As the Lockout continues in the NHL, the AHL Season begins tonight..
“It’s the economy, stupid.” But it’s not that simple. The National Hockey League collective bargaining talks continue to move at the pace of molasses in January as two more days of talks in New York came and went without anyone mentioning the core economic issues, over which the process has been delayed. Answering the question of who gets what share of the $3.3 billion in annual revenues would move this negotiation to a resolution, but it’s been a month since anyone has addressed that split. The owners don’t want to talk economics until the players are willing to listen to proposals that would lower their take from the current 57%. The owners are looking for a two tier reduction that would eventually bring that figure down ten points. The players put their last proposal on the table without addressing percentages, calling only for a set figure on what would amount to a reduction in their dollar increase while eventually raising it from $1.7 billion to 2.1 billion over three years. It’s there that just sitting down and talking becomes complicated. The owners offered the last proposal a month ago, calling for the decreasing percentages. They now say it’s the players turn to make a proposal and there will be no new economic discussions until they do. They looked at each other across the table for about seven hours this week, discussed some player safety issues and called it a day, continuing a standoff that many of the most optimistic observers now feel could lead to a lost season. For the die hards there will be hockey, starting tonight. For local fans the Connecticut Whale face off the American Hockey League campaign at seven o’clock against their cross state rivals from Bridgeport and the hockey unrest in the NHL could spell big dividends for AHL fans. While veteran players with existing contracts are bound to the NHL younger players on entry level contracts, primarily those with less than three years NHL experience, are assigned to the AHL teams to continue their development, bringing NHL caliber play to the AHL for what may be the entire season. Under normal circumstances Whale fans probably wouldn’t have had the chance to watch forward Chris Kreider up close. He was on course to bypass the AHL, going right from Boston College to the New York Rangers last season, scoring five goals for the Whale’s parent team in the Stanley Cup playoffs. Scoring may be at a premium for the Whale, but by putting Kreider on a line with AHL veterans Kris Newbury and Chad Kolarik coach Ken Gernander is insuring all three will get better and they will be fun to watch. J.T. Miller is another prospect who may well have skirted around Hartford and gone right to New York this season. The 6-2 center was a first round pick in the 2011 NHL draft. Another first round pick, 6-5 defenseman Dylan McIlrath, taken in 2010, is coming off knee surgery and would have at least needed a rehab assignment here, but the lockout could keep him in Hartford for the full season. Now is the time for AHL fans to cash in on the economic bullheadedness of the NHL. In what may be a lost season, not everyone has to lose. With a comment from the sports world, I’m Scott Gray.