Thursday, July 21, 2011

Who's On The Boat?

The Kings Fan Cruise sets sail tomorrow -- without The Queen on board.

I've debated on doing this trip the last couple of seasons, but I've always felt this is one of those fan experiences that can never measure up to my expectations for one simple reason -- "Players subject to change."

Every year this cruise gets announced headlining popular Kings players that will be attending. So while some people probably enjoy a good booze cruise to Mexico for the sole purpose of communing with their fellow Kings fans, let's be honest -- most of you are going hoping to hang out with your favorite player.

Last year, the fan cruise was supposed to feature Matt Greene and Jarret Stoll, neither of whom actually made it on the boat. Matt Greene had off-season shoulder surgery and we all know Stolly doesn't roll without Greener, so all the ladies secretly hoping to be the next "Jarret Stoll's ex-girlfriend" got their hearts terribly broken AND they lost their money on the trip. At least there is plenty of booze on these boats to ease your pain, and you can always cuddle up with Bailey.

This year the cast of characters announced included Drew Doughty, Wayne Simmonds and Trevor Lewis. I'm gonna go out on limb here and say Lewis is the only one to make the trip. Simmonds is obviously out due to trade, and I doubt Mike Richards plans on subbing in for him (although THAT would be epic!). Doughty is mired in a contract negotiation, and I would hope the Kings would spare him being subjected to a constant stream of "Why won't you sign a contract, Drew?" questions at the autograph table. So I'm guessing Trevor is going to be holding down the party, probably with some help from a previously unannounced player. Maybe Alec Martinez digs boats?

If you're heading out on the cruise, Kings Court would love to hear all about your experience. Perhaps The Queen can be persuaded to participate next year. And if Drew does make the trip, be nice and don't bug him about the contract. Just try to have a little fun.


Don vs. Dean: Could History Repeat?

News of Steven Stamkos' signing with the Tampa Bay Lighting effectively turned the stalled negotiations between Drew Doughty and the Kings into the NHL's biggest lightning rod of free agency controversy.

During the time when both Stamkos and Doughty remained unsigned, I was thinking a lot about the role of their mutual agency, Newport Sports, in having the negotiations go on as long as they did. After all, on the surface of things, these deals should be relatively painless to do. Both players are Top 5 draft picks with demonstrated talent in their first 3 pro seasons. Both players like their teams and they have long careers in front of them. And the GM's of both teams have been clear these guys are critical pieces of the development plans for their respective franchises. So why is this so hard?

Reason one: Money
This isn't about just the money the player makes, it's about the cut the agent gets. Money is the reminder that hockey is a business, and sometimes a nasty one at that. Anyone who thinks players are the sole drivers of financial demands in contract negotiations has never seen Jerry Maguire. This is a big payday opportunity for the agent as well as the player.

Reason two: 2012 CBA Negotiations
Rules around RFA contracts are expected to be a big topic of discussion in the next collective bargaining agreement between the NHL Players Association and the team owners. If a player does a deal too long at this stage of the game, he risks getting stuck with a contract that doesn't work as well under the new CBA. Likewise, the team risks giving away too much to soon when a new CBA might give them different negotiation options. No one knows at this point, so there is a risk either way, for both parties.

Reason three: Salary Cap
Both GM's have an obvious desire to keep reasonable contracts for their young players who, while gifted, still have plenty to learn from the NHL. Assuming both do continue their careers and continue improving at the same pace, the paycheck they get now is just the tip of the iceberg. Once they become unrestricted free agents, the dollars just go up more. The contract term also comes into play here because a GM has to predict future raises for the rest of the team, not just the player under consideration in this discussion. Giving away the farm to early in a player's career only ensures they're disappointed later with smaller salary increases.

So there a plenty of reason why this process isn't easy in the best of situations. But in the case of the Doughty negotiations, there is an X-factor -- the history between Don Meehan and Dean Lombardi.

