there is a very real possibility and wouldn't be surprised if we lose another season and maybe more. 

Aaron Portzline: I wasn't  surprised to see a lockout begin on September 15th, but that doesn't mean the regular-season will be altered. I don't believe they're that far apart in pursuit of a new deal. Looks worse on paper than it truly is.

James Murphy: This lockout isn't about all the small market teams or philosophical differences and just revenue sharing. We are and we will find out even more so soon this is part two of 2004-05 where the players want revenge and the owners want to bury the players again. Start watching the AHL, junior hockey or even playing NHL 13 for your fix because you'll need one!

2. To many fans the current Labour strife looks like a millionaires vs billionaires fight - is that really all it is?

James Murphy: As I said earlier - emphatically Yes!

Matthew Ross: Basically. How else can fans look at it, really? 

Charlie Saunier : On the outside, this is how it appears. If it's different on the inside, then both sides have done a terrible job at explaining their case.

Abe Hefter: I think hockey fans just want hockey. I beleive they have lockout fatigue and are tired of hearing the spin being spun by both sides. They don't care and that's bad for the game of hockey.

Aaron Portzline: Well, sure, but that's also oversimplifying it. Neither side wants to give up money, but they also don't want to give up whatever "gains" they made in the last CBA ordeal. Nor do they want to give up more ground, as many players feel they gave up too much last night. These are powerful groups of people, led by men (Fehr, Bettman) whose job it is to get as much as possible. This is politics + sports, which can equal 'ugly.'

Ben Raby: Millionaires vs billionaires is a big part of it, but that makes it sound like this is only about dollars and cents. While the focus of the CBA is mostly related to dollars and cents, this is also a case of employees standing up to their employers. Decisions will made that could shape lifestyles (length of contracts and health issues) and working conditions (travel schedules and realignment) and as employees, these 'millionaires' are still at the mercy of their employers regardless of being in a higher tax bracket than the typical 40-hour a week cubicle worker.

3. It seems to me that NHL owners believe that if there is another lockout it will not hurt the game of Hockey.

I believe their logic is that while no one will be making money, small market - or struggling franchises will actually be in better shape by not having to spend money in a multitude of areas. Based on what happened after the lockout in 2004, the NHL owners have every reason to believe that fans in rich healthy markets, while annoyed, will come back to the game no matter what and that fans in the small or struggling markets likely won't even realize that hockey is gone for awhile.

Do you think this logic is sound?   How do you feel a potential lockout will affect your local team?

Aaron Portzline: Unfortunately, it's not just sound logic, it's been proven to be true. 

James Murphy: You're dead on Ian and unfortunately because the players can't seem to get by the revenge factor and realize this, they are dead in the water (or shall we say frozen water!) already.

Matthew Ross: I agree and have said it on the air.

Charlie Saunier : I am sad to say, but yes the owners have solid footing here.

Aaron Portzline: The NHL was a $1.8B industry before the 2004-05 lockout took place. Now it's a $3.3B industry. The fans have come back in droves. Certainly the last CBA -- with the salary cap, the promise to lower ticket prices (never realized in most places), and the idea that parity had arrived -- struck a chord with the people. This CBA might not have such a warm and fuzzy feel to it, so it's difficult to say if a long holdout would be treated the same way at its end. 

Abe Hefter: Fans in struggling markets are still fans. I don't beleive a lockout somehow "helps" the cause of the struggling franchise. The NHL is off the grid. That can't be good for the game, regardless of the market, and no matter how the fans react when the lockout is over.

James Murphy: The players will never win this battle and if they truly care about the game it is time to put pride and money aside and get the best possible deal they can get ASAP! The owners are completely wrong and greedy but they hold the leverage and always will.  

Matthew Ross: The lockout won't hurt anyone, the Habs included.

Ben Raby: Listening to a DC sports station the other day, a reference was made to the Nationals clinching the city's first major playoff berth since the NBA's Wizards in 2008. There were mentions of the NFL's Redskins and DC United of MLS both making the playoffs in 2007. There was not a single mention of the NHL's Capitals. I'll assume it was a simple brain fart, but this was a two-person dialogue that went on for a few minutes. If there is no NHL hockey for an extended period of time, sports fans in major cities have plenty of alternatives and the NHL could fall further into the background.

Abe Hefter: This is clearly my gut speaking, but I think fans are apathetic to it all. The owners and the players better wake up to the fact that it would seem the fans could care less about the "plight" of both sides in this dispute.

Aaron Portzline: Not sure it would be as catastrophic to the Blue Jackets as many assume. Fans are already incredibly disillusioned and frustrated with the state of the franchise, and they don't hold much hope for an immediate change. Better to take a CBA break now than if they were finally putting together a good run of seasons.

Charlie Saunier :  While the Preds have made a huge effort to get the building full from game 1 through the Playoffs, it is still a hard sell in this area in Oct & Nov with so many other options competing for the same dollars. The Titans (NFL) still dominate the media coverage & get most of the casual sports fans. College Football takes quite a bit of attention as well. If the lockout is limited to these calender months, I believe the casual fans will come immediately back to the Preds. If extended, there may start to become frustration, especially among the long term fans & season ticket holders.

Ben Raby: The Capitals have a sellout streak dating to 2008. If there is an extended NHL lockout, I can see the streak coming to an end once the game returns. Some markets are perhaps lockout proof... I'm not so sure that Washington is one of them.


4. If the NHL were to lockout an entire season or more again how do you feel things will change?

Aaron Portzline: Not sure entirely what you mean. Some fans would drift away, but many of them -- like last time -- would drift right back again. Hockey fans are the best fans in sports. But they gotta have their fix.

