Sharks

Labor talks stall after informal lunch Saturday

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Labor talks stall after informal lunch Saturday

NEW YORK -- The NHL and the Players' Association weren't quite ready to return to the bargaining table Saturday. But they put aside their differences long enough to at least have lunch together.

After negotiations hit a rough spot Friday on the fourth straight day of talks during the lockout, the sides stayed apart through the early part of Saturday. But they remained in contact during the day before meeting for a small, informal lunch in the afternoon, the Players' Association said in an email.

It was unknown if the sides would hold formal negotiations Saturday, the 56th day of the lockout that has delayed the start of the season and already forced it to be shortened. Talks broke off Friday night a few hours into a bargaining session on the core economic differences that separate the sides and threaten the season completely.

After those discussions ended, union executive director Donald Fehr held a conference call with the executive board and players on the negotiating committee. The players' association continued internal discussions Saturday before meeting with the league.

It became clear Friday night that the gap between the sides had grown wider. Whether negotiations took a step backward remains to be seen.

After three consecutive seemingly positive days of talks this week, discussions turned sour when negotiations ended for the night. The union was under the impression the numbers floated by each side indicated they were closer to an agreement with the league, but NHL commissioner Gary Bettman disagreed.

"Gary made a comment (Thursday) that there is still a lot of work to do. I think, given (Friday's) session, there is still a lot of work to do," Fehr said. "We looked at some of the numbers on the various proposals and we thought we were much closer together on the structure of a deal than the suggestions were. They came back to us and said, 'No, we are very very far apart on the structure of the deal.' "

There were vocal disagreements at the end of the session, and the union is beginning to feel the NHL isn't ready to make a deal now, even if the players were suddenly willing to accept the league's offer in full -- which they are not.

"We talked back and forth a little bit, and at one point the question was asked, 'If the players would agree to everything that's in your financial proposal, what you're saying is you still won't make an agreement unless the players give up everything in all of the player-contracting rights in your proposal?' The answer was, 'Yes, because that's what we want,' " Fehr said. "One wonders if that's really the case. How do you get there from here?

"Given where we are, we're going to reconvene internally (Saturday) morning and we'll come to grips with where we are and try to figure out what we'll do next. I don't know what will happen next."

Bettman declined to reveal what was discussed or where the disagreements lie. He also wouldn't characterize the mood of the talks.

"I am not going into the details of what takes place in the room," he said. "I really apologize but I do not think it would be constructive to the process. I don't want to either raise or lower expectations. I won't be happy until we get to the end result and that means we're playing again."

The union fought to put out internal fires Friday after a memo to players summarizing Thursday's negotiations was leaked to the media. That led to suggestions that the players' association didn't fully convey the owners' most recent proposal to its membership accurately or completely.

Fehr sternly shot down the report, if for no other reason that there were players present at the negotiations when the offer was put forward.

"Their proposal is made in front of players in the room who hear it," Fehr said. "It's made in front of staff who hear it, it's made in front of former players who hear it. They're on the phone talking to everybody on an ongoing basis afterward.

"Owners can't come to meetings when they want to hear stuff directly, but every single player can at the union's expense. Come hear it for himself, make the judgments, and all the rest of it."

Ron Hainsey, the player representative for the Winnipeg Jets, backed Fehr's assertion in full.

"Every player is welcome in every meeting," the defenseman said. "Every player has the ability to get in touch with Don via phone, via email, or get in touch with me or any member of the negotiating committee via phone, via email. This notion that something was hidden over the past 24 or 48 hours is totally inaccurate. We feel that this should put this issue to rest.

"Obviously, there aren't 30 owners in the room, there aren't 700 players, but we make sure everyone who wants to know exactly what's going on ... we're taking calls every night. It was a memo to summarize as quick as possible for players. At the end of that memo I believe it says if you want exact details of the offer, call us or email us."

The lockout has already caused the league to call off 327 regular-season games, including the New Year's Day Winter Classic in Michigan. The league is in danger of having a lockout wipe out a full season for the second time in seven years.

