No Surprise Here: NHLPA Rejects NHL’s Idea of Olympics for CBA Extension
TORONTO – We all saw this one coming, didn’t we?
You have to figure Gary Bettman did.
Knowing there is a healthy thirst among NHL players to participate at the Pyeongchang, South Korea Winter Games in 2018, he tested the waters last month to find out just how far they would go to quench it.
Would the players be willing to cough up three more years of negotiating rights by agreeing to an extension of the current collective bargaining agreement, a significant sacrifice to make for the privilege of yet again participating in the world’s most elite tournament?
From the outset, it wasn’t a trade the union was willing to make — at least in its raw form.
Players want to have some kind of leverage when it comes to having a say in the business of the NHL. Had they agreed to Bettman’s offer, the CBA would remain as is until 2025 with an out clause for both parties in 2023. Needless to say, nine years is far too long for the union to lock away its negotiating hammer.
So the union did the only logical move it could. As expected, it said no.
With the 2017-18 schedule in the initial stages of being constructed, Bettman repeatedly has said any potential agreement that would see NHLers compete in the upcoming Olympics would likely need to be agreed upon by next month.
The league’s Board of Governors meet next week in Palm Beach, Fla., and the NHLers-to-South-Korea debate stands to be a spicy one. Now that the league’s initial offer has been rejected, will there be another one? At least one of any significance?
With time running out, here are the cast of characters who will determine how this all plays out.
GARY BETTMAN, NHL COMMISSIONER
Bettman has the full backing of the owners and knows they aren’t thrilled with the concept of having their most valuable commodities — the players — risk injury by playing in the Olympics.
The most significant roadblock had been the International Olympic Committee’s sudden refusal to pick up costs for lodging, travel and insurance for NHLers. But when IIHF president Rene Fasel revealed last month that he’d raised the upwards of $10 million US needed to cover those expenses, the league responded with its three-year CBA extension offer.
This isn’t Bettman’s first rodeo when it comes to negotiating and history shows he isn’t afraid to dig in and take a stubborn stand when it comes to getting the most lucrative deal he can for his owners.
This much we do know: Don’t expect NHLers to be at the 2018 Games unless something significant comes back the league’s way.
There is a bigger appetite among the owners for participation for the 2022 Games in Beijing, thanks to the untapped potential of cash influx involved in growing the game in China. But when it comes to Pyeongchang, their biggest issue would seem to be: What’s in it for us?
To that end, they seem to be all in with Bettman as their front man, having presented the commissioner with a new contract 14 months ago that runs through 2022.
Bettman makes the owners money. Under his 23-year watch the NHL has gone from an industry that generated $400 million a year to one that pulls in more than $4 billion.
We’re about to find out.
DONALD FEHR, NHLPA PRESIDENT
Having fought a few ugly labour wars when he held this same post with the Major League Baseball Players Association, Fehr is a worthy adversary for Bettman. At least they seem to have an amicable relationship, which isn’t always the case for those in their positions.
In an interview with CP’s Jonas Siegel on Friday, Fehr candidly left the impression that the Olympics are still on the wish list of the players — but not in order to elongate the current CBA.
“We still think (playing in 2018 is) important and we’ll go from there,” Fehr told Siegel, adding that the union’s executive committee had no interest in doing it if it meant a three-year CBA extension.
Question is, just how much is the NHLPA willing to give up? Only Fehr knows for sure.
RENE FASEL, PRESIDENT, IIHF
Fasel isn’t one who gives up easy. Look at how he came up with the funds to covering the expenses in question for NHLers after the owners refused to pay for their players to attend the Olympics.
“I always said that I would find the money, even if I have to steal it,” Fasel told Postmedia colleague Michael Traikos last month. “I didn’t steal it.”
The extreme time change from South Korea would see games be played at off hours in North America, which certainly siphons television revenues. But Fasel believes the best players in the world still need to be at the Olympics as a showcase for the world’s elite athletes.
As for the 2022 Games in China, Fasel told Traikos the league doesn’t have the option to pick which games it will and will not attend.
“I know Gary is interested (in going) to China, because there’s huge potential for the NHL brand, so I really hope to make a deal for Korea and China,” Fasel said at the time. “I understand the problems they have. In the end, I will try and do my best.”
Right now, the signs seem to suggest it won’t be enough.
