10 Burning Questions Facing the NHL This Summer
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When the Los Angeles Kings won the Stanley Cup earlier this month, it meant that all the surviving teams from the original 1967-68 NHL expansion had won at least one Stanley Cup -- with the exception of the St. Louis Blues.
Ironically, the Blues were the early leaders in the clubhouse after the NHL expanded, reaching the Stanley Cup Finals in each of their first three seasons where they were trounced twice by the Montreal Canadiens and once by the Boston Bruins. They haven't been back since.
The Blues appeared to have a good chance to take the Stanley Cup this season, based on the way they played for the majority of the year, after Ken Hitchcock took over as head coach. The President's Trophy was within their grasp, but they ended up second in the Western Conference to the Vancouver Canucks. The Blues knocked out the San Jose Sharks in the first round but were beaten by the Kings in the second round.
As the celebration and Stanley Cup tour continues in Los Angeles, the NHL faces a potential crisis in the offseason. A new Collective Bargaining Agreement must be negotiated. NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and NHL Players Association boss Donald Fehr must hammer out a new agreement. The NHL lost the 2004-05 season to a work stoppage and while that is not the expected results, there are no guarantees.
Here's a look at 10 key questions facing the NHL in the offseason.
Is a Work Stoppage Inevitable Prior to the Start of the 2012-13 Season?
Donald Fehr has been an aggressive negotiator in previous labor talks.
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It's different this time around. The wounds of the 2004-05 work stoppage may not be fresh, but the scars remain. As negotiations are expected to begin in the next few days, very little of the public contentiousness that is usually associated with hostile negotiations has come to the fore. Does that mean everything will go smoothly and that a new Collective Bargaining Agreement will be in place well before the start of training camp? No. But at least the two sides appear to have a mature outlook before talks begin. That's important because neither side has attempted to embarrass the other at this point. NHLPA boss Donald Fehr was known as an aggressive negotiator during his time while filling the same role for Major League Baseball players, but he has toned down the rhetoric over the years.
What Are the Potential Sticking Points in the Negotiations?
Gary Bettman is the only sports commissioner to lose a full season to a work stoppage.
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National Hockey League revenues and the way they are divided are the major points in the negotiations. Revenues are estimated to be in the $3.3 billion range from the league, but television and international earning are up significantly from the last estimation, and revenues are growing. Fehr and the players are going to have to feel confident that the NHL is actually sharing accurate financial information before negotiations can be fruitful. Also, NHL players currently receive about 57 percent of designated revenues, but they give back a high percentage of their salaries to an "escrow" fund and they also accepted a salary-cap system. Owners want to reduce the percentage, while players don't want to give anything else back.
Will the Phoenix Coyotes Remain in Arizona?
The Phoenix Coyotes' future is anything but certain.
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The NHL is still technically running the Phoenix Coyotes. Potential buyer Greg Jamison could take over the franchise in the next week or so. However, there is still a contentious situation in the desert, and until he takes control of the franchise out of the league's hands, nothing is official. Local opposition in the form of the conservative watchdog group called the Goldwater Institute remains in opposition to the use of public funds being dispensed to the Coyotes. If anything stops or slows Jamison from taking full ownership of the team, all sides could get exasperated. The schedule is already out and Phoenix remains the destination when games are scheduled against the Coyotes, but that is not an assurance that the team will remain in Arizona.
Will the New Jersey Devils Emerge from a Financial Crisis and Find Stability?
Despite a successful postseason, the Devils are in the midst of a financial crisis.
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Under the best of circumstances, New Jersey Devils team owner Jeffrey Vanderbeek will find the financing that will allow him to handle the $80 million in debt the team has on its books. But even if he gets that funding, where do the Devils come up with the cash to re-sign star free-agent Zach Parise? While Parise has said that he does not want to sign with the New York Rangers, nearly every other team in the league would love to have Parise and it seems likely that the Devils' financial situation will keep them from bringing him back. If Vanderbeek's financing does not come through, the league may have a second franchise to operate.
Concussion and Other Significant Injury Issues
The future of fighting in the NHL is up for debate.
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Last summer, three NHL enforcers took their own lives. Derrick Boogard, Wade Belak and Rick Rypien all were said to have suffered from bouts of depression. Sidney Crosby missed more than 12 months of action due to concussion-related health issues. The careers of Marc Savard and Chris Pronger are in serious jeopardy. The NHL, just like the NFL, has to deal with the problems of concussions and brain-injuries that may result from hits to the head. The NHL has to come up with a plan of action and that could include an end of fighting in games. The NHL and the NHLPA must discuss safety issues in addition to their contract talks.
The Icing Rule
The race to prevent icing calls often leads to needless collisions.
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The NHL is seriously considering changing the icing rule. The league would like to get rid of the needed collisions that often occur when there is a race for the puck. Instead of racing to the end boards to touch the puck, the league would use a line at the faceoff circles as the determining factor as to which skater is ahead in the race for the puck. If a player from the team that sent the puck the length of the ice is behind, a whistle would blow and icing would be called. If he is ahead, the whistle would not be blown, and there would be no stoppage in play.
The Trapezoid Rule
Allowing the goalie to handle the puck in the trapezoid area could impact the game in several ways.
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Goalies are not allowed to handle the puck in the corners behind the net. This area is set off by diagonal lines behind the goalline and is called the trapezoid. There are two trapezoid areas behind each goalie, who is not allowed to venture into these areas to play the puck. This rule was designed to create more offense, but all it has done is slow play down and keep goalies basically locked to the crease. The league may address this rule's impact during the offseason.
Will Quebec City Return to the NHL?
Quebec still has a passionate fan base.
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The long-suffering fans of the Quebec Nordiques have been clamoring for a franchise ever since their team left the province of Quebec in 1995, and headed to Denver where they became the Colorado Avalanche. The team was beloved in Quebec City when it played in the World Hockey Association and then the National Hockey League, but its cramped and tiny home arena was deemed unacceptable for National Hockey League hockey. A new arena that will cost $400-to-550 million will be built to house any hockey team that moves to Quebec.
Where Will Top Offseason Prizes Land?
Will Rick Nash finally be traded?
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The summer months of the hockey season are usually dominated by the awards ceremony, the draft and then the start of free agency. This year, there should also be a couple of major trades. Columbus Blue Jackets forward Rick Nash has been on the market since the middle of the regular season, but Columbus general manager Scott Howson has been unrealistic -- some would say greedy -- in his trade demands and Nash remains the property of the Blue Jackets. At some point or another, Howson is going to have to lower his demands.
Bobby Ryan of the Anaheim Ducks is also on the trade front, as is Vancouver Canucks goalie Roberto Luongo. Additionally, Zach Parise of the New Jersey Devils and Ryan Suter of the Nashville Predators are two of the top free-agent prizes and it seems likely that both players will choose not to sign with their old teams.
Will NHL Players Compete in 2014 Olympics
Will NHL players remain a part of the Olympics in 2014?
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The NHL got a huge popularity bump during the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics. Sidney Crosby scored the gold-medal winning goal for Canada over the United States in a compelling final game. However, commissioner Gary Bettman has not yet committed that the NHL will adjust its schedule during the 2013-14 season to accommodate the players competing in the Olympics, which will be in Sochi, Russia. That question will almost certainly be answered prior to the start of the upcoming season.