Posts Tagged ‘NHL Lockout’


As the NHL season is finally under wayt, we wanted to visit the dark days of the lockout by chatting to someone who makes his living from the NHL and hockey. Ladies and gentlemen, meet Antti Makinen, a Finnish NHL sports caster for NelonenPro. Makinen has become well known in the Finnish hockey media, mainly due to his active Twitter use and his enthusiastic commentary during games. One of the memorable moments came during the New Jersey Devils – Philadelphia Fylers series, well words wouldn’t do it justice, so you can watch the clip here.

 

When the lockout first started did Makinen feel like he didn’t have much to worry. “When (the lockout was announced, it didn’t bother me. I was sure it would only last a week or so. After the first couple of weeks, it started to disturb my thoughts.”

 

At the start of the lockout there was a lot of optimism about the length and many pundits and analysts thought it would be something the league could get sorted out before the season started, or at worst, it wouldn’t affect most of the season.

 

However, as the lockout continued, Makinen says it started to affect things. “My employer (Nelonen Pro) had to do a lot of rescheduling. NHL is a big thing to our channel and they had their hands full to reschedule. For me personally it was a bit of a 50/50 situation. I had all the time in the world to play with my two year-old son, but on the flipside, the worry was on the finances.”

 

For a play-by-play professional, the job is similar to a professional athlete. There’s a constant need to keep up with your skills and hone your craft. Makinen didn’t fall on empty for the lockout as he found some sports casting work for Finnish SM-Liiga games. During the SM-Liiga gig, many of Makinen’s Twitter followers regularly tweeted him asking which game he would be calling. “Calling the SM-Liiga games helped me a lot,” Makinen says. “It was a job that helped pay the bills and it also helped mentally as I had something else to think about than the lockout.”

 

Riding the highs and lows

 

So for someone whose livelihood depends on the NHL having games what are some of the emotions that you go through? Mid October was probably the toughest for many fans as it was the first time of that infamous ‘cautious optimism’. “I had a couple of rock bottom moments during the lockout,” Makinen admits. “The toughest one was in a middle of October when my own sources told me that the deal is close. Then of course Bettman came out and said that they (NHL and the NHLPA) were speaking different languages.”

 

But for someone who is active on Twitter and also a fan of the game, Makinen didn’t resort to outbursts that many fans (like myself) resorted to in desperation. “I tried to maintain optimism publicly, but it was really hard,” Makinen says. “I have to that my wife for all her understanding. She really supported me through the lockout.”

 

However, the end of the lockout meant a big relief to those whose livelihoods depend on the NHL. As Makinen points out he doesn’t have to worry about the summer months as the NHL Play-Offs are likely to go on long into the summer months. “(The season) will be a busy one, but I think it’s a good thing,” Makinen says. “It’s a bit weird to start the season in January as normally this is the hardest part of the season for me. However, our batteries are fully loaded and we are ready to go.”

The world of sports casters

 

For me personally, the sports caster world and work has always been interesting. It has puzzled me to think how someone can keep up with the changes in a game as fast as hockey. If you ask my parents, they would say that as a child, I was always pretending that I was calling a hockey game, ski jumping event or a rally.

 

It felt only natural to ask Makinen about his career and how he got into sports casting. “I used to play hockey and I won two Finnish championships in the junior levels,” Makinen says. “I was also a member of the Finnish U17 and U18 team. My career came to an end when I was 18 and I broke my back. After my playing days were done, a manager of a local radio station called me and asked if I wanted to try to work with them on their hockey radio. I had no plans after everything had turned upside down, so I tried and as they say, the rest is history.”

 

However, Makinen didn’t get to always work on hockey, even though his knowledge of the game. “Hockey has always been my thing, but I had to prove myself in TV before I got to do hockey,” Makinen explains. “I have done colour commentary for football from all over the world, I’ve done Superbikes and a lot of other motorsports. I’ve also called some basketball and floorball games.”

 

Stats:

 

As hockey players, what we wanted to find out was how many games per week Makinen does. According to the man himself, he does five to eight games per week. “I just counted that between 2010 and 2012 I did a total of 407 games,” Makinen says. “I bet no one can match those numbers back here.”

 

Impressive statistics, given that Finland is seven hours ahead of the Eastern Conference, which means countless of sleepless nights for a man who calls Tampere his home and does many of his games from Helsinki (approximately 70-80 mile trip).

 

Statistics form an important part for any commentator and Makinen is no exception. His preparation includes looking at stats and stories about past meetings of teams. “When the game is on, it’s just a free-fall to me. It’s my thing to go inside the game and live in the moment.”

