NHL layers and owners will meet today without commissioner Gary Bettman and union czar Donald Fehr in the room.
Will this change anything?
Some owners believe that Fehr has somehow misled his members in the NHL Players Association. He hasn’t. The players know what’s up and most are solidly behind their lead negotiator.
Some players believe Bettman is the root of evil on the other side. He isn’t. Bettman is just doing the bidding of hard-line owners who are demanding huge player concessions despite the league’s steady financial growth.
So optimism is in short supply today. While the negotiating format has changed, the challenges remain the same.
After spending the summer awarded comically over-sized contracts to their players, certain owners turned around and demanded a scorched earth strategy in negotiations for a new collective bargaining agreement with the NHLPA.
Never mind that the players hate Bettman and were spoiling for a fight. Never mind that the players hired Fehr, the toughest sports labor negotiator in North America.
The owners are aiming for Total Victory . . . and so here we are, with the NHL fan base in flames the league staring at billions of dollars in long-term damage if and when it resumes operation.
This stunning brand suicide could trigger NHL front office defections, further franchise instability and even contraction.
Unless the owners take a more conciliatory negotiating tone and start treating the players as business partners, the NHLPA could execute the nuclear option – decertification, a move that throw this whole matter into the courts.
Here is what some of the more savvy NHL observators have to say about all this: