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5 posts from October 2012

October 16, 2012

BIG WHEELS TURN: NHL Makes Offer to NHLPA ... 82-Game Schedule On the Table


TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

For the first time in months, there is reason to be optimistic the NHL may return to the ice.

And it could come soon.

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said the league made a substantial offer to its players' union on Tuesday. The biggest concession: splitting hockey-related revenue down the middle and not demanding a blanket rollback of salaries.

"The fact of the matter is, we offered a 50-50 share of HRR,'' Bettman told reporters outside NHLPA offices in Toronto, "and we believe we addressed the concern that players have about what happens to their salaries as a result in this year of reducing the percentage from 57 to 50 percent.''

The NHL, which locked out its players for the third time since 1994 on Sept. 16, had previously offered to give up close to 47 percent of revenue.

Players got 57 percent of the league's record $3 billion of revenue in salary last season -- the final year of a collective bargaining agreement that lasted seven years after the entire 2004-05 season was wiped out because of the labor strife.

Bettman said the league decided to make the offer on Tuesday to hold a full 82 game season.

Even though the first two weeks of the original schedule have been cancelled, Bettman said an 82-game slate could be completed if the season were to start by Nov. 2.

If a deal between the union and the league is reached in the coming days -- Bettman said the window to work with goes through next week -- the Panthers could open at home on Nov. 3 against the Winnipeg Jets. Florida would raise its first Southeast Division championship banner that night. The schedule, obviously, could be tweaked.

The popular Winter Classic held on New Year's Day -- this season at Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor with surrounding events in downtown Detroit -- would be saved if a deal is reached soon. The All-Star Game scheduled for Columbus could be scrapped, however, to squeeze in more games so the Stanley Cup Finals don't bleed into July.

"If we were to drop the puck on November 2nd for the start of the regular season, we could preserve an 82-game schedule for the regular season and play full playoffs as we normally do and be done before the end of June,'' Bettman said.

Bettman said 82 games could fit into the compressed time if a game was added every five weeks. So far, the Panthers have lost five games -- two home contests -- because of lockout cancelations.

A compressed training camp of about a week would be all that could be allowed under the circumstances. Panthers coach Kevin Dineen said before the lockout that he didn't think a short camp would affect his team very much. Only a handful of players aren't playing in Europe -- and almost all of those players are working out weekly at the team's training facility in Coral Springs.

"We're ready to go, even if there is an audible thrown in there,'' Dineen said. "If things change up, we're ready. We are very comfortable with whatever comes up from physicals on the first day to the first practice. Our guys are in good shape. They will be ready to play whenever it is.''

The NHLPA, led by former baseball union boss Donald Fehr, held a teleconference with its negotiating team and executive board on Tuesday evening but did not come up with an official response to the offer.

Fehr spoke to reporters outside his offices prior to the conference call. Fehr said the NHL's offer was for "at least six years" and wasn't a small amount of paperwork to go through.

The union must now figure out what constitutes hockey income according to the league as well as other issues such as free agency, expansion, scheduling and arbitration.

The NHL was represented by Bettman and deputy commissioner Bill Daly at the meetings. The NHLPA was represented by Fehr and his brother Steve who is the NHLPA's special counsel.

"There were some explanatory documents that we still have to wade through,'' Fehr said. "The process that we're going to engage in now is to make sure we read it completely and fully, that we understand it.''

According to reports from ESPN and TSN, the two sides are expected to talk again in the coming days with a counteroffer expected as early as Wednesday. The league says it is open to talk whenever the union wants. Bettman said he understands the NHLPA has a lot to go over since the NHL's proposal wasn't constructed "overnight.''

"We believe that this was a fair offer for a long-term deal, and it's one that we hope gets a positive reaction so that we can drop the puck on November 2nd,'' Bettman said.

Bettman also added: "We hope that this effort that we've undertaken today would be successful because we know how difficult this all has been for everybody associated with the game, particularly our fans.''

BIG WHEELS TURN: NHL Makes Offer to NHLPA ... 82-Game Schedule On the Table

BIG WHEELS TURN: NHL Makes Offer to NHLPA ... 82-Game Schedule On the Table

October 11, 2012

DOLPHINS EXTRA: Mike Pouncey Leads the Way


TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

It's safe to say offensive lineman didn't hold offseason workouts like Mike Pouncey and his twin brother 20 years ago.

Perhaps not even five years ago.

