The failure in communication I can see is not between the NHL and NHLPA. Both seem to have a reasonable idea of where they are and where they want to end up. Donald Fehr’s assertion last night that the sides are close is consistent with some good analysis of the collective bargaining process.

Nah, the failure in communication is internal, with what the NHL says, and what the NHL does.

Gary Bettman’s press conference last night was definitely something to watch. I’d never seen him that animated before, and anecdotes of him getting angry and stomping out of the room during negotiations seem a little more plausible. The problem is that when he speaks, he’s just been totally disingenuous, and his later actions tend to be inconsistent with his words.

It must be so upsetting to give and give and give and still not have your best offer to the Players’ Association be accepted. By my count, the NHL had given their “best offer” three times before this week’s round of talks. The made two “bold moves” last night as part of an offer that Bettman described “as far as [the owners] can go” that was apparently good enough for the NHL to be worth an eight-year long term, but not good enough to be worth keeping on the table because the players’ didn’t give nice enough thanks for the owners’ putting $100M towards “Make Whole”?

“The union’s response was shockingly silent,” Bettman said. “There was almost no direct reaction. It was, ‘Thank you. We’ll take the hundred million dollars.’ The owners were beside themselves. Some of them I had never seen that emotional. And they said they don’t know what happened, but, ‘This process is over. Clearly the union doesn’t want to make a deal.’ “  [Yahoo!]

I like to think of people rich enough to own sports teams as at least somewhat reasonable. Perhaps not pleasant people, but reasonable enough that they wouldn’t throw a fit when the union they bargain against isn’t smitten with gratitude when they return $100M of money they had previously allocated for said union. The problem I have with “Make Whole” is that it is in 2012 what “rollback” was in 2005. Decreasing the percentage of the rollback, while a better deal for players, isn’t something that I’d be all that overcome with thanks about.

When Gary talks about the economic system, (“we have to have a system that works right”) it goes against how he’s touted his admirable work from 2005, where he ushered in a new era of competitive balance and parity, something that was more than a Band-Aid solution that he knew the fans really needed. That was, unfortunately, a deal that was “more fair” to the player’s than he initially had thought.

The major issue in the past (before contracting issues because “the hill we’ll die on”) was the 50-50 split of hockey-related revenue, the stone of what Gary characterized as the “fair and equitable deal we’ve been seeking all along” In November, he suggested that the owners’ initial offer of 43-57 was “telegraphing” towards the 50-50 split, and “a sophisticated negotiator” would have caught onto the NHL’s plan all along.

But it wasn’t until October 16 that the owners offered the 50-50 split, five days after Gary’s “magic date” to start the season. He qualified that as October 11 in an attempt to manipulate public sentiment that, no no, all along it’s the owners who have been trying their best to get this started, not the players. It isn’t the owners, wealthy people outside the game of hockey who delaying the process and avoiding paying players until the point-of-no-return, which is sometime in December or early January.

Bruce Arthur, who covers the NBA as well for the National Post, saw the obvious parallels between Bettman’s third lockout and David Stern’s fourth (should we start applying roman numerals to these?), calling this week’s charade a “pre-planned scenario”:

Of course, the whole thing feels scripted, at times. It’s easy to imagine this as just another section of the Proskauer Rose playbook, since the worker-crushing law firm has mounted this production before in last year’s negotiations with the NFL and NBA.

That was written Wednesday night, before talks predictably came crashing down Thursday, also