Up and Coming Sports Stars to Look Out for in 2020
Every year, a raft of exciting new players come onto the scene across all of the major US sports. With the MLS season getting underway and the NFL and MLB drafts not too far away, now is a great time to look at the young sports stars that could have a very bright future ahead of them, and the ones that are already proving they are destined for greatness.
Theo Bair (MLS)
This MLS season is looking like it could be one of the best yet, with David Beckham’s Inter Miami team adding some extra dazzle to the league. Whilst Beckham might be able to attract a lot of new players to his MLS team, there are a lot of young stars on their way through such as Theo Bair at Vancouver Whitecaps. Bair has already made an impact on the first team and after impressing at under-20 and under-23 level for the national team, he has made two appearances for the senior team, well before his 21st birthday. This year could see Bair make a real name for himself in the MLS.
Vladimir Guerrero Jr. (MLB)
Montreal-born Vladimir Guerrero Jr has one MLB season under his belt but it looks like the best is still yet to come from him at the Blue Jays. He was heavily backed to take the league by storm but he failed to live up to the hype that surrounded him. Without the pressure of being the top-ranked prospect, this season could see Guerrero play with some weight lifted off his shoulders. He has been working very hard on his fitness over the offseason, something that his manager Montoyo has been quick to comment upon.
“Baseball” (CC BY 2.0) by andrewmalone
Connor McDavid (NHL)
McDavid has already established him as a top hockey player but at 23, he has the potential to go on to do so much more. The player was born in Ontario and was the first overall draft pick, showing how much expectation was already on him at that stage but he has gone on to prove that he is one of the best players in the NHL. McDavid could go on to be one the NHL’s best-ever hockey players and this season could be the year that he shows the world, not just the NHL.
Chuba Hubbard (College Football)
The Oklahoma State Cowboys running back has been making the headlines for several years now. He continues to improve and grab more attention for his impressive stats and performances. He was close to being a sprinter and nearly made the Canadian Olympic team before switching over to football. He is passing up the 2020 NFL draft to play his senior season at Cowboys. He should give them a good chance of winning the College Football Championship, though they’re trailing at the seventh spot in the latest American football odds at +2400.00, with Clemson as the current betting favorites.
2020 will definitely be a very exciting time with some of these young stars looking to breakthrough in their respective sports and show the world what they are capable of.
Bob Baffert is back at the Kentucky Derby – and looking to break the Curse of Apollo
Bob Baffert is back at the Kentucky Derby with early favourite Justify after watching the race from his sofa in Southern California last year.
The Hall of Fame trainer’s ability to produce Derby contenders year after year is an enviable feat and why his absence a year ago stood out. It was just his second since 2009 and occurred because his lone candidate got hurt.
Baffert will saddle Justify and 30-to-1 shot Solomini in Saturday’s Derby.
Justify is one of the greenest colts Baffert has brought to Churchill Downs. He’s won all three of his starts by a combined 19 lengths. If Justify wins, he’d be the first to do so since Apollo in 1882 without racing as a two-year-old.
“The thing about the Kentucky Derby, you have to have the right horse. It just happens. You can’t force it,” Baffert said. “All of a sudden, you have good horses and you’re there. So I’ve been really fortunate to have some really good horses.”
Baffert’s four victories are tied for second-most in Derby history. He’s finished second three times, too, including in 2012 with Bodemeister, also the last time he had two starters in the same year.
Like Justify, Bodemeister didn’t race as a two-year-old. He set a blistering pace and led the Derby until the final 150 yards when I’ll Have Another overtook him to win by 1 1/2 lengths.
Magnum Moon, the 6-to-1 third choice, also is unbeaten and didn’t run as a two-year-old.
“It’s going to happen,” Baffert said, referring to the curse being broken. “Whether it happens this year or whatever, but it will happen because Bodemeister almost got away with it. But I don’t really worry about that.”
Baffert almost had a third starter this year until McKinzie developed a hind-end issue that knocked him off the Derby trail.
“When McKinzie got hurt, I wanted to throw up,” he said. “I really think McKinzie would probably be second choice here. We’d really have a 1-2 here.”
Justify cleared the biggest pre-Derby hurdle by drawing the No. 7 post. Jockey Mike Smith can use the colt’s early speed to position him well for the long run to the chaotic first turn. Solomini ended up in the No. 17 post; no horse has ever won from there.