Pouncey came into his second training camp in terrific shape thanks to an intense regiment that included hard days doing three workouts per day. The morning session would include cardio and heavy lifting followed by workouts in the sand at a local beach. At night, they would do more cardio as well as an hour of Pilates.

The result was Mike and Maurkice Pouncey slimmed down while adding lean muscle mass and vastly improving their cardiovascular system.

"It is a very advanced workout and I think it has taken my game to another level,'' said Pouncey, whose brother plays for the Steelers and was a Pro Bowl selection as a rookie following the 2010 season.

"It was a lot of hard work and it was time consuming. But it is paying off. With this high-paced offense we're running, everyone has to be in top-notch shape. We've been doing this since April. It has helped the offensive line and this team.''

With the Dolphins going to a fast-paced offense that frequently includes no-huddle formations, Pouncey is glad he paid the price in the summer. It's apparent the work is paying off.

According to Pro Football Focus, Pouncey is currently the second-highest rated center in the league as he has given up no sacks nor quarterback hits. Opponents have just one quarterback pressure against him through the first five games. San Francisco's Jonathan Goodwin is ranked first; Maurkice Pouncey 19th.

"He plays hard every snap, has a great bounce,'' coach Joe Philbin said. "I think he just loves football. I know that sounds simplistic, but sometimes there are guys at this level or the major college level who just don't enjoy the grind or parts of football. But he seems to. He enjoys practice, is competitive. Likes to play in games. It shows. It's reflective in his game.''

Mike Pouncey was the Dolphins first round pick in 2011 and the All-SEC center from Florida definitely heard how fans weren't too thrilled Miami used the 15th overall pick on an offensive lineman.

Although many complained online and to the talk radio hosts that the Pouncey pick wasn't sexy enough as the Dolphins rebuilt themselves, general manager Jeff Ireland said on draft day that bolstering the offensive line would be critical to future success.

So far, Pouncey looks like a cornerstone to that offense for years to come.

"Mike is one hell of a player,'' said Jake Long, the Dolphins left tackle who was the first overall pick in 2008. "He had a great rookie year and it has even been better this year. With the athleticism he has and his intensity -- he finishes guys 15, 20 yards down field. He's very impressive.''

Said Pouncey: "That stuff didn't bother me. I know fans want playmakers and center isn't a pretty position. So I came in with a chip on my shoulder and decided I was going to be one of the top centers in the NFL. To date, I believe I have done that. And I'm going to keep proving that every day.''

Those fans who were supportive of Pouncey being selected pointed to the success Miami had when Don Shula picked Dwight Stephenson in the second round in 1980.

The All-American center from Alabama had a stellar career with the Dolphins as he was a perennial Pro Bowl pick before his career was ended prematurely after suffering a knee injury in his eighth season against the Jets in 1987.

Pouncey knows all about the Dolphins' legacy at center and says he was happy to read comments Stephenson made to Dolphins.com last week at the Miami Dolphins Touchdown Club luncheon in Miramar.

Stephenson, now a successful businessman in South Florida, said Pouncey is “already good, it’s just a question of how good he’s going to get, but he does a lot more than probably than what we did when I played. He has all of the tools.''

Pouncey said he looks up to Stephenson as well as Jim Langer. Both Stephenson and Langer are part of the Dolphins' group at the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio. That's a club Pouncey would like to join someday as well.

"Dwight is a great player and a great guy,'' Pouncey said. "I told him when we met that I hope to just be half as good as he was. He was a dominate player who loved to finish blocks. I'm proud to have been able to come down here and just be mentioned with him.''

Pouncey said the workouts during the summer were legendary as he and his brother -- who was the 18th overall pick by the Steelers -- are extremely competitive.

Mike and Maurkice Pouncey speak frequently on the phone and talk about common opponents as well as players they will be facing in the future. Mike says neither he nor his brother are overly complimentary in those conversations. The goal of those football talks to is to make each other better.

The competitive nature the two brothers share is evident. The two both played for Florida prep power Lakeland High before moving on to play collegiately in Gainesville.

The duo shared the Gators' offensive line with Mike moving over from guard to center when Maurkice left early for the NFL draft after their junior years.

"He's my biggest fan and my biggest critic,'' Mike Pouncey said. "What makes us so good is when we watch our film, we always find something wrong, something to correct. It keeps us on top of our game. And it keeps us humble.''

