ESPN NHL analyst Barry Melrose joined Mut & Merloni on Monday to talk about the end of the NHL lockout, which he said should be been over a long time ago because the owners were going to come out on top either way.
"I think the owners got what they wanted and what they needed," Melrose said. "Any of us that have been in hockey any length of time knew that was going to happen. The question is why did it take the players all this time to realize it was going to happen. Basically the owners said going in, 'This is what we want,' and once the deadline got close, they got what they wanted."
Added Melrose: "The players are going to get beat. The owners hold all the cards. They players can't go two or three years without a paycheck. Some of those owners could go 10 years without a paycheck. The players just basically when you go into something like this, you've got to put up a fight, you've got to try and get certain things … maybe some pension, input, things like that. But at the end of the day, the owners are going to win every stalemate or every argument between players and owners."
Some of the new rules are more about keeping free-spending owners under control and limiting extremely long, front-loaded contracts than about regulating players.
"It's a nightmare. It's ridiculous. Guys making $12 million the first year, $1 million the last year. I don't think it was good for the sport," Melrose said. "The trouble with everything the owners do is they have to put rules in to protect themselves. That's why they have to have a salary cap, because 10 owners spent way over the cap, and the bottom owners couldn't compete. Now, with this situation, you can't have the New York Rangers, Toronto Maple Leafs and other teams give these 10-, 12-year contracts, and the poorer clubs, no way they can afford to do it, or if they do it, it's suicide. So again, these rules are put in place to protect the owners from themselves. They always are."
Commissioner Gary Bettman has been the subject of much criticism, but Melrose said he's doing the job he was hired to do.
"Gary's hired by the owners," Melrose said. "He's not hired by the players or the fans. He works for the 30 owners. I think if you talk to the 30 owners, he's done a good job. Revenues went up. It's a major sport now -- 3 1/2 billion dollars in revenues. It's got a 10-year TV contract on NBC. The players have never made more. You've got a franchise now worth a billion dollars, the Toronto Maple Leafs. So, if you look at the owners, you've got to think Gary Bettman's done a great job. If you look at the players and the fans, I think most people would say Gary Bettman is one of the most hated men in sports. But again, Gary does not work me, he does not work for the players, he does not work for the fans. He works for the owners."
Melrose said he does not expect it will take very long for the teams to get into midseason form, and the pressure will be on right from the beginning.
"I coached in '94-95, in the other shortened season, so I'm a little bit of an expert in this," Melrose said. "It's whoever gets out of the gate quickest, whoever stays away from injuries the most. Everything is magnified. Every game basically is a four-point game, because you're basically playing in conference or in division. Whichever team can get their guys in shape the most and the quickest. Whichever team jells the quickest. Whichever goaltender is the hottest at the start of the season. Because if you lose five in a row at the start of the season, you're done. There's no way you can catch up. If you get a seven- or eight-game losing streak in the middle of the season, you're done. If you lose your goaltender for any length of time, you're done. Everything is magnified drastically in a shortened season.
"I like young teams. I like young, big teams. Because obviously young guys are going to be a lot more resilient than a guy 38, 39. Don't forget, you're looking at four games one week, three games the next week. It's going to be a very condensed, tough, physical three or four months for the NHL."
Melrose said the Bruins are one of a few teams that appear to be well-positioned for this season.
"I like the Bruins, all their players are in their prime," he said. "A team like St. Louis, who had such a great run last year. They're a big, physical team. Phoenix, big, physical team, young guys. A team like Edmonton, if they could jell, with that immense amount of talent they have, adding [Nick] Schultz and adding [Nail] Yakupov to that great lineup they had already. Pittsburgh, with [Evgeni] Malkin and [Sidney] Crosby in their prime, that's going to be very interesting.
"But the Bruins are an interesting team. What's going to happen without Tim Thomas? Is Tuukka Rask ready to accept the mantle of a No. 1 goaltender on a very good hockey team? The Bruins do have a few question marks. They don't have a lot, but they do have a few."