Matthew Ross:  Things won't change. Unless fans show they won't come back or start to cancel season tickets en masse, it won't change.

Charlie Saunier : There will be great frustration. The Preds have had a great run on and off the ice over the last two years and missing an entire season would stall that momentum. 

Ben Raby: I believe attendance and interest will take a hit, similar to the aftermath of the 1994 baseball strike. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. I think more than a few fans would be slower to return to the game than maybe they were in 2005-06.

James Murphy: I don't think much will change. The fans will come back and the players will play. But the one thing I see changing or rather reverting back to a few years ago is that the NHL will once again lose the interest in it's two biggest markets New York and Los Angeles again. Those markets have been revitalized with the Kings' cup run and the Rangers' playoff run and offseason additions. That will hurt the league for sure!

Abe Hefter:  The owners will find another spiffy slogan to splash onto the ice: reminiscent of "Thank you fans" at the end of the '04-'05 work stoppage. (Pardon my cynicism)

5. After the 2004 lockout, the NHL came back stronger than ever, why do you think that is? How will things be the same or different this time?

Charlie Saunier : Parity has become the standard in American professional sports leagues and I think the average fan was able to get more into the NHL once everyone was perceived to have a chance to win.

Ben Raby: The NHL came back strong in 2005 (not sure about 'stronger than ever') because it was such a mess before the 2004 work stoppage. The League was stale, scoring was way down (no 50-goal or 100-point scorers) teams with long histories like the Blackhawks, Penguins and even the Canadiens couldn't fill their buildings and struggled just to make the playoffs... There just wasn't a whole lot for the NHL to sell to its fans.

James Murphy: Completely agree with Ben here. There may be less buzz this time around but the game will be fine in end.

Abe Hefter: Ultimately, fans were starved for NHL hockey. They embraced the game and the changes that were made to the game; changes made in an effort to usher in a new era and a new-look NHL, like the implementation of the shoot-out.  

Ben Raby: When the game returned, there were new rules to create scoring (no two-line pass, more obstuction calls and as a result more power plays) and buzz (shootout, no more ties, etc...)... There were also fresh faces (Crosby, Ovechkin, etc...), and eventually there was the Winter Classic.

James Murphy: The game will continue to be fine until fans actually take a stance. They should be ones seeking revenge not the players.   

Matthew Ross: One word: shootouts. The rule change piqued people's interests and held them. Scoring was up as well and it was more exciting. 

Abe Hefter: Which I hate by the way. It's nothing more than a beauty contest and a terrible way to decide a hockey game.

Ben Raby: If the NHL is out for an extended period of time, I don't see them returning with the same buzz and excitement as they did in 2005-06. The game has been great for years, and the league is in danger of losing that momentum.

Charlie Saunier : I believe things will be the same as long as this lockout doesn't cost more than a quarter of the season in games lost. If this lockout lasts an entire season, I believe it will be different because fans will be less willing to forgive a 2nd time & slower to return which will stall the momentum the league has gained since the 1st lockout. 

Ben Raby: In 2004, there was no momentum to lose. The game needed an excuse to re-evaluate itself. 

6. As with every collective bargaining agreement in every sport, there are not only economic issues being dealt with. There are issues of player safety and possible rule changes that get discussed as well. What are some changes in those areas that you would like to see?

Charlie Saunier : As with every collective bargaining agreement in every sport, there are not only economic issues being dealt with. There are issues of player safety and possible rule changes that get discussed as well. 

Abe Hefter: Player safety is obviously a key issue. But, fundamentally, I would like to see the NHL "leave the game alone" and stop trying to force-feed fans "solutions" as to how to make the game "better" (like the shootout). 

James Murphy: How about players show their solidarity on the ice and not try to kill each other to make highlights? 

Matthew Ross: Above all else, I want the Mark Messier-recommended helmet instituted. A thicker helmet that could help to reduce concussions.  

Charlie Saunier : I would just like to see clear definitions of the recently added head shot rules & consistent discipline for offenders. I know the NHL tried hard last year & made good efforts, but there was too much confusion among the players and fans on this. 

Abe Hefter:  Too many believe that the barometer of success in a game is the number of goals scored. (The more, the merrier). If that's the case, and I don't agree, why not just replace the puck with a marble and make the nets a foot wider? That'll result in more goals!!!

Aaron Portzline: I'd like to see the goalie trapezoid removed from behind the net. I'd like to reward goaltenders for being athletic and able to play the puck.

Ben Raby: I agree with Aaron on the removal of the trapezoid.

James Murphy: Get rid of the trapezoid rule and save defensemen! 

Matthew Ross:  Also, products like being instituted, to help people's awareness of their surroundings, would also help to reduce injuries.

Ben Raby: Agree with all the comments regarding health. NHL should take note of the former NFL players who are now suing their league for failing to properly address health issues in the past. Icing needs to change. Not necessarily hybrid icing, but maybe the implementation of the 'Bowman' or 'Ringette' line which was tried at last year's research and development camp in Toronto.


6. For those who are unaware, what is Inelligym?

Matthew Ross: IntelliGym is cognitive training software that looks like a video game. It was developed for Israeli fighter pilots and adapted for hockey in conjunction with USA Hockey. It makes players more aware of their surroundings on the ice, reducing concussions and increasing offensive play. 

For more from Abe Hefter, follow him on twitter: @hefteronthehabs
For more from James Murphy, follow him on twitter: @Murphyslaw74
For more from Aaron Portzline, follow him on twitter: @Aportzline
For more from Ben Raby, follow him on twitter: @BenRaby31
For more from Matthew Ross, follow him on twitter: @TSNMatthew
For more from Charlie Saunier, follow him on twitter: @CrazyCharlie615

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