Five things to watch for in NHL lockout

The Big House at the University of Michigan, where the Maple Leafs and Detroit Red Wings are...

The Big House at the University of Michigan, where the Maple Leafs and Detroit Red Wings are scheduled to play the Winter Classic on Jan.1. (Getty Images)

LANCE HORNBY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 1:12 AM ET

TORONTO - There hasn’t been this much talk about hurricanes around the NHL since Cam Ward and Carolina won the 2006 Stanley Cup.

Sandy kept the New York headquarters in mid-town Manhattan closed on Monday and perhaps longer, but there is still activity to monitor around the NHL and the hockey world:

1. Call in an ice breaker

Gary Bettman and Donald Fehr retired to their respective corners during the weekend to ponder the next move after the league erased all games through November.

With no template from which to negotiate after the commissioner pulled his last offer from the table, it’s unclear if the league refines its offer or the players’ association comes back with something different than its last three rejected counter-offers. Both sides have vastly different ideas about how a 50-50 split of hockey-related revenue should be attained.

While league personnel worked from home Monday because of Sandy, executive director Fehr was in the Twin Cities region updating players on last week’s breakdown in talks after doing likewise in Chicago. The lockout is now entering its 45th day. Players will miss their second pay cheque this week.

2. Classic collapse

Since September, league officials have said privately that the Jan. 1 Winter Classic was a “red herring” in terms of being a sacred date that would never be a lockout casualty.

But the end could come as soon as Friday — if the league does not want to lose nearly all of its $3 million deposit on the Big House in Ann Arbor, Mich., where the Red Wings were to host the Maple Leafs. As big as the game is for TV ratings, the league won’t suddenly retreat and take a lesser deal for the sake of one game.

Both teams will gladly come back and play in 2014 and the school has already indicated there will be no hard feelings. But Ann Arbor and Detroit (site of the alumni game) were counting on as much as $75 million to be generated. The late January all-star weekend in Columbus would be on the chopping block after the Classic.

3. Bettman bashing

Aside from Krys Barch’s misguided rant about owners sipping cognac and smoking cigars and a more high-minded essay by Blue Jackets defenceman Jack Johnson on his website this week, the players will likely keep narrowing their target to commissioner Gary Bettman.

Bettman didn’t help himself with a decision to go public with the league’s offer to try and circumvent Fehr, followed by news that owners had his blessing for a short window to call players directly about their position. Deserved or not, Bettman is portrayed as hockey’s Dr. Evil when trying to pin blame on the owners’ side and the players will keep scoring PR points attacking him directly.

Johnson’s comments, headlined “Where Is The Honour?”, blasted the league for proposing to roll back existing contracts.

“The concept that the owners are trying to dismantle existing contracts that they in good faith offered, signed, and committed to, is appalling, unprofessional, and disgraceful,” Johnson wrote. “I don’t have until I am 60 or 70 years old to do this job. My window of opportunity to play pro hockey is limited.”

4. Leaving home

The downward turn in talks last week was the final straw for some players sitting on the fence about playing in Europe until peace is restored.

There are now 40 NHLers moonlighting in the KHL, though having an Eastern European background means a faster ticket. At the start of the week, Penguins’ star Evgeni Malkin of Metallurg had 22 points, tying Jersey’s Ilya Kovalchuk (SKA St. Petersburg) for fifth in league scoring. Nail Yakupov, Edmonton’s first overall pick, is on a point a game pace with Neftekhimik.

Two of the most prominent players now mulling over their situations are Malkin’s pal Sidney Crosby and Rangers’ goalie Henrik Lundqvist. Lundqvist is in his native Goteborg already, but maintaining he won’t sign with his old Frolunda team unless the whole NHL year is wiped out.

A group of players signed in Austria, Switzerland and Finland late last week, with potential Leafs No. 1 centre James van Riemsdyk looking at Finland. Some players have been hurt or soured on Europe and have already returned to North America.

5. Snip, snip, snip

The guessing game on how many games can be played this season — if any are played — will increase. Around 70 is possible if talks were to start by the end of the week and go somewhere. After that, concern about length of the playoffs and whether the draft and awards are moved to July, will enter the equation. It won’t be as easy as 1994-95’s patchwork schedule of 48 games, with more teams sharing more multi-tenant arenas.


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