NHL and union make progress, will meet again soon

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NHL and union make progress, will meet again soon

NEW YORK (AP) A secret, long-awaited bargaining session has done some good in the NHL labor fight - so much so that the sides already have plans to get back to the bargaining table soon.NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly and players' association special counsel Steve Fehr met for long stretches Saturday in an undisclosed location, marking the first time the sides had gotten together for talks in more than two weeks."We had a series of meetings over the course of the day and had a good, frank discussion on the most important issues separating us," Daly told The Associated Press in an email Sunday morning. "We plan to meet again early in the week."Daly and Fehr hadn't met since Oct. 18 when both sides rejected offers, but a series of phone conversations this week did enough to produce a new round of talks. It is unclear how long they were together on Saturday, but the discussions lasted well into the night."I agree with what Bill said. Hopefully we can continue the dialogue, expand the group, and make steady progress," Fehr said Sunday in a statement.There is a sense of urgency now because nearly two months of the season and the prized Winter Classic have already been called off. The hope of a full season being played is already gone, and if a deal isn't reached soon, the NHL could be looking at its second lost campaign since 2004.The lockout reached its 50th day Sunday, but a glimmer of optimism emerged. There have already been 327 games canceled - including the outdoor Winter Classic that was wiped out Friday.A big point of contention between the NHL and the players' association has been the "make whole" provision, which will ensure that all existing player contracts will be paid out regardless of any changes made to the split of hockey-related revenues or contract language.The NHL appears ready to cover more of the costs of those deals as opposed to making them part of the players' share of revenue in future years. In its most recent offer last month, the NHL said it would honor the current contracts in deferred payments, but those would be included in the players' share of revenues.The union balked at that offer.The labor dispute, which began Sept. 16, forced all games from Oct. 11 through Nov. 30 to be called off. It isn't known if any of those games will be rescheduled if the sides come to an agreement soon, but an NHL deadline has already passed that would have allowed for each team to play all 82 games. The season needed to start by Friday for that to happen, but the only hockey activity that day was the cancellation of the outdoor game at Michigan Stadium between the host Detroit Red Wings and Toronto Maple Leafs.Losing the major attraction on the regular-season schedule was the biggest blow yet for the league and its players. The sides couldn't even manage to get together since the previous bargaining session in which the players' union countered a league offer with three proposals that were quickly rejected by the NHL.Daly indicated that cancelling the Winter Classic doesn't necessarily mean more games in the regular season - or the All-Star game - will be wiped out soon."I don't foresee any further cancellation announcements in the near term," Daly wrote in an email to The Associated Press on Friday.In its most recent proposal, the NHL offered the union a 50-50 split of hockey-related revenue, which exceeded 3 billion last season, but that offer was rejected. The players responded with three offers that went nowhere.The NHL offer was pulled back because it was contingent on the league playing a complete season."Last week we had a proposal to save a full season on the table. That has since been withdrawn," Daly told the AP. "That creates a different environment for talks."Players earned 57 percent of revenue in the recently expired contract, in which a salary cap was included for the first time. Owners sought to bring that number below 50 percent this time before their most recent offer. The union tried to get talks restarted last week without preconditions, but was turned away after refusing to agree to bargain off the framework of the league's offer or issue another proposal with the league's offer serving as a starting point.This is the third lockout in NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman's tenure. The first forced a shortened 1994-95 season, and the second led to the cancellation of the entire 2004-05 season - the only time a major North American professional sports league lost a full season to a labor dispute.

Top pick Meier 'real close' to making Sharks debut

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USATSI

Top pick Meier 'real close' to making Sharks debut

SAN JOSE – Struggling to score goals lately with two or fewer in eight of their last 11 games, the Sharks may soon turn to their biggest prospect to try and give the offense a boost.

Timo Meier, the ninth overall pick from the 2015 draft, is tearing up the American Hockey League lately with the Barracuda. He scored four goals (and registered 15 shots) in two games in San Antonio over the weekend, has eight points (5g, 3a) in his last four games, and leads the Barracuda with eight goals.

On Thursday, Pete DeBoer was asked what he’s heard about Meier lately and how close he may be.

“Good things, and real close,” DeBoer said. “I think he would have been even a consideration [Wednesday], but he came down I think with the flu. 