 

As mentioned at the start of the article, Makinen has come up with a few living legends in terms of things said on the air, during a game “They’re just things I’ve said. I’ve never planned what to say and just say what comes to my mind,” Makinen explains. “I think it’s impossible to plan what to say in different games and situations. If you have to worry about what to say and where you say it, it will destroy the broadcast.”

 

Indeed, a good sports caster can add so much to a game and the experience that the fan receives and where not directly employed by the NHL, sports casters add so much value to the overall product that the NHL sells internationally. Fans who live and breathe their teams’ trials and tribulations already live in every stride of their team, but a sport caster such as Makinen can add enthusiasm and a new level to the game.

 

Makinen, who lists 2011-2012 first round Penguins vs Flyers series as one of his favourites along with Blackhawks’ cup win as his friend goalie Antti Niemi won the cup, parts us with some of his wisdom to people looking for a career in sport casting and play-by-play commentary. “It’s a long way, so be patient. Give it your best every time you are working and there are no shortcuts. Most importantly, don’t try to be someone else, be yourself and find your own way of doing things.”

 

Thank you to Antti Makinen for taking part in the interview and good luck with the NHL season and hopefully the fans will enjoy every game televised this year. 

 

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In true spirit of Twitter, and social media promotion, the NHL has taken to promoting the new,  shortened season, with the hashtag and theme of #Hockeyisback, or Hockey is back. It’s latest promotional video has spread through the hockey community like wildfire. Where yes, it is slick and evokes a lot of emotions, I still have a problem (like many others) with the whole hockey is back theme.

 

You see, hockey never left and the whole hashtag is a bit insulting to other leagues in North America. In north America you had the AHL, ECHL, CHL SPHL and other minor pro leagues that played since September/October time frame, but with what NHL is saying is that those leagues are, well, a bit insignificant and don’t classify as hockey. This is not to mention the whole of Europe, where leagues started in September. You had Finnish, Swedish, German, Swiss, Russian and Czech professional leagues starting their seasons, so in many ways, the only thing that is back is the NHL.

 

Where yes, I do agree that the NHL is the best hockey league there is, but to assume that it is the be all and end all of hockey is a little bit misguided. The thing is, if the NHL had fallen because of the work dispute, the game of hockey would not have died or gone away. Yes, it is great to have the NHL back, but the whole “Hockey is back” slogan is a little bit arrogant from a league that lost 113 days to one of the most pointless work stoppages in the history of professional sports.

 

The NHL is in a position where many economists have scrutinised its brand value and given estimates of half a billion dollars lost in brand value, which has left the NHL’s marketing  department to do its best to bring fans back. Where many teams are doing various promos to entice fans to come back to watch hockey, for the league to say that hockey is back is bullish and to a lot of disgruntled fans it is yet another slap in the face.

 

Where yes, I am excited about the NHL being back, I’m not supportive of the statement that hockey is back. Despite my excitement, I think it would be divine justice if the NHL season would open up to empty arenas across the league, but I doubt that it will happen. Despite how disgruntled the fans were during the lockout, many of them will be back. 


It happened with the last shortened NHL season and it looks like it is happening again. There is going to be a player shortage in the market after all the NHL players have returned to their NHL teams. There are already reports circulating that AHL teams are scrambling to fill their rosters after their NHL players have left. The same can be expected once the last NHLers leave the KHL that the Russian behemoth league will start signing up top talents from other European leagues, further speeding up the snowball effect.

 

 

The challenge for European teams is that the IIHF transfer window closes on the 31st of January, so there is a lot of work to do to find a suitable replacement to bring in to plug holes left by locked out NHL players. As a UK based player agent from 9Hockey Management, Gareth Chalmers said on Twitter “I think a lot of European teams may struggle to replace departing NHLers, not in terms of quality but with an actual body.” Chlamers also added that he knows of teams that have been looking for import players for up to three months.

 

In Finland, there has been talk that the KHL would be extending offers to some of the top Finnish players and that teams are looking to accept these offers due to the vast financial gains to be made in terms of compensation. The first move was seen today, when Espoo Blues, gave a green light to Teemu Ramsted’s move to SKA St.Petersburgh. Ramsted was one of Blues’ key players after scoring 5+29 points in 39 games. The centre was also part of Finland’s Euro Hockey Tour roster where he played under the SKA head coach, Jukka Jalonen.

