The National Hockey League lockout should end soon. The owners and players are finally bargaining for real.
The two sides finally quit posturing. Gary Bettman quit making take-it-or-leave-it offers. Owners are pressuring Bettman to salvage a partial season. Donald Fehr knows his rank and file members are getting more than a little restless.
It could take a few days, but the two sides could hammer out a tentative agreement this week by committing to making a deal.
Once this matter is resolved, teams will have precious little time to prepare for a 48- or 50-game season. Teams suffering slow starts risk falling out the abbreviated playoff race.
The Edmonton Oilers placed four key players in the American Hockey League this season. That commitment -- combined with the work other Oilers did in Europe this season – should help them blast out of the gate.
The St. Louis Blues should be reasonably prepared to start play. Several key players have stayed fresh by playing in Europe or down in the AHL.
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.
Federal mediators ask a lot of questions while trying to resolve a labor dispute. They try to cut through all the posturing, assess the bottom line differences between the two sides and propose ways to bridge those gaps.
Now that the NHL and the NHLPA have agreed to allow third-party assistance, I offer up some potential questions for the owners:
Do you really believe that shutting down the league every few years is a sound business model? Did you steal this strategy from good folks at McDonald’s, who teases America by giving it the McRib and then taking it away over and over again?
Do you realize that only a small percentage of Americans have even noticed that you aren’t staging games?
Rather than demand all wholesale rollbacks on player contracting rights, why not weigh player contracts on a case-by-case basis and only pay players what they are really worth?
Rather than demand a collective bargain agreement designed to protect yourselves against yourselves, why don’t you learn to say “no” to excessive salary demands?
When the players hired Donald Fehr, what is it about “they won’t cave easily” that you didn’t understand? Did you not Google his name to see what he has done in his career?
Do you realize that modern professional athletes are your partners, not your employees?
If the league is in grave financial shape, why were you guys signing players to eight-digit contracts right up to the moment you locked them out?
Why would one of you trumpet the signing of Ryan Suter and Zach Parise to 13-year, $98 million contracts if there was no intention to actually honor those deals in full?
Did agent Rich Winter hold somebody at gunpoint to get that nine-year, $51 million contract for client Ilya Bryzgalov?
What sort of imbecile would give Jeff Carter an 11-year, $58 million contract? And how could two other teams later take on that contract via trades?
Do none of your remember Jimmy Carson?
How is that 15-year contract for Rick DiPietro working out?
At long last, the National Hockey League owners and players seem to be working toward resolving their labor dispute.
Both sides have quit spewing fan-alienating rhetoric. Both sides have already proven their resolve and suffered massive economic losses, so perhaps it is finally time to quit posturing and get down to business.
The NHL has already reaffirmed its Garage League status. Gary Bettman has already cemented his Architect of Doom legacy by orchestrating the third service interruption of his regime.
NHLPA czar Donald Fehr has already proven that he is still Donald Fehr, the toughest players advocate in the sports labor game.
But now these parties have a chance to set aside all the nonsense and find ways to meet the sport’s economic challenges for the long haul.
This is about more than just regaining hockey for this winter. This is about having a prospect NHL five, 10 and 20 years down the line.
Once and for all, the league and the NHL Players Association must achieve lasting peace.
The various parties --hard-line owners, moderate owners, league executives, player agents, players, NHLPA executives -- must find enduring consensus on how to be run this business.
The current negotiations should aim to create new collective bargaining agreement that will require only minor tweaking for decades to come.
To do that, it must:
Address the vast revenue disparity between the prosperous teams and money-losing teams.
Forge a true owner/talent partnership in growing the industry.
Find ways to make a 50-50 revenue split work while, in some fashion, honoring all contracts already signed.
Reset the NHL’s financial picture with some near-term player sacrifice.
Reward that sacrifice by allowing players to share in future revenue growth.
Respect the talent with more comprehensive player safety measures.
These are reasonable goals. Attaining them in the next CBA quite possible as long as both sides set their prideful desire to win this showdown.
To address the revenue disparity, for instance, the NHL could agree to far more extensive revenue sharing among teams. The league could do a more equitable job splitting up its half of the pie.
If that doesn’t fly, then adjustable salary caps/floors could solve the issue. The players could still end up with their guaranteed revenue share overall and more teams could at least break even.
Overall NHL revenue growth pushed the cap/floor numbers to extreme levels. Most teams couldn’t afford to spend to the cap and many couldn’t really spend to the floor either.
And so here we are, waiting as the two sides start crunching numbers and proposing solutions for real.
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