Why the NHLPA Has Won in the Court of Public Opinion

Steve Silverman@@profootballboyFeatured ColumnistSeptember 17, 2012

NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 13:  Commissioner Gary Bettman of the National Hockey League speaks to the media at Crowne Plaza Times Square on September 13, 2012 in New York City.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

This is just so familiar to NHL fans. We have been here before, and it was awful.

When the NHL locked out its players for the entire 2004-05 season, it was because the game had reached some type of precipice.

At the time, Gary Bettman and the owners said that if the system went on in the same manner, the game would not survive.

The players fought Bettman tooth and nail, but the owners were resolute and did not give in. Even though it cost them a full season and meant there were no Stanley Cup Playoffs, they got a salary cap and they changed the financial structure of the game.

Bettman was apologetic once the work stoppage finally came to an end and competitive hockey resumed in time for the 2005-06 season.

“We will return this game to our fans with a promise: We will do everything in our power to be the best we can be and to earn your continued devotion,” Bettman said at the time. “This was a terrible time for everyone associated with the game. We will do everything we can to make it up to you.”

Barry Rozner of the (Arlington Heights, Ill.) Daily Herald brought back that quote in a recent column lamenting the new lockout.

The point is that whatever seems to come out of Bettman's mouth is lip service to his cause, which is increasing profits for the owners.

A commissioner is in charge of looking out for the sport as a whole—Bettman does not do that.

What the commissioner and owners are looking to do is to put the financial well-being of the sport completely on the backs of the players.

The last time hockey went through a work stoppage, players saw salaries rolled back 24 percent. Owners are once again asking for another rollback.

How would this go over in baseball, football or basketball? It wouldn't. It also wouldn't go over in any industry in the non-sports world.

The owners' latest offer to the players was presented Sept. 12. In that offer, the league said it was willing to pay the players 46 percent of its revenues (source: TSN.ca). In the last collectively bargained agreement, the league paid the players 57 percent of revenues.

In the weeks and months leading up to the Sept. 15 lockout date, NHLPA chief Donald Fehr's tone seemed reasonable. So did his attitude.

The NHLPA recognized that some teams were losing money and was willing to take less money (source: TSN.ca). However, the NHLPA presented a revenue-sharing plan that asks the money-making owners to share their profits with owners who are struggling (source: USAToday.com).

This is a plan that Fehr helped negotiate with the Major League Baseball Players' Association, and it appears to have worked.

Major League Baseball has not had a work stoppage since the 1994 season, when it lost the final weeks of the regular season as well as the playoffs and World Series.

While Fehr's tone has been reasonable, Bettman's tone has been confrontational.

From the public's perspective, it may not be easy to support the players, but it's almost impossible to believe the owners and their representatives.

They have a track record of shutting down the game, and they continue to do it.

The public is not likely to be on management's side any time soon.