 

With the lockout really messing up the markets there are undoubtedly more hockey jobs available now, but there might not be high calibre players on the market that would be able to fill the roles that are being offered. For example an Italian Serie A2 team (second league in Italy) was looking for players with significant SM-liiga, NHL or KHL experience. The demand surely is high, but I can’t see anyone in a current higher league team make the change to Italian second tier hockey.

 

With AHL teams looking to bolster their teams, they will likely call up players from the ECHL, who in turn will be looking at the lower rings of professional hockey to fill in gaps made by the AHL. In the KHL, the net is cast into Europe, with Finland being a good candidate for player recruitment. The Finnish SM-Liiga teams ideally would like to have import players, but at the same time, they are looking for quality impact players, which can be hard to find. The other option for teams in Europe is to replace departed players with their top junior talents and try and hurry along their player development, a move which can be risky but can also yield high returns.

 

So not only is the NHL gearing up for a start, but that doesn’t mean that the European teams are any less busy. The European hockey market could see some puzzling moves (as seen by Rauman Lukko in signing Josef Straka) or some great last minute finds. As said, the transfer deadline for European teams is on the 31st of January when all ITC registrations closes, so busy days ahead for team GMs as well as player agents.

 

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As the lockout is drawing to a close with new CBA now being written and ratified, a process that should take a couple of days or a week, here’s a quick thought of the team that might lose the most with its locked out NHL players leaving.

You might be surprised, but the team doesn’t come from the KHL, which has played home to many NHLers during the lockout. I believe that the team feeling the loss of its NHLers will be Rauman Lukko from the Finnish SM-Liiga.

Lukko and the town of Rauma, Finland was home to Dallas Stars’ defence man Philip Larssen, Phoenix Coyotes’ forward Mikkel Boedker and New York Islanders centre Frans Nielsen. The Danish trio has been instrumental for Lukko, who are 10th in the league at the moment. Boedker, at the time of leaving the team was its top point scorer after amassing 21 goals and 12 assists in 29 games (as reference, SM-Liiga’s top point scorer Ilari Filppula has scored 15 goals and 31 assists in 35 games). Edit: After Sunday’s games, Mikkel Boedker was the leading goal scorer in SM-Liiga with his 21 goals.

Lukko’s offence has not been the best and the Danish NHL players were a real boost to the team during their time in FInland. Where Boedker, Larsson and Nielsen might not be considered as the most prolific NHL players in terms of their point production, their impact in the Finnish league is a good indication of their capability. Where the KHL has played host to players such as Kovalchuck, Ovechkin, Malkin (who has been on fire of late), I still think that the impact of losing such core elements from Lukko makes it perhaps the biggest losers out of the NHL lockout.

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The embroiled NHL Commissioner, Gary Bettman, recently spoke to Winnipeg free press (read the whole interview here) and what my professional head reads as a “hey, look at me, I AM a good guy” type of interview, there were a couple of bits that jumped out at me.

 

In the interview Bettman says “It’s horrific for the simple reason that we as a business are in business to put on our game and engage with our fans and to grow our game. This entire process is absolutely inconsistent with that. Having said that, any sports league needs a system that works and makes the game and the business of the game healthy”, when he was asked about if he was happy with the lockout. My question still is and will remain, why weren’t the CBA negotiations started earlier? The NHL cancelled its European premiere games well in advance “due to a threat of work stoppage in the NHL” and it also worked out a “lockout clause” to its Winter Classic contract, all the while maintaining that there was enough time to salvage the 2012-2013 season. Yeah, that all worked out really well.

 

Additionally, when asked about the state of the negotiations, Bettman remarks that “The lines of communication are open. They know they have our best offer, which is a 50-50 sharing and the other issues that we’ve proposed to them. They proposed 17 issues last week and we agreed to 13 of them. We know where the negotiations led to, they know they have our best offer.” The way I’m reading that comment, and in particular the mention “they know they have our best offer” twice in that comment means that the NHL is unlikely to give on the offer they have tabled. While there aren’t any public details of what the NHLPA has offered in return, it looks like it could be that the NHL is sticking to its guns about the contract it has tabled. The NHLPA, not happy with clauses in the offer is trying to negotiate it, but as it is the NHL’s “best offer”, it is unlikely that the NHL is willing to move on it.

 

 

At least Bettman acknowledges the fact that the lockout is damaging the reputation of the game and no doubt Bettman has received a ton of shtick from fans, players, business partners and so on. Bettman said in the interview that “Obviously what we’re going through is damaging. We can estimate the dollars and cents of what’s been cancelled and what we’re hearing from business partners and what it’s doing to their businesses. But we won’t know the long-term and short-term effects until this is over. But it’s not good.”

