What We Learned: Saving NHL from its potential free-agent apocalypse

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Hello, this is a feature that will run through the entire season and aims to recap the weekend's events and boils those events down to one admittedly superficial fact or stupid opinion about each team. Feel free to complain about it.

Maybe we were all wrong. Most of us really did doubt the resolve of Gary Bettman and the Board of Governors' elder council of bloodthirsty owners.

The legal filings made on Friday afternoon at about 4:59:59 p.m., as a preemptive strike against the NHLPA doing the same at a slightly later date, seem to indicate as much.

Not that I fully comprehend all the legal wranglings contained therein, obviously, nor do most hockey writers — we're not lawyers — but my understanding is that it is asking a New York court to rule that the NHLPA, which it has been trying to smash to smithereens during this entire lockout, doesn't have the legal right to smash itself as a means of gaining leverage against the NHL in ongoing negotiations.

The threat of decertification has loomed large for more than a month now, and no one at league offices likes that prospect one bit, hence the filing. We've been told, repeatedly, that this kind of move prompted the NBA to reach a CBA agreement with its players in just a week, in time to get the season started on Christmas Day.

That's obviously not going to happen for the NHL at this point, but hopeful (see also: blindly optimistic people who can't have been paying much attention) say that New Year's Day might be a more reasonable target. If only the NHLPA were to cave under this latest legal threat.

And now, it seems there might be a pretty damn good reason for it to do so:

"The NHL requests a declaration that, if the NHLPA's decertification or disclaimer were not deemed invalid by the NLRB, and the collective bargaining relationship between the parties were not otherwise to continue, all existing contracts between NHL players and NHL teams (known as Standard Player's Contracts or "SPCs") would be void and unenforceable," the league's filing said (top of page 8).

Boiling that down to the simplest terms possible, the league wants the court, in the event of a decertification or disclaimer of interest, to make it so that all player contracts are null and void. Essentially, that means every player in the NHLPA, all 700-plus, would be a free agent.

(Coming Up: Teemu has lost his smile; Dustin Brown moves his family to Switzerland; Matthew Corrente done for the season; enough with the Justin Schultz-as-Paul Coffey stuff; Marian Hossa is cleared to play and promptly locked out; Stephane Robidas ate reindeer; who as the NHL's deepest prospect pool?; Mike Richter vs. the lockout; SF Bull pack in fans at the Shark Tank; Penguins fans aren't buying NHL gear; Jordan Eberle is bonkers.)

I forget the exact statistic, but isn't it something like one-third of the NHLPA is a free agent every summer? And think about how crazy pretty much every summer is with teams spending huge sums of money on numerous players of widely varying quality. Now imagine it at three times that amount, with guys like Jonathan Quick, Steven Stamkos, Shea Weber, Tyler Seguin, Evgeni Malkin, Erik Karlsson, Claude Giroux, Alex Pietrangelo, and I guess oh I don't know Sidney Crosby all hitting the market on the same day.

Now, I'm sure there would be mechanisms put in place to protect guys who previously played with teams to have a period during which they are allowed to negotiate exclusively with the teams that previously held their rights, but one has to wonder just how committed to Tampa a guy like Steven Stamkos would be if he knew that in just a few weeks, 29 other teams would come knocking with a slew of league-max deals.

This would be a living hell for any team with any player who's any good at all. The ability to poach just about any high-level player they want must seem an enticing one for those with deep pockets, and for this reason, the teams that have those players now may be all that's left standing between the league and chaos.

(On the other hand, if you're one of those people who just wants to watch the world burn — Jeremy Jacobs — this could be a really great thing for you. Sure, it means you'll lose the entire season, but think of how much fun July would be.)

Penguins owner Ron Burkle, who employs two of the three or four best players alive today, for example, cannot be happy about the potential of losing both of them to who-knows-where, with nothing coming back his way except the chance to sign someone who could theoretically replace them on some level.

If the talk from the NHLPA last week is to be believed, he might not know all that much about exactly what's going on with these negotiations; ditto many of the other "moderate" owners, brought in as a camouflage for the hawks to try to bully the union into accepting a deal without its top executive's approval.

The prospect, faint though it may be, of having Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin and James Neal and Kris Letang and Marc-Andre Fleury all bolt, should be enough to make him start reading up.

