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What We Learned: So the NHL’s make-whole to players was fairy tale after all

Ryan Lambert
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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.

Well, the good news is that after two months of the NHL demanding that the players give and give and give some more in these CBA negotiations, Gary Bettman and Co. finally made a real and actual concession to the players.

I'm obviously not talking about the players getting something out of the League in terms of, say, contracting rights, or other givebacks, in return for the hundreds of millions of dollars they've given the league as part of this now-expired CBA compared with where they were in 2003-04, or the hundreds of millions more they'll eventually concede when they agree to the new one. This always remained a deal in which the owners got everything and the players got nothing in return for the mere potential of possibly-increased stability throughout the league. And that's if you don't allow for the "loss of momentum" teams in dying markets face as a result of this protracted and stupid lockout.

Not a very good chance of that happening, you have to figure. This is the kind of lottery Shirley Jackson warned us about.

No, what the league finally conceded in full view of the players and fans is that of course the concept of make-whole — that is, the 29 owners across the NHL paying every dollar of every contract they'd already signed with their players — was something to which they would never acquiesce.

Remember those comments Ryan Suter made about how maybe he had been a little naïve in signing his monster deal with Minnesota because it looked like Craig Leipold allowed it only knowing that he wouldn't have to pay the full value?

"It's disappointing," Suter said before running from the comments like they were on fire. "If you can't afford to [sign contracts] then you shouldn't do it. [Leipold] signed us to contracts. At the time he said everything was fine. Yeah, it's disappointing. A couple months before, everything is fine, and now they want to take money out of our contracts that we already signed."

Turns out he was completely and totally and clearly right all along, even if he won't publicly admit it now.

(Coming Up: Sidney Crosby and Europe; Rick Nash leaves Davos; Braden Holtby is a fluke; BJ Crombeen spittin' hot truth; Claude Giroux on the mend; Bobby Ryan is thriving; Red Wings hold charity game; world juniors talk; Canadiens visit hospital; the Canucks could lose Alex Edler; more truth from Larry Brooks; and how to get Carey Price to the Flyers.)

Leipold, who was rightly and roundly ridiculed for crying poor about big-money, front-loaded deals just a few months before signing Suter and Zach Parise to them, has been one of the owners most involved in these CBA chit-chats (you'll recall he was on the receiving end of The Campoli Incident). It is, then, pretty reasonable to assume that's exactly what happened with those deals. Zach Parise said the same thing and, unlike Suter, because at least has the courage of his convictions, didn't back off.

The evidence of this is that the word "make-whole" went out the window when the players realized the owners were trying to "make" the contracts they'd already signed "whole" by taking money out of the players' side of the deal. Then the owners made it so that the money became "transition payments," because to call them "make-whole" means that they would have to in some way be the "whole" amount of money owed to the players. Make-partial just doesn't have that same ring to it.

This was plainly never the owners' intent and that, therefore, tells us that Suter and Parise were totally correct in their assessments: The owners approved all those deals more or less knowing that there was no way they would ever be obligated to pay the full value of them.

What's more, a handful of those deals were also signed for terms longer than what the owners want to allow under the new CBA.

They're pushing for five-year limits on all contracts, and that's probably something most owners knew well in advance of the NHL putting its foot down on the subject.

So isn't it funny that, say Taylor Hall got seven years at $6 million per, or Jordan Eberle got six at the same rate, three and two weeks before that CBA expired, respectively? Tyler Seguin also got six at $5.75 million, and John Carlson got the same at just under $4 million. (Note, by the way, that both of those were signed by teams with owners now heavily pushing the NHL agenda with regard to contract term limits.) Evander Kane's six-year deal, signed the day before the CBA expired, pays him $5.25 million a season.

That doesn't get into Kari Lehtonen's five-year, $29.5 million deal, or Milan Lucic's three-year, $18 million contract, though both were signed just days before the lockout began. What about the disbelief when Shane Doan got $5.3 million a year for four seasons on a 35-plus deal? No one's going to have to pay him that much now.

Let's not forget: In the two-day period before the lockout began, owners spent close to $200 million on players, and Capgeek says the last 50 contracts signed prior to the lockout add up to a max value of about $399.16 million. None were signed more than three weeks prior to the lockout.