“You feel for him because we’re looking to bring some guys in, and he obviously had a great weekend. He’s one of quite a few guys down there that we feel real comfortable can come in here and are going to help us before the year ends, for sure.”

It’s the second time an illness has affected Meier’s status, as he came down with mononucleosis early in training camp and missed a month of action. He did, however, return to Barracuda practice this week.

One month ago, Barracuda coach Roy Sommer told CSN that Meier had to make some adjustments coming out of juniors. 

“He’s just has to simplify his game,” Sommer said on Nov. 9. “I think he’s just trying to do too much. He’s got to be north-south, and [forget] this circling and trying to put pucks through people. … It’s not going to work.”

Apparently, Meier has figured it out. On Tuesday, Sommer told The Gackle Report: “He’s getting better every game. At the start, I was going, oh man, he’s all over the map, circling and not using his teammates. But shoot, now he just keeps producing.”

“We’ve spent a lot of time with him on video and he picks stuff up.”

The 2015 draft has already produced several players that are regular contributors for their respective clubs, led by Connor McDavid (Edmonton), Jack Eichel (Buffalo), Mitch Marner (Toronto) and Zach Werenski (Columbus). 

Meier is the only player among the top 11 picks that year that has yet to play an NHL game, while 17 of 30 of the players overall chosen in the first round have played at least one NHL game.

Sharks still struggling to get consistent offense

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USATSI

Sharks still struggling to get consistent offense

SAN JOSE – There are games where the Sharks’ lack of offensive firepower isn’t an issue. Recent 2-1 wins over two of the best teams in the league, Chicago and Montreal, were impressive in that San Jose kept a pair of the league’s better offenses from getting more than a single score.

In other instances, though, that necessary goal from the team’s depth just hasn’t come. Wednesday’s 4-2 loss to Ottawa was one example. The Sharks got goals from Logan Couture and Brent Burns – no surprise there – while Joe Pavelski was all around the net, generating more scoring chances than any single player on the ice.

Again, though, the depth forwards and defensemen other than Burns never found the scoresheet. 

And it’s becoming a real issue.

In fact, in the Sharks’ last 11 games in which they’ve gotten 25 goals total, 60 percent of them have come from just those three aforementioned players – Couture (7g), Burns (5g) and Pavelski (3g).

Also over that span, in which San Jose has gone 6-4-1, they’ve gotten no goals from Joe Thornton, Joonas Donskoi, Mikkel Boedker, Micheal Haley or Melker Karlsson; one goal apiece from Joel Ward and Tommy Wingels; and just one goal by a defenseman other than Burns (Dylan DeMelo). Of the 12 forwards that dressed against the Senators, eight of them had two or fewer goals.

The Sharks sit at 23rd in the NHL at 2.38 goals-per game. Sure, it’s just fine winning games by 2-1 final scores. But at some point, other guys are going to have to start putting the puck in the net if this team is truly going to contend for the Stanley Cup.

Couture – who himself got off to a slow start offensively – believes it’s going to come soon.

“Everyone wants to score,” Couture said after the Senators game. “It’s not about trying, it’s just the way that things are going right now. Pucks just aren’t going in for some guys, and, hey, I went through the same thing for awhile there where I wasn’t finding the back of the net. 

“That’s the way that goal-scoring works in the NHL, is you go through streaks where you’re hot and when you’re cold. Some guys are going to get hot soon. It’s going to happen.”

For his part, coach Pete DeBoer also believes the offense will pick up shortly. In the Senators game, the coaching staff internally tracked the scoring chances as 22 for the Sharks and just eight for Ottawa.

When that happens, “you should win, and you should score more than two goals,” DeBoer said.

Without getting into specifics, DeBoer pointed to the “analytics of where we are in the league” as a reason not to panic. Perhaps he’s aware that the Sharks are sixth in the league in shot-attempt percentage (52.25), and first in the NHL in shot-attempt percentage in close games (55.67).

Still, those numbers don’t mean anything when the puck isn’t going in. So what’s missing?

“I just think finish. I think we’re doing a lot of things right,” DeBoer said.

“Obviously I’d love to see us score some more goals five-on-five, but we’re getting some chances,” Ward said. “I would think if we weren’t or if we were getting shelled then it would definitely be something to be concerned about. … We’ve had some good looks and some really quality chances. Things just haven’t fallen in five-on-five, but I think that will come around.”