According to The Los Angeles Times, Don Meehan teams with Mark Guy in representing Doughty, and it's Meehan who's done the most public gum-flapping about the status (or lack thereof) of negotiations with the Kings. Hockey is a small world and both these guys have been around the block a few times, so they are bound to have tangled before, right? The Queen did some digging, and sure enough they have.

When Dean Lombardi was general manager of the San Jose Sharks, star goalie Evgeni Nabokov, then a restricted free agent, held out on contract negotiations and missed the start of the season, along with several other key RFA's. It was the second time in Lombardi's tenure with the Sharks that he'd dealt with holdouts, but this one was a deal breaker. Eventually a 2 year deal was reached (San Jose wanted a longer one), but the damage was done and Lombardi was dismissed as San Jose GM.

If you're wondering who Nabokov's agent was -- it was none other than Don Meehan.

Given the history between these two men, could this scenario play out again in the Doughty negotiations? Logic says no for a couple of reasons. The Nabokov holdout occurred before the 2004 lockout year when the CBA was different and the player arguably had more negotiating power. Nabokov was also only 2 years away from UFA status (Doughty is not), which was a factor in the length of contract in that negotiation.

Then again, Dean Lombardi has frequently stated, to the press and at Kings fan events, that Doughty is our guy, if anyone comes after him with an offer sheet we'll match it, etc. So it's clear the Kings need Drew Doughty more than he needs us. He can afford to wait, and his agent has a past history showing he can too. Truth be told, the ball (and most importantly the leverage) is in Doughty's court. I have every confidence he still wants to play, but time is on his side, not the Kings.


Tuesday, July 19, 2011

On The Move: Select-a-Seat 2011

If you're a Kings season ticket holder, you may have already experienced the new Select-a-Seat process this month. Or if you haven't already, your appointment is coming up. I got to move my seats yesterday using the new process and overall it's a far superior experience to the old Select-a-Seat process.

Previously, Select-a-Seat was an event. You actually went down to Staples Center at your appointed time and walked around the arena to check out sections you were interested in.

All the seats with a colored piece of paper were available, and each color determined whether if was a full season seat, weekend package, flex-pack, etc., along with the price for the seat.

Yeah, I blocked the price out. Can't have my ticket rep mad at me....

It was a good process in some ways but not in others. If you were debating on seats in dramatically different parts of the arena, there was the issue of walking around to each one. Then, if you found a seat you liked and someone else standing near you was checking it out as well, one of the ticket reps might have to intervene to determine who is more entitled to the seat based on seniority. This actually happened to me last year, and let me tell you, it's not a good feeling for you or the ticket rep. The whole thing ended up having the feeling of a land grab, and even though the free food and schmooze-fest was fun, it wasn't worth all that.

With the new process, you can see availability, pricing, etc. for every seat in the arena online on a color coded map! There is even a 3-D seat viewer function that lets you check out the view from your seat to have an idea of sight lines, etc. You can check it out right now on the Kings website.

If you're a first time ticket holder and haven't spent a lot of time in Staples Center, this process still has it's limitations. For instance, you can't figure out that a bunch of the seats in Section 1114 are removable (basketball configuration issues) and DON'T HAVE CUP HOLDERS.  Or that when you sit near the team benches, your view will be seriously hampered by a bunch of really large men in lots of hockey gear. Especially if you're sitting near the back-up goalie.

This set-up last year helped me understand some issues about my seat, but not others.

These are the things you learn through the school of hard knocks. But the good news is this -- even if your "dream seat" turns out not to be so dreamy after a full season, you can always move again next year.


Monday, July 4, 2011

I Have A Dream...

I was in New York City this weekend, and any visit there always includes a trip to the NHL Store on 6th Avenue. It's no secret who the current Stanley Cup Champion is, and right now they have the merchandise to prove it.

Looking around the store, all I could do is think about the day the Kings finally win The Cup and all this will be a sea of black, silver and white. For now, I suppose this will have to do....