NHL Lockout: Trying to Make Sense of Nonsense
For hockey fans, the past 72 hours have been nothing short of nerve-wracking.
On Tuesday, NHLPA player representatives and "moderate" team owners congregated in a Manhattan Westin and entered an intense series of negotiations without union leader Donald Fehr or NHL commissioner Gary Bettman present.
That development was, ironically, the brainchild of the oft-criticized Bettman, and arguably led to the most fruitful labor talks between the league and the union that we've seen throughout this entire process.
If you needed any more proof that Bettman isn't the "bad guy" in all of this, what has occurred over these last few days should be more than sufficient.
Given that the owners have taken everything "off the table," you might suggest that, not only were these talks unsuccessful, but they may very well lead to a cancellation of the entire hockey season.
However, to think that most of these items will remain off the table permanently would be foolish. Once the two sides resume these collective bargaining discussions, you'll be surprised at how quickly these elements come back into play.
As I've said all along and will reiterate here, it's important to look past the dramatics that are being projected by both the NHL and NHLPA.
For example, when the owners left the room after an hour last night, and Donald Fehr was about to step up to the podium for his press conference, Twitter exploded, crying out about an impending doom.
Everyone was certain that the only reason why Bettman and Co. marched out after such a short amount of time was because there was nothing to talk about, and the season was days, if not hours, from being terminated.
Or perhaps from a more logical perspective, the NHLPA submitted a proposal to the league, and the owners, after receiving that proposal, then exited the room to mull it over and discuss.
That would just be insane, wouldn't it?
Similarly, while I do think that, in that particular moment, the sense of anger portrayed by Bettman last night was 100 percent genuine, I don't buy that we're on the verge of nuclear winter, which is what appears to be the common belief amongst hockey fans 'round the globe.
No doubt, Fehr's decision to hold out for more pie in the sky did not sit too well with Bettman or the owners. The league took what I felt was a significant and bold step by raising their "make-whole" offer from $211 to $300 million, just $93 million short of the NHLPA's "magic number" on that front.
Remember, many owners wanted to take make-whole off the table. Gary Bettman stood up to them, insisting that it stay there in the hopes of reaching a new CBA agreement and earning more trust from the players' side.
The owners wanted a year limit on contracts which, quite frankly, makes complete sense, but instead of perhaps countering with an offer that included contract limits of seven years or so, Fehr decided that it ought to be removed altogether.
From the very beginning, I felt that it was the players' right to demand that the owners honor their existing contracts, at least for the most part.
It was obvious that, as is the case in any negotiations, there would have to be give-and-take, and therefore, the players were unlikely to get everything that they wanted. Right or wrong, that's simply the way that it was going to be.
When the league took its first significant leap by offering a 50-50 split of hockey-related revenues, Donald Fehr rejected the proposal, convinced that there were more concessions to be made by the owners if the players were to hold out.
At the time, I thought that he was out of his mind. But I must admit that I was wrong.
Turns out, those concessions were the ones that the NHL made to the NHLPA on Wednesday night. Unless, of course, you ask Fehr, who will eagerly assure you (as he told the union that evening) that there is still more to gain on the players' side by holding out once again.
He made me look stupid for saying this back in November, but I severely doubt that will be the case this time around. The offer that Donald Fehr and the union received from the league on Wednesday night is the best one that they'll ever get for the remainder of these negotiations.
It's also quite clear to me that there is a division amongst the players' union as far as support for Don Fehr is concerned. As was reported last night, a player admitted that his side was prepared to make a deal before Fehr told them to hold out.
With that in mind, if the NHL's next offer to the NHLPA is not as, shall we say, "fully-loaded" as Fehr promised his union members that it would be, I think that it would come down to a vote and that a majority of the players would be in favor of making a CBA deal sooner rather than later.
Remember, most players are not Sidney Crosby or Alex Ovechkin, nor do they make the kind of money or have the same job security that the stars and superstars do.
As I said before, I don't think most of the items that are now "off the table" will remain out of the equation. I also don't believe Bill Daly when he says a five-year contract limit is "the hill we'll die on." If the NHLPA shows some flexibility, the NHL will likely raise that to six—or possibly seven—years, though I wouldn't expect more than that.
The bottom line is that things aren't as dire as they seem. Reading beyond the temper tantrums and sound bites, here's essentially what has occurred: After three consecutive days of intense, back-and-forth negotiations and proposal-swapping, the two sides need to cool off.
They're closer to a deal than you might think, and the only reason why they want you to believe otherwise is to put pressure on each other to cave in.
My advice? Relax, take a deep breath, and most importantly, don't buy into the drama.
Comments are welcome.
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