Bettman is scheduled to attend Hockey Hall of Fame inductions Monday night in Toronto, but developments in negotiations could prevent that.

The lockout began Sept. 16 after the collective bargaining agreement expired, and both sides rejected proposals Oct. 18. The players' association has agreed to a 50-50 split of hockey-related revenues, but that division wouldn't kick in until the third year of the deal.

During a second consecutive day of marathon negotiations Wednesday, the players' association made an offer on revenue sharing in which richer teams would help out poorer organizations, and another proposal regarding the "make-whole" provision that would guarantee full payment of all existing multiyear player contracts.

Revenue sharing and the "Make-Whole" provision are major hurdles. Both sides have made proposals that included a 50-50 split of hockey-related revenues. The NHL has moved toward the players' side on the "Make-Whole" provision and whose share of the economic pie that money will come from.

The NHLPA estimates that about 590 million is needed to guarantee the amount left to be paid to players on the "Make-Whole" provision, but so far the league is only offering 211 million.

The union accepted a salary cap in the previous labor pact, which wasn't reached until after the entire 2004-05 season was canceled because of a lockout. The union doesn't want to absorb the majority of concessions this time after the NHL had record revenue that exceeded 3 billion last season.

Players believe that dropping their share of hockey-related revenue from 57 percent to 50 percent is already a major concession on their part.

Five months after taking puck to face, Sharks' Logan Couture 'still pretty sore'

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AP

Five months after taking puck to face, Sharks' Logan Couture 'still pretty sore'

Nearly five months after taking a puck to the mouth that resulted in major damage, Logan Couture is still dealing with the aftereffects of his surgically repaired mouth, which now features several false teeth.

Appearing on the NHL Network this week, Couture was asked how he’s feeling with less than one month to go before the Sharks open training camp on Sep. 14.

“There’s good days and bad days,” Couture said. “My bottom teeth are still my real teeth. They’ve tried to keep them so I don’t lose them. I don’t know if I’ll be able to, they’re still pretty sore. My top teeth are all fake now – my front six, I think. So, it’s different. It just feels different in my mouth. 

“But everything else with my face and all that is healed. I’m lucky that it’s an injury that didn’t affect my training, and hopefully won’t affect me going forward.”

Couture was injured on March 25 in Nashville. He was set up just outside the crease in the offensive zone when a Brent Burns point shot hit a stick before squarely battering the now 28-year-old’s mouth.

After missing the final seven games of the regular season, Couture returned for the Sharks’ playoff opener. He managed to play in all six games of the first round loss, posting two goals and one assist for three points, although he struggled at times and was seemingly targeted by the Oilers.

Couture is currently in his hometown of London, Ontario where he’s staging a casino event for brain research. Fellow Sharks Chris Tierney and Dylan DeMelo will take part, as will other NHL stars like the Kings’ Drew Doughty.

Analysis: Sharks will need results from recent draft classes

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Analysis: Sharks will need results from recent draft classes

It was late in the lockout-shortened 2013 season when Sharks general manager Doug Wilson really started to prepare for the future. Douglas Murray was dealt to Pittsburgh for a pair of second round selections. Ryane Clowe packed his bags for Broadway, in exchange for a second and a third round pick from the Rangers. Michal Handzus went to Chicago for a fourth rounder.

Wilson’s logic was sound, as it typically takes two-to-four years before draft picks have a chance to make an impact at the NHL level. The general manager figured that by then, players like Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau either wouldn’t be a part of the team anymore or would be slowing down. Restocking the cupboards was essential.

From 2013-15, the Sharks made 24 selections over the next three NHL entry drafts, including seven total picks in the top two rounds. Some players have shown promise. Others haven’t. A few aren’t in the organization anymore. That’s the nature of the business.

The way the 2017-18 opening night roster is shaping up, though, now is the time that some of these young players in the system simply have to step up. Marleau and his 27 goals last season are gone, Thornton’s numbers are down and he’s coming off of major knee surgery, Joe Pavelski is now 33 years old, and the team’s offense depth is suspect at best. There have been no notable additions in the offseason.