Guys like Burkle, and Jeff Vinik and Ed Snider and Daryl Katz (if he can stop whining about an arena deal for a minute), who have a lot to lose in terms of team quality from the voiding of every contract in the NHL, are the guys who need to intercede here and tell Bettman and Co. to stop acting like babies over what are now remarkably tiny differences between what it wants and what the NHLPA is willing to give.

That is, if it's not too late, which it might be. If so, these moderates, who sat on the sidelines and let rapacious greed from a small minority of the league's owners extend this lockout far longer than it should have stretched (approximately zero days), are just as guilty through their inaction as Bettman, Jacobs, et al.

They could have spoken up, and they didn't until the league needed them to play marionettes in the farcical, theatrical attempt to sway everyone back to the owners side when Burkle, Vinik, Mark Chipman, and Larry Tanenbaum put out those pathetic statements about how intractable the players are boo hoo hoo.

They'd deserve to lose their players. And they'd deserve no sympathy whatsoever. So these guys have a pretty important decision to make: Save the season to save themselves, or let things play out and descend into anarchy. I can't imagine they'd be dumb enough to support the latter path.

What We Learned

Anaheim Ducks: Teemu Selanne recently told a Swedish newspaper that the lockout has him questioning why he's even bothering with working out any more. "What's the point?" is an actual thing he said. Not only has the lockout robbed us of hockey, it also robbed Teemu of his smile. This cannot stand.

Boston Bruins: Today is Day No. 14 since Steve Burton of WBZ in Boston said the lockout could be over in two days. Meanwhile, Zdeno Chara knows how to deal with the lockout, no matter how long it stretches on. "It's at a point where I'm not getting frustrated or excited anymore. I'm just waiting for a final decision." This is the proper attitude to have.

Buffalo Sabres: I guess it's never a good thing when your local beat writer's blog on a game you lost in shootout includes the words "Imagine that" and "(of course)." So the Americans lost to the Leafs after blowing a lead with 9.5 seconds left. This shootout "only" earned Rochester its fifth point in three games.

Calgary Flames: Flames prospect Tyler Wotherspoon officially made Canada's World Junior team, which, when that team crashes and burns spectacularly, should give him a very nice taste of what it's like playing for the Flames.

Carolina Hurricanes: Cool picture of Eric Staal putting on his skates next to his dad to play in some crummy community rink in Thunder Bay. Maybe the league can use it for the next "NHL players: They're just like us" ad campaign.

Chicago Blackhawks: This didn't happen over the weekend, but it was definitely my favorite headline of the last little while: "Marian Hossa cleared to play, then locked out." Man is that funny.

Colorado Avalanche: Ryan O'Reilly will likely make his debut for Mettalurg Magnitogorsk on Wednesday, after a plane trip that required three layovers, in London, Moscow, and Chelyabinsk. Who says the KHL isn't just as glamorous as the NHL?

Columbus Blue Jackets: Fedor Tyutin was named to Russia's roster for something called the Channel One Cup, which will play a number of other national teams this week. So I don't know why everyone acts like nothing but bad things happen to the Blue Jackets. Alex Semin and Semyon Varlamov didn't make the team, for the record.

Dallas Stars: Stephane Robidas says he ate reindeer while playing in Finland. The War on Christmas continues unabated.

Detroit Red Wings presented by Amway: The Michigan House recently voted to give the Red Wings significant tax dollars from Detroit's Downtown Development Authority for the team's proposed $650 million arena district. In all, it will receive $12.8 million that used to be earmarked for the city's crippled public education system. Hey it's a good thing all those unpaid taxes were just an error maybe.

Edmonton Oilers: The Edmonton media is even more caught up in the Justin Schultz hype than it was for Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. Because while it was all they could do to not actually say "Ryan Nugent-Hopkins" and "Wayne Gretzky" in the same sentence, everyone seems perfectly content to say "Justin Schultz" right next to "Paul Coffey." Hey you know who else tears up the AHL every year? Darren Haydar.

Florida Panthers: The Panthers no longer have the top-ranked prospect pool in the NHL, according to Hockey's Future. Now that honor belongs to the Wild, or at least it will until everyone gets injured at once and their fans are left to complain about what could have been.

Los Angeles Kings: Pretty bad sign that Dustin Brown recently moved his entire family to Switzerland and his kids are going to school there, right?