There is, it's important to acknowledge, some amount of culpability on the players for accepting these deals. They had to know there was at least some chance (cynics would it was say a very good one) that they wouldn't get the full value of those deals, which is why guys like Suter and Parise and Shea Weber were smart to wrangle big up-front payments to allow them to financially float through the lockout. But even if you believed make-whole was ever on the table, which you shouldn't have, this end should also be in no way surprising.

Now that the seemingly-agreed-upon transition payments are off the table — because of, well, probably nothing in particular — it's pretty obvious those deals were pursued with full knowledge that a healthy discount would come before most of those deals paid out a dollar.

So we at least have one bit of truth from the league at this point. That's a feather in Don Fehr's cap, right?

What We Learned

Anaheim Ducks: Bobby Ryan is playing really well with Anze Kopitar for Mora IK in Sweden. The latter has assisted on three of the former's four goals since they were put together. To be fair, though, if you can't play really well with Anze Kopitar you probably shouldn't be playing professional hockey.

Boston Bruins: Today is Day No. 7 since Steve Burton of WBZ in Boston said the lockout could be over in two days. Meanwhile, Bruins fans jonesing for live hockey action might do well to get out to a BC or BU game this winter. But for the love of god do not go see Northeastern whatever you do.

Buffalo Sabres: Mikhail Grigorenko is expected to be a major presence at the upcoming World Juniors tournament, as you might expect from a 28-year-old.

Calgary Flames: Mike Vernon and Miikka Kiprusoff are Calgary's two great goaltenders of all time, and man was Roman Turek devastated to get the news.

Carolina Hurricanes: Jay Harrison on the latest NHLPA conference call: "It was informational, about the nature of how things had gone," Harrison said of the players' conference call. "A lot of things had happened in the last week that the guys as a membership hadn't been privvy to." SEE? Fehr is keeping information from the players! I knew it!

Chicago Blackhawks: Chicago's affiliate Rockford IceHogs recently saw their four-game winning streak snapped by… Chicago? This AHL stuff is confusing.

Colorado Avalanche: Really hilarious to me that arguably the Avs' best player just signed in Russia for two seasons because Colorado couldn't get him signed before the lockout, but at least he did it to play with his brother.

Columbus Blue Jackets: Something to which Ryan Johansen must be unaccustomed as a professional hockey player: His Springfield Falcons are the best team in the AHL. They've only lost four of 21 in regulation.

Dallas Stars: "Are Cities Like Dallas To Blame For The Hockey Lockout?" I mean, basically yes. (This is actually a very interesting interview with a sports economist.)

Detroit Red Wings presented by Amway: Dan Cleary and other Red Wings held a charity game of their own and drew 4,500 fans in Windsor. They wanted to get Sid Crosby, but his insurance for a one-off, no-contact charity game would have cost $100,000.

Edmonton Oilers: Ryan Nugent-Hopkins will indeed go to Canada's World Junior camp in Calgary as planned because his shoulder is in good enough shape after all. Maybe.

Florida Panthers: Hey guys don't worry, the Panthers not having games isn't really hurting Sunrise Sports and Entertainment all that much. The company makes money most years as a result of non-hockey events. Wow cool so why are they helping to drive the lockout again?

Los Angeles Kings: AEG, the Kings' parent company, held a Hanukkah event over the weekend and had a lighted ice menorah. On hand to light the sculpture was the biggest celebrity they could get, David Arquette. This lockout's a killer, man.

Minnesota Wild: Craig Leipold will speak at a MetroNorth Chamber of Commerce annual meeting, but really only plans to give 85 percent of his prepared remarks.

Montreal Canadiens: This one of the really great things about the lockout: Canadiens players had to make their own visit to Montreal Children's Hospital because they are obviously not allowed to go during the team's annual official trip to visit with sick children. But on the other hand, what kid isn't psyched to meet the Habs' assistant scouting director?

Nashville Predators: The Preds who remained in Nashville during the lockout really started to step up their workouts this week before the NHL theatrically dashed hopes for the season to start any time soon. Bet they feel stupid now.