Frankly, this season could be viewed as a referendum on the team’s amateur scouting staff, including longtime director Tim Burke. Wilson handed Burke and his staff a wonderful opportunity to provide the organization with fresh talent with the team approaching an organizational crossroads.

What has transpired so far is a bit concerning, as already two of the team’s first round picks from that span ended up being nothing more than trade bait.

* * *

Mirco Mueller, chosen 18th overall in 2013, was a huge disappointment in San Jose. It’s been well documented that he was mishandled by the organization when he was rushed to the league in 2014-15, but even this past season, regular observers of the Barracuda had Mueller as nothing more than the AHL team’s fourth-best defenseman. He’s now in New Jersey, swapped for a pair of draft picks.

The scouting staff was so high on Mueller on draft day that Wilson traded a valuable second round pick to Detroit to move up just two places to select him. With those acquired picks, the Red Wings took Anthony Mantha 20th overall and Tyler Bertuzzi 58th overall – two forwards that have shown a whole lot more NHL potential than Mueller (especially Mantha, who has 39 points in 70 career NHL games so far).

Perhaps more concerning, though, is that the Sharks 2013 draft class as a whole is looking like a dud. Second round pick Gabryel Boudreau suffered a wrist injury and is no longer in the organization anymore, but he was trending downward even before he got hurt. None of the remaining players selected from rounds four-through-seven look to be NHL quality, either.

The next year brought Nikolay Goldobin, chosen 27th overall after the Sharks traded down in the first round, and he ended up being the key piece in the Jannik Hansen acquisition from Vancouver. Goldobin showed some flashes of offensive talent during his time in the organization, but his lack of hockey sense and on-ice work ethic helped lead to his exit. Whether Goldobin becomes an NHL regular, even with a fresh start in Vancouver, is highly uncertain.

Had the Sharks stayed at 20th overall, they could have selected Nick Schmaltz (20th overall), Robby Fabbri (21st overall), or David Pastrnak (25th overall). Instead, they moved down and took Goldobin, making it back-to-back first round failures.

* * *

Still, unlike 2013, other players from Goldobin’s draft class have shown some promise. Second rounder Julius Bergman was a steady blueliner for a good Barracuda team last season, and although he’s probably not NHL-ready yet, he could be on the right track. Late in the draft the team found Kevin Labanc in the sixth round with the 171st overall selection, and Labanc had some nice moments with the Sharks last season. His shot and his hands make him a solid prospect, although Labanc still probably has to get a bit bigger and stronger to play in the NHL full-time.

Noah Rod (second round, 53rd overall) and Rourke Chartier (fifth round, 149th overall) are also still developing, with Rod playing against men in the Swiss league the past few seasons and Chartier a valuable player for the Barracuda last year.

In 2015, the draft provided the Sharks with Timo Meier at ninth overall, as the club drafted in the top 10 for the first time since 2007. At this point, Meier is far and away the best prospect in the organization, and he’ll likely be relied upon to play a top nine (or even a top six) role for the Sharks this season.

The 2015 draft brought other decent prospects, too. Defenseman Jeremy Roy was selected 31st overall, and after suffering a serious knee injury in juniors this year, he’ll get a chance to play for the Barracuda this year. Fourth rounder Adam Helewka and fifth rounder Rudolfs Balcers have also developed nicely since draft day. It’s still a bit too early to evaluate that draft as a whole.

It should also be mentioned that while their draft day record may be suspect the past few seasons, the Sharks have brought in European free agents like Melker Karlsson, Joonas Donskoi and Marcus Sorensen. Karlsson has developed into a versatile, hard-working forward; Donskoi has shown flashes of offensive brilliance despite a disappointing second year in the NHL last season; and Sorensen looks primed to make the opening night roster after his speed and tenacity shined through during the Sharks’ first round series loss to Edmonton.

The Sharks scouting staff has helped to keep the team competitive for a long time, and they’re as big a reason as any that the team has missed the playoffs just once in the past 11 seasons. But this is also a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately business, and now is the time that the Sharks need to see some results from players that were chosen by Burke and company.