More hockey players have kissed the Stanley Cup than Elisha Cuthbert, and Pavel Datsyuk might finally be recovered from his hangover. (Joke at the NHL Awards, you had to be there.) But just when you were ready to settle into the off-season, here comes another week with a deluge of off-ice activity that will keep the rumor mongers rumormongering, the GMs busy and commissioner Gary Bettman possibly having to ask some pointed questions.
This coming week, there are no fewer than four pivotal events on the docket, each one of them with the potential for far-reaching impact:
• Monday and Tuesday, the NHL Players' Association will meet in Colorado Springs and each player who shows up gets a free laptop. The usual procedural things will be on the agenda, but sources say a rather interesting situation is forming between the league and its union.
First of all, the players will address the possibility of terminating the collective bargaining agreement in September 2009. Not a chance this will happen because a CBA in which the players were supposedly taking a kick to the groin is turning out to be another huge win for them. In fact, the players will almost certainly elect in a couple of years to extend the deal to 2012, giving us at least four more years of labor peace.
But there is talk the league is quietly approaching the players to see if anything can be done to make this deal work better for the owners.
Sources say the league has already been flatly turned down in trying to change the provision requiring teams to sign European draft picks within two years to three.
There's nothing to be gained for the players' association by making any concessions to the owners, unless of course it includes a take-back in another area. Look for the players to come out of the meetings as resolved and cohesive as they've been under executive director Paul Kelly.
• Tuesday is also the day the Hockey Hall of Fame's selection committee will meet to decide upon the 2008 inductees. This year is an interesting one because there are effectively no first-time eligible players as a result of the lockout three years ago.
Now, the Hall's selection committee operates under a cone of silence that would be the envy of the Pentagon, so we don't even know who is being nominated and we won't be told what the results of the votes are. But this year they have an open slate and the betting is Igor Larionov, who missed out because of a full class last year, will be inducted.
The best bets following Larionov, in order, are Pavel Bure, Glenn Anderson, Doug Gilmour, Adam Oates and Guy Carbonneau. Your erstwhile correspondent believes it's a travesty Bure and Anderson are not in and this year represents their best chance.
Of course, the selection committee could go right off the board and once again induct someone totally undeserving of the honor. Anything can happen when 17 white guys over the age of 50 get in a room and are empowered with these kinds of decisions. Nothing, and I mean nothing, in the game epitomizes the Old Boys' Network more than the Hall's selection committee.
That committee, which normally consists of 18 members, will be at 17 this year due to the death of Ed Chynoweth. Here's betting Chynoweth gets serious consideration for induction in the builders' category.
A maximum of four players can be inducted in one year.
• Speaking of Old Boys’ Networks, the league's board of governors will meet Wednesday in New York. The most pressing matter on their docket will be approving the sales of the Nashville Predators and Tampa Bay Lightning. Shortly after the sale of the Lightning is ratified, the new ownership group will announce the hiring of Barry Melrose as Tampa's new coach.
The league will never admit it because it has never had a bad day since Gary Bettman took over, but privately it is concerned about the Tampa situation. Prospective owners Oren Koules and Len Barrie, it turns out, are not exactly flush with disposable cash and their bid is basically being co-signed by Bill Davidson, who is selling them the team.
Boy, that sounds rock-solid, doesn't it?
More importantly, there are at least a dozen franchises in dire straits financially and are coming to the conclusion the CBA, while addressing the macro concerns of the game, is doing absolutely nothing to stop the constant flow of money out of their wallets. Some teams are beginning to wonder why the salary floor, which could be in excess of $40 million next season, is a lot more than they ever expected to be paying when they agreed to this CBA in the first place.
There's a chance the governors will also be told what league revenues were this season, which will be pivotal in setting the salary cap for 2008-09.
• Finally, the entry draft is scheduled for Ottawa Friday and Saturday. There is a lot of chatter about how many big trades will be made on the draft floor, but that's something we hear almost every year. For every 10 trades that seem to be in the works, maybe one of them comes to fruition.
After that, we'll all be able to put our feet up and take a rest, at least until June 30 when the buyout period ends and July 1 when the free agent season begins.
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