King Kaufman's Sports Daily

The NHL means it this time. The season you knew was doomed months ago is almost officially doomed. Plus: North Carolina-Duke. And: McNabb's health and that onside kick.


Salon Staff
February 11, 2005 1:00AM (UTC)

OK, really, this time the NHL means it. If there's no agreement by the weekend, there really really really and we're not kidding really won't be any chance to save the season.

I'm telling you this because my column has been getting too many page views lately and I want a little quiet around here. If too many people read this one, I'm going to have to write about the Pro Bowl tomorrow.

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Commissioner Gary Bettman told assembled media personnel Wednesday -- he kept having to shout suddenly to jolt them awake -- that if there's an agreement by Friday night or Saturday morning, the league could play a 28-game season, which would be the absolute minimum. That way each team would play a home game and an away game against each of the other 14 teams in the same conference, and then 16 teams would make the playoffs as always.

That would mean that for teams that reach the Stanley Cup Finals, the playoffs could be as long as the season, 28 games. I happen to think this is an ideal season length, not an absolute minimum, but do they ask me? They don't ask me.

The NHL Players Association's latest offer included a 105 percent rollback in salaries -- they would pay an average of $90,000 a year for the privilege of skating on league ice -- plus free gardening service at up to two homes for each owner, three homes for the ones who live in Canada because of the long winters.

The owners swiftly rejected the deal because it didn't include a salary cap.

Actually what happened was that Bettman offered to accept the union's Dec. 9 proposal, the one that included a 24 percent salary rollback, but with one very big addendum: If any of four things happened, the salary-cap system the owners want would kick in. Here are the four "trigger points":

1. More than 55 percent of league revenue going to salaries.
2. Any three teams having a payroll higher than $42 million.
3. The average payroll of the three highest-spending teams being more than 33 percent higher than the average of the three lowest-spending teams.
4. The average team compensation exceeding $36.5 million.

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Union chief Bob Goodenow called it "a transparent proposal" because "it was obvious one of those trigger points was going to kick in immediately."

It's kind of like when you're a kid and your friend says he has a new game, and he explains the rules, and then as soon as you start playing and he's kicking your butt you figure out you've been had because there was that one rule you didn't realize would just screw you, so you say, "Hey, no fair!" but it's too late because you agreed to play.

Bettman seems to think the players are as dumb as I was when I was a kid.

I don't know where this is going. Assuming there's no eleventh-hour settlement, which is a safe assumption, the next chance for one side or the other to blink will be next fall, when the "can we save this season?" dance will begin again.

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I think what Bettman and the owners want is to break the union. The NFL tried that and succeeded. Baseball tried it and failed. My money's not on Bettman and his gang of owners, who are indisputably either bad businessmen or liars.

And like you I have money to spend this winter since I haven't been wasting it on hockey tickets.

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Duke-UNC: Rooting for the blue [PERMALINK]

If I'm Raymond Felton of North Carolina -- and really, I'm not -- I'm going to be up nights for a while replaying that last sequence of the Tar Heels' 71-70 loss to Duke in Durham Wednesday night.

With the clock running down, Felton came loose with the ball at the free-throw line and looked like he had his choice of an open shot from the elbow or a lane to drive to the basket. He hesitated for just a moment, and was lost. Having picked up his dribble, he was in trouble and had to dump the ball off to David Noel, not the guy North Carolina wanted to handle it at the buzzer. Noel, in traffic on the right wing, fumbled the ball out of bounds.

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By up nights for a while, what I mean is, I'm 41, and if I'd passed up that chance at 20, Felton's age, I'd still be bolting upright in bed from time to time, cringing all over again that I might have beaten Duke on the road if I'd just gone ahead.

I'm sure Felton, a great college player who I think will be a good NBA player, has already forgotten it, which is one of the difference between an elite athlete and you or me. Or at least me.

But what I really wanted to say about that game was that one of the great pleasures of sports fandom for me is watching the visiting team win when North Carolina plays Duke in basketball. The sad faces in the stands, the crying children, the silence. I love it. Almost got to see it Wednesday.

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McNabb not dead yet, feeling much better [PERMALINK]

The National Weather Service has put up a Web page with real-time updates on whether Donovan McNabb was sick in the final minutes of the Super Bowl. As of 16:48:32 Greenwich Mean Time Thursday, McNabb was just fine in the huddle, not, as center Hank Fraley has claimed, about to throw up and ceding play-calling duties to Freddie Mitchell.

Getting back to that onside-kick decision Eagles coach Andy Reid made after Philly's touchdown with 1:48 left in the game, I was hoping that William Krasker, who runs the excellent Football Commentary Web site, would run the numbers on it, and he has.

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Krasker uses a dynamic programming model to determine the probability of success of a decision in a given situation, based on all of the similar situations that have gone before it.

He estimates the probability of the Patriots failing to make a first down if the Eagles had kicked deep at 0.5, which is to say 50-50. That's based on New England getting at least one first down on 70 percent of its possessions on the year -- 63 percent against good defenses -- with an adjustment downward because of likely conservative play calling.

That's way higher than the estimate I'd made. I noted that in this game, the start of the second quarter, the Patriots had gotten the next first down after 19 of their last 23 first downs, about 83 percent. Note that Krasker and I are looking at two different things there. He's looking at possessions while I'm looking at series.

Anyway, I thought that with about a 17 percent chance of stopping the Pats without a first down, the Eagles were better off trying the onside kick, but kicking deep wouldn't have been a terrible decision, since it was a longshot either way. Even giving the Eagles a 50 percent chance of stopping the Patriots, Krasker concludes, "We feel confident that Reid made the right decision."

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I don't always agree with Krasker's conclusions, but I always find Football Commentary fascinating. One thing both Krasker and I failed to address that several readers have brought up: How good is the kicker at kicking onside? David Akers, one of the best kickers in the game, didn't make a good kick. I don't know how good Akers is at that particular skill, but if that was typical for him, a deep kick starts to look a little better.

Previous column: Canseco and the Go Daddy Girl

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