 

Damn right it’s not good. More and more fans that I talk to, the common consensus among fans is that who cares. The league – and the players for that matter – is losing the fans’ interest. There have been reports that Molson is looking to recoup lost money from the league. Other business partners can’t be too pleased either as they have contracts with the league that would guarantee exposure to their brands, but with no games on TV or arenas open to NHL hockey, the exposure is limited.

 

Bettman also fired at the NHLPA saying that “The union has shown an unwillingness to negotiate,” while he said that the two parties should hold a two week break. However, when pressed on the matter by Winnipeg Free Press, Bettman said “What happened is that  conversation (phone conversation with Donald Fehr) was clearly misportrayed and mischaracterized. Don called me on Tuesday to have a conversation. It wasn’t a negotiation. It was nothing more than a simple conversation. In the course of that conversation he said he didn’t know what to do or how to proceed. I said maybe we should take a little downtime, a couple of weeks, especially since we had just five sessions in six days and nothing was produced. In light of that fact he didn’t know how to proceed, I said that as a suggestion. He gave it a long pause and then said, ‘I don’t think so.’ I said OK”.

 

 

A few days ago, Detroit Red Wings Defence man Ian White called Gary Bettman an idiot. Hilariously, the Winnipeg Free Press asked Bettman how he felt about the players. Whilst pointing out that he does serve the owners, Bettman went on to say that he “loves the players”, which is quite ironic, given that he has effectively locked them out and made some of them partly unemployed. Also Kris Versteeg of the Florida Panthers called Bettman and Bill Daly ‘cancers that have been looting this game for too long’

 

Let’s face facts, if you had to divide yourself into camps of Bettman lovers or haters, I would probably reside in the latter, but the fact is that Gary Bettman is a business man and to a lesser or greater extent he serves the owners first and everyone else after that. What Bettman has shown is that he is a shrewd negotiator and ensuring that he drives his key stakeholders’ business interests. While his job is twofold in that he also has to serve the players as well. Judging by the players’ recent comments though the players might not love Bettman and co, despite how much he says he loves the players, I doubt very few of them will be sending him a Christmas card this year. 

 

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So the second straight day of NHL lockout negotiations has drawn to a close. Though the parties didn’t meet for as long as the previous times, there is an air of cautious optimism about the latest set of negotiations between the two parties.

 

The league and the players’ association is not making any statements about what is being said in the meetings, but the information that has leaked out to the insiders has been somewhat positive. Perhaps the most positive comment was made by Doug MacLean on twitter when he said that “The Board of Governors were sent a memo last night from Bettman saying if no traction today, talks could break down.” The fact that the two parties are meeting again tomorrow gives one hope that there is, at least, some traction from the negotiations over the past few days.

 

Additionally, as mentioned in the post before, the NHLPA did put forward an offer on the “Make Whole” aspect of the negotiations and apparently the NHL has responded to the offer, but there are no details as to what the response was.

 

Where in reality there probably is a million and one things that the parties need to resolve, but at least the meetings are taking place on a daily basis. One only has to wonder why it has taken this long to get to this stage of negotiating.

 

 

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This post is based only on rumors that have been circulating on the Internet of late. As the NHL and the NHLPA keep talking for the second consecutive day in an undisclosed location, the rumor is that the two parties could be closer to an agreement than at any point during this conflict. Though none of this information has been verified as yet, due to the tight media blackout imposed by the two parties, it is worth treating the information with a pinch of salt (rightly so).

The rumour has it that the NHL and the NHLPA have come to an agreement on the “Make Whole” (honouring existing contracts) and a 50-50 revenue split. Supposedly today’s talks will be around the Restricted free agent-, free agent status and contract term lengths.  There is rumblings that a deal could be announced as soon as Friday, or Sunday, depending on the source and a league (supposedly 72 games) could start as soon as 1st of December.

As said, these rumors have NOT been confirmed yet and should be treated as rumors and taken with a pinch of salt. However, this is the first real progress that we have heard in over a month since the NHL first tabled its 50-50 offer.

 

Edit @ 20:38 GMT: According to a story at NBC Sports’ ProHockeyTalk, the NHLPA tabled two offers to the NHL. One offer on the revenue split and one on the “Make Whole” provision. According to the story, the NHLPA is expecting the NHL to respond to these offers in today’s meetings. It looks like it could be a pretty interesting, albeit long night of news and information of the lockout

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