New Jersey Devils: Two Devils prospects, Stefan Matteau and Blake Pietila, are on the US World Junior preliminary roster and, if they make the team, are guaranteed gold medals because America is the best!

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New York Islanders: It never fails to make me laugh when I read, "New York Islanders defenseman Lubomir Visnovsky…" I bet he tries to fake his own death when the lockout ends just so he doesn't have to go to Nassau Coliseum.

New York Rangers: Rick Nash left Switzerland to get an injured groin looked at, but I'm sure that's not a cause for concern at all, every Rangers fan on Earth hoped at the same time.

Ottawa Senators: Hugh Jessiman is playing well for the Binghamton Senators. Meaning he has eight points in 20 games but hasn't been traded yet. He gets traded pretty much every year these days.

Philadelphia Flyers: Claude Giroux is skating again after his, ahem, "neck" injury three weeks ago, but had to take it easy out there. Yes, his "neck" still isn't 100 percent. "Neck" injuries are tough to come back from.

Phoenix Coyotes: Today is Day No. 122 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. Fortunately, Greg Jamison believes he has completed a "17-month odyssey" in attempting to buy the team with his shadowy cabal of investors. Hey, doesn't he, like, not own the team yet?

Pittsburgh Penguins: Sid Crosby to Europe is looking like a very done deal. I expect Gary Bettman to come running into the room seconds before Crosby puts pen to paper and say, "Haha the lockout is over Sid don't worry we'll agree to whatever you want."

San Jose Sharks: Joe Pavelski had a pair of helpers in Dynamo Minsk's win over Dinamo Riga. Dynamo Moscow could not be reached for comment, but the Ottawa Rough Riders and Saskatchewan Roughriders nodded knowingly.

St. Louis Blues: You might not believe this but Alex Steen is really doing well in the Swedish Elite League during the lockout. He has 8-15-23 for Modo in just 20 games. He had 15-13-28 in 48 for St. Louis last season.

Tampa Bay Lightning: BJ Crombeen spittin' hot truth on the CBA: "We moved drastically in almost every area, and their big gift was to give us back free agency and salary arbitration and entry-level contracts to what they are right now." Yup, pretty much dude.

Toronto Maple Leafs: The Marlies are the best place for Jake Gardiner to play this season? I'm sure his bank account disagrees.

Vancouver Canucks: If the lockout erases the whole season, the Canucks might lose Alex Edler, since he's a free agent next summer and they're not going to have the cap space to re-sign him. Yeah, that's the big tragedy for Canucks fans in all this.

Washington Capitals: Braden Holtby's actual GAA in the AHL is 2.71. That Bruins series was a fluke after all!

Winnipeg Jets: I linked to it above with respect to the Campoli Incident but here it is again: Ron Hainsey might face the prospect of never getting an NHL contract again because he has been vocal in his support for Don Fehr and the union. What a load of crap. Don't sign him if you don't think he can help your team, sure, but to blacklist him for maybe getting into it with Jeremy Jacobs in CBA meetings is ludicrous. If that happens, I hope every NHL free agent, restricted or otherwise, refuses to sign with Boston forever.

Play of the Weekend

Skip to 1:19 of this video to watch Boston College freshman defenseman and Florida Panthers first-round pick Michael Matheson create a turnover in the neutral zone, pick up a loose puck at the attacking blue line, then go through a defenseman and score from his knees to get his second of the game. The kid is incredible.

Gold Star Award

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Another great column by Larry Brooks on the shameful way in which the league continues to lie its way through orchestrated denials of a potential CBA agreement, because it's trying to use the same blueprint now that it found worked so well in 2005. Shameful stuff from the guys in charge, who will acquiesce to PA demands as if by magic once their actual drop-dead date hits in a few days.

Minus of the Weekend

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Say, have you noticed the league still hasn't canceled games after Dec. 14? CURIOUS.

Perfect HFBoards Trade Proposal of the Week

User "CL SMOOTH" is just that.

To Philadelphia:
Carey Price
Dalton Thrower
David Desharnais
3rd Round pick

To Montreal:
Ilya Bryzgalov
Brayden Schenn
Scott Hartnell
2013 First Round Pick
2014 First Round Pick

Wow.

Signoff
Boil up some Mountain Dew; it's gonna be a long night.

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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