Minnesota Wild: That thing about the Wild having the top prospect group in the league these days? Built on the back of college hockey players. College hockey owns. Think about it.

Montreal Canadiens: Here's a poorly-timed press release from two hotels near the Centre Bell. "Hockey Fans Won't Miss a Game With Montreal Hotel Specials." Yeah, about that…

Nashville Predators: Colin Wilson recently called Gary Bettman a "phony" for that allegedly angry press conference in New York a little while back. I'm actually pretty surprised that more people thought Bettman was actually upset, and not doing some community theater-level acting, which is what he was pretty plainly doing.

New Jersey Devils: Devs prospect and actual first-round pick Matthew Corrente is done for the year with a shoulder injury. In the past three seasons, he has played just 75 games with a series of various injuries including a broken hand, shoulder injury, twisted leg, another shoulder injury, and now this one. So, like, that's not good about his shoulder.

New York Islanders: Imagine being from the New York area and your favorite teams are the Jets, Mets, and Islanders. Oof.

New York Rangers: Mike Richter says he doesn't like the lockout. Bold stance.

Ottawa Senators: In this article about how much the lockout might affect the Senators, an unnamed (obviously) "league insider" says predictions show some teams could lose 30 or 40 percent of their hockey-related revenues. But yeah the lockout will have been totally worth it.

Philadelphia Flyers: Say, remember that thing everyone talked about a few months ago about how guys with back-diving, long-term deals who call it a career might end up back on the cap payroll of the teams that signed them? Yeah, theoretically that could apply to Jeff Carter, Mike Richards, and Scott Hartnell, and possibly even James van Riemsdyk if for some reason he retires at like 26. That would be hysterical.

Phoenix Coyotes: Today is Day No. 129 since Jude LaCava of Fox 10 in Arizona said Greg Jamison would have the deal for the Coyotes sewn up within the next five days. And by the way, here's a nearly-200-foot effort and gorgeous goal from Andy Miele, starting around 33 seconds into the video. It was the only goal of the game, too.

Pittsburgh Penguins: Pens fans, and probably hockey fans in general, just aren't buying as much NHL merchandise as they did in the last few holiday seasons. Weird how that works.

San Jose Sharks: I think people in San Jose might want hockey back. The ECHL's San Francisco Bulls recently sold all 17,562 seats at the Sharks' HP Pavilion, to be played tonight. Well, "sold" may not be accurate. The game was free to Bulls and Sharks season ticket holders, plus another 3,400 people.

St. Louis Blues: The new CBA might hurt the Blues. Because it won't allow the team, or any others, to roll back player salaries. Hoo boy.

Tampa Bay Lightning: Jeff Vinik recently announced all team employees will receive a lengthy paid vacation as a holiday gift. Well, okay, not ALL team employees. Steven Stamkos's vacation remains unpaid.

Toronto Maple Leafs: Jake Gardiner has concussion-like symptoms but Dallas Eakins says it's more like neck issues with some headaches. No big deal gang!

Vancouver Canucks: Ryan Kesler will be out another few months at least. His injuries, which both required surgery, were both on the left side of his body, so rehab hasn't gone very well. Yuck.

Washington Capitals: Here's the real tragedy of the NHL lockout: Adam Oates can't coach the Capitals. Yup.

Winnipeg Jets: The Jets say Mark Scheifele will stay with the Canadian World Junior team regardless of whether the NHL comes back in the next few weeks, but I bet that's only because he's not pro-ready.

Play of the Weekend

Here's Jordan Eberle scoring four goals for Oklahoma City. The release on that first one is friggin' bonkers.

Gold Star Award

The Sedins rule. I love the Sedins.

Minus of the Weekend
More of this dumb "If there's no NHL playoffs, non-NHL teams should play for the Stanley Cup" crap. Because nothing says "Most important trophy in sports" like letting some junior B kids play for it.
Perfect HFBoards Trade Proposal of the Week
User "Beer Me" seems like someone already did that a bunch of times before he posted.

to Edmonton:
1st Round '13

to Boston:

Sounds great!

You cannot make authentic guacamole out of lima beans and Ritz crackers.

Ryan Lambert publishes hockey awesomeness almost never over at The Two-Line Pass. Check it out, why don't you? Or you can e-mail him here and follow him on Twitter if you so desire.

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