DOLPHINS EXTRA: Mike Pouncey Leads the Way

DOLPHINS EXTRA: Mike Pouncey Leads the Way

SPECIAL EDITION: Dolphins Notebook - Gaffney Ready to Roll ... Thomas, Marshall Still Out



TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

Jabar Gaffney looked ready to make his Dolphins debut last Sunday as he warmed up at Paul Brown Stadium. Gaffney, signed on Oct. 2, was left out of the lineup against the Bengals as he wasn't activated.

It appears Gaffney will play this weekend against the Rams.

Gaffney said Thursday that the Dolphins' coaches decided he and quarterback Ryan Tannehill hadn't worked long enough together and "if we aren't on the same page it just messes things up.'' Gaffney said he supported the decision of the coaching staff as "it's about the team.''

Gaffney, who has caught 443 passes for 5,622 yards and 24 touchdowns in 10 seasons, says he has become more acclimated with the Miami offense since.

"Last week, I knew some stuff but I wasn't all the way ready to go,'' the former University of Florida standout said. "Coach is going to make the call again and I'm doing everything in my power to get ready to go this week. I want to go out there with my teammates. I'm feeling things out, starting to get the hang of it.''

Coach Joe Philbin said Thursday that Gaffney has been working hard to get the new offense down.

"He's making progress,'' Philbin said. "Part of it is getting through the terminology barrier, part of it is the concepts themselves. But football is football. It's not all that much different. Still, there's a little bit. He's getting after it. We'll see how he progresses.''

Gaffney said he was thrilled at the chance to play with the Dolphins, a team he worked out for earlier in the season after being cut by the Patriots after training camp.

After meeting with the team the first time, Gaffney hoped things would work with the Dolphins as he started following the team more closely. He says he is excited to work with his new quarterback and help out the likes of Brian Hartline and Davone Bess.

Miami signed Gaffney and cut the disappointing Legedu Naanee on the Tuesday following a 24-21 overtime loss at Arizona.

"Once I came here, I knew this is where I wanted to be,'' said Gaffney, who was slowed this offseason by a quadriceps injury after catching 68 passes for 947 with five touchdowns in Washington last season.

"They indicated to me that there was a great chance I would be coming back. I wasn't all the way healthy then. Once I was, they brought me in. I definitely watched them more closely after that.''

-- Running back Daniel Thomas (concussion) did light work during Thursday's practice but did not take any contact. Cornerback Richard Marshall (back) didn't participate again Thursday after missing last week's game.

-- Sunday's game against the Rams met the NFL's requirements to be broadcast locally. Since St. Louis is the visiting NFC team, Sunday's game will be broadcast by Fox and seen in the Miami-Fort Lauderdale market on WSVN-7.

Chris Myers, a graduate of Chaminade-Madonna Prep in Hollywood, will do play-by-play with Tim Ryan handling color.

SPECIAL EDITION: Dolphins Notebook - Gaffney Ready to Roll ... Thomas, Marshall Still Out

October 04, 2012

SHOCKING NEWS: NHL, Florida Panthers Will Not Start Season On Time

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TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

The Panthers planned to raise their first banner to commemorate an on-ice achievement since their Miami Arena days on Oct. 13.

The pregame party to celebrate the Panthers' first Southeast Division championship is now officially on ice.

The National Hockey League locked out their players on Sept. 16 and canceled the first two weeks of the 2012-13 season on Thursday afternoon.

Florida was scheduled to open against the rival Lightning on Oct. 13. The Panthers also lost a home game against the Islanders (Oct. 18) as well as road games against the Islanders, Capitals and Lightning.

This is the third week of the lockout; Florida's preseason schedule was supposed to wrap up with a home game against the Lightning on Saturday.

Although the NHL and its teams say the cancellations were "necessary because of the absence of a Collective Bargaining Agreement between the NHL Players’ Association and the NHL," the players' association boss contradicted that in a statement released Thursday.

Donald Fehr, head of the NHLPA, reiterated that the union offered to work under the old pact as negotiations went on.

The NHL said rejected that earlier this summer and stood by its stance that if (and when) the CBA expired, the players would be locked out.

“The decision to cancel the first two weeks of the NHL season is the unilateral choice of the NHL owners,'' Fehr said in the statement. "If the owners truly cared about the game and the fans, they would lift the lockout and allow the season to begin on time while negotiations continue.