Baffert turned 65 in January, making him eligible for Medicare and retirement at most other jobs. However, he entertains no such thoughts.
“I work hard at it. I just don’t give up,” the white-haired trainer said. “I’m constantly meeting people. They’re sending me horses. If you don’t have success, you’re not going to get those opportunities.”
After a successful run in the quarter horse ranks, Baffert switched to thoroughbreds. He started with one horse.
“After 25 years, I’m finally getting horses that I don’t have to buy,” he said. “The big guys are sending me horses.”
None was bigger than American Pharoah in 2015. The colt swept the Derby, Preakness and Belmont to become racing’s first Triple Crown winner in 37 years.
Baffert has compared Justify to American Pharoah, citing the colt’s imposing physical presence and big stride. Still, Justify has yet to encounter the kind of traffic the Derby’s 20-horse stampede creates and the talent as he’ll run against on Saturday.
“I’d rather have a really talented horse than one who’s seasoned and just on par with the rest of them,” Baffert said.
Early on, Baffert knew Justify had the goods.
“The first time I worked him at Santa Anita, I knew he was a really good horse,” he said. “The track was really deep that morning, and he went around there effortlessly. His first race, he ran incredibly and showed how special he was.”
That kind of intuition is what separates Baffert from his rivals, fellow Hall of Famer trainer D. Wayne Lukas said.
“Bob’s got a great feel for it,” he said.
Matthews ready to return to Maple Leafs lineup after missing a month
NASHVILLE — The hurtin’ tune that Auston Matthews has been singing for the past four weeks finally can be put in the remainder bin in Music City.
The Maple Leafs’ top centre on Wednesday declared himself set to return to the lineup after recovering from a right shoulder injury.
Wonderful timing, of course, considering the Leafs will take on the No. 1 club in the National Hockey League, the Nashville Predators, on Thursday night.
“In my mind, I think I’m ready to go and taking it as I’m getting ready to play (Thursday),” Matthews said after resuming his normal role, between William Nylander and Zach Hyman, during practice at Bridgestone Arena.
“It felt good, nice to get in all the reps and everything. (Wednesday) was a good step forward in that process, going through the line rushes.”
It seemed probable that the Leafs also will have defenceman Nikita Zaitsev, who missed the past five games as he recovered from an illness, against Nashville. Zaitsev was paired with Jake Gardiner, his regular partner, at practice.
For Matthews, it has been 10 games as a spectator with his latest injury, his third of the 2017-18 regular season after he missed four games in November with a back issue and then sat for six in December because of a concussion.
Thursday will mark four weeks since Matthews was hurt when he was sandwiched by the New York Islanders’ Cal Clutterbuck and Adam Pelech in a game at the Air Canada Centre.
A major bonus for Matthews in his recovery has been the fact he has been able to skate though much of his recuperation. That was not the case when he was out with his previous two injuries.
It’s worth noting that Matthews scored two goals versus the Montreal Canadiens upon returning on Nov. 18 from his back injury; in his first two games upon coming back from a concussion, he scored a goal in each.
Mike Babcock said a final decision on the participation of Matthews and Zaitsev against the Predators would be made on Thursday morning, but the Leafs coach was talking as though it would be a rubber stamp.
“This is going to be the best opportunity for (Matthews) because he has been able to skate and compete,” Babcock said. “The other times he was not able to do anything.
“To get him back … it’s still going to be going way faster than he has been practising, so there is going to be an adjustment period, but he’s a good player and he will figure it out.”
Defenceman Morgan Rielly didn’t think Matthews will take long to find his footing. Rielly missed six games in late January/early February with an arm injury, so knows what Matthews could be feeling.
“You’re nervous and you just want to get back into it,” Rielly said. “You play your first shift a bit hesitant, but after that it’s important you get back to yourself.
“It’s never easy, but Auston is one of those guys that I will imagine it won’t take long for him to get back into a rhythm.”
And there’s the trickle-down effect through the forward lines with Matthews in uniform.
“Guys are used to playing with certain players and when everyone is healthy, I think you get better chemistry throughout the entire lineup,” centre Nazem Kadri said. “Certain guys don’t have to play with different guys constantly and it’s just more of a set group, so I think it’s going to help us.”