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Kovacevic: NHL not 'making whole' lot of sense

AP - NHL hockey commissioner Gary Bettman listens as he meets with reporters after a meeting with team owners, in New York. The NHL locked out its players, becoming the third major sports league to impose a work stoppage in the last 18 months. The action also marks the fourth shutdown for the NHL since 1992, including a year-long dispute that forced the cancellation of the entire 2004-05 season when the league held out for a salary cap. The deal which ended that dispute expired at midnight, and Commissioner Gary Bettman followed through on his longstanding pledge to lock out the players with no new agreement in place. (AP)
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>AP</em></div>NHL hockey commissioner Gary Bettman listens as he meets with reporters after a meeting with team owners, in New York. The NHL locked out its players, becoming the third major sports league to impose a work stoppage in the last 18 months. The action also marks the fourth shutdown for the NHL since 1992, including a year-long dispute that forced the cancellation of the entire 2004-05 season when the league held out for a salary cap. The deal which ended that dispute expired at midnight, and Commissioner Gary Bettman followed through on his longstanding pledge to lock out the players with no new agreement in place.  (AP)
AP - Negotiations between the NHL and NHLPA continued Thursday at an undisclosed location in New York. (AP)
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>AP</em></div>Negotiations between the NHL and NHLPA continued Thursday at an undisclosed location in New York. (AP)

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By Dejan Kovacevic
Thursday, Nov. 8, 2012, 11:06 p.m.
 

Brief and to the Point …

All this week, about a dozen intelligent, well-dressed, well-paid men and their briefcases have been bunched up in a New York office struggling to divide a pot of $3 billion that's dwindling by the day.

Nuts, right?

No, not when compared to what looks to be the last large hurdle in ending the NHL's more-absurd-by-the-day lockout: It's called the “Make Whole” provision, and it involves how existing player contracts should be honored and, if they are, when the money should be paid.

Honest to Gordie.

Existing contracts that were signed between teams and players, in some cases just this summer, actually are seen by the owners as being on the table.

That ranges from the $196 million the Wild just committed to the free-agent duo of Zach Parise and Ryan Suter down to the minimum-wage paychecks of the Flyers' fourth-liners. All of it, up for discussion.

I've tried to see both sides all along, but if an NHL player can't trust the owners to honor an existing, signed document, why would he trust them to honor the next labor pact?

The parties met through Thursday night and agreed to take it into Friday.

Get it done, boys. This is dumb even by NHL standards.

>> Here's a stick-tap for Sidney Crosby and union rep Craig Adams for being so deeply involved. Both badly want to play but have found a healthy balance in representing their peers.

If the Penguins' owner were involved a fraction as much, this would have been over long ago.

>> Tino Sunseri's ill-timed, ill-advised criticism of Pitt kicker Kevin Harper after the Notre Dame loss — “We missed a field goal,” Sunseri said. “That's why we lost the game” — drew heavy attention, even nationally.

But here's what you haven't read until now: Sunseri and Harper are friends and remain so. By the time school officials approached both Monday morning about reconciling, they already had done so on their own.

Sunseri is no Heisman-level QB, to be kind, but neither is he some bad seed.

>> The Steelers' first-half MVP is — duh — Ben Roethlisberger.

Non-Ben offensive MVP: Heath Miller.

Defensive MVP: Ryan Clark.

>> Most valuable decision goes to Dick LeBeau for moving to more nickel and dime beginning in Cincinnati. That provided support — and badly needed confidence — to Ike Taylor and Keenan Lewis, both of whom have been outstanding since.

This is how nickel back Cortez Allen described it to me: “We always want to have each other's backs, and now we're getting more opportunity to do that.”

>> It might have gotten lost in Bob Nutting's announcement about bringing back the Pirates' front office and ditching Hoka Hey, but it was noteworthy that he spoke with four current — and respected — players on the roster for his investigation.

The gist of their sentiment, as I've heard it: The trade deadline was a major letdown. And least popular was the bizarre trade of Casey McGehee for Chad Qualls.

>> Sorry, Andrew McCutchen, but my National League MVP vote would go to the Giants' Buster Posey. No fade there.

>> Running back controversy?

No need for that.

When Rashard Mendenhall, Isaac Redman and Jonathan Dwyer are all healthy, watch which ones best hit the holes between the tackles. Take the two best, employ them in a two-back set, and sit the other.

This is about the blocking, not the backfield.

>> Best coaching job in the commonwealth — pro, college, high school, pee wee, you name it — has been done by Bill O'Brien at Penn State. He's been impeccable through the impossible.

>> I'm almost as intrigued to see freshmen Steven Adams and James Robinson starting Pitt's basketball opener Friday as I am to see why so many folks — including Jamie Dixon — were raving about Lamar Patterson dominating the summer leagues. Word is, his co-MVP breakout last season was just the start.

>> When the NHL returns, it owes fans some goodies, like those given out after the 2004 lockout with the shootout, obstruction calls and other upgrades.

Here's one suggestion: Make shot-blocking a minor penalty.

Anytime a defending skater slides or dives along the ice with the clear intent of shot-blocking, he goes to the box. No questions asked. You can stay up to block a shot, even drop to one knee, but you can't go prone.

This not only will prevent more shot-blocking snoozefests like last spring's Stanley Cup playoffs, but it also will improve player safety. Someone will die one day from throwing their face in front of a 100-mph puck.

>> Anyone getting fired up about which players the Pirates might sign through free agency, I offer this hide-the-women-and-children warning: Ramon Vazquez. Chris Gomez. Ryan Church. Bobby Crosby. Eric Hinske. Lyle Overbay. Matt Diaz, Rod Barajas and Clint Barmes.

>> Glanced over lately at the Riverhounds' stadium going up at Station Square?

Say whatever you want about soccer — I've always been a fan of the international brand — but the setting itself might wind up rivaling PNC Park, with its head-on view of Downtown

How cool. Pittsburgh's first real pitch will be ready in 2013.

Just no singing, please.

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