"A lockout should be the last resort in bargaining, not the strategy of first resort. .-.-. Nevertheless, the players remain committed to playing hockey while the parties work to reach a deal that is fair for both sides. We hope we will soon have a willing negotiating partner.”

The Panthers next scheduled game is for Oct. 25 at Minnesota. The home opener is now scheduled for Oct. 29 against the Columbus Blue Jackets.

SHOCKING NEWS: NHL, Florida Panthers Will Not Start Season On Time

SHOCKING NEWS: NHL, Florida Panthers Will Not Start Season On Time

October 02, 2012

WORKING IT OUT: A Few Florida Panthers Left in Coral Springs as Lockout Rolls On

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TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

With the NHL's lockout in its third week, some players have moved on either to the North American minor leagues or other professional leagues in Europe.

A hardy group of about 10 have remained in South Florida.

And they don't appear to be going anywhere -- at least not just yet.

"Honestly, this group is having a good time together,'' goalie Jose Theodore said. "We're in Florida so that's pretty good. It's starting to get cold everywhere else. We're coming here and working hard -- and it's not the best scenario, I would rather be playing games -- but afterward we can play tennis or golf. We're making the best out of a bad situation.''

The 10 players who gather at the Panthers' training facility three times a week have been part of what was a larger group that's been skating since August.

Despite the monotonous pace -- center Stephen Weiss calls these sessions "brutal" -- this group of players show up to keep their bodies in shape for when the lockout ends.

And although it doesn't seem training camp will open any time soon, the work needs to be done.

"We come in here and know who will be here each day,'' Panthers forward Tomas Kopecky said. "It's actually good for us physically because you are used to getting rest between drills. Here, there aren't enough players for that. You just keep going and going. It's real good for our cardio.''

Kopecky and Tomas Fleischmann have resisted going to play in Europe so far, although Kopecky says he has offers.

With one child in the third grade and another in preschool, Kopecky says he would rather spend quality time with his family than move back to Europe until the lockout ends.

He's not alone, at least for now.

Ed Jovanovski, Tomas Vokoun, Roberto Luongo, Marco Sturm and Radek Dvorak all make their home in South Florida and are in familiar environs. The longer the lockout goes, however, playing anywhere becomes more attractive.

The players who take part in the informal workouts rent the ice from the Panthers -- the going rate is $350 per hour -- and pay their own equipment manager who keeps things running smoothly.

The players are banned from using the Panthers locker room or weight room -- and can't even borrow the team's stick room if alterations need to be made as was the case Monday.

"This isn't ideal but what is right now,'' Theodore said. "Being able to spend time with your friends and family is worthwhile though.''

In some more traditional markets -- like Toronto and Minneapolis -- NHL players have little problem getting large groups together.

This, obviously, is not the case in South Florida where there seem to be more ex-Panthers (Vokoun, Luongo, Dvorak, Sturm) working out in Coral Springs than current ones.

"We have had the same group, pretty much, for a while,'' said Dvorak, who played for Dallas last season but is a free agent and hopes to sign on soon after the lockout ends. "I think it's been good. This is hard work and that is what we need. Having 10 guys isn't a lot but it is what it is until the big boys settle this thing.''

There is little doubt these hockey players would much rather be playing hockey than doing what they are doing.

Florida defenseman Mike Weaver and instructor Gus Dumoulin run the hour-long practices each week although both are running out of drills to keep everyone sharp.

And even though the numbers have dwindled, Kopecky says as long as there are a handful of players still around, the informal workouts will continue.

Based on how talks have gone between the players and owners, well, they could be out here for some time. On Tuesday, the Panthers postponed their kickoff dinner to benefit charity and the opening week of games are expected to be cancelled any time.

Florida is scheduled to open its season against the Lightning on Oct. 13. Training camp and all seven preseason games have been wiped out. The Panthers would have played their sixth exhibition game Thursday in Tampa with the preseason finale held Saturday night in Sunrise.

"When this thing does get done, training camp probably isn't going to be two weeks long,'' Jovanovski said. "It's going to be a pretty quick turnaround into the games. As older players, training camp can be long anyway. Getting all the games in during a shortened time frame can be tough on the body. We have to be ready.''

WORKING IT OUT: A Few Florida Panthers Left in Coral Springs as Lockout Rolls On

WORKING IT OUT: A Few Florida Panthers Left in Coral Springs as Lockout Rolls On

WORKING IT OUT: A Few Florida Panthers Left in Coral Springs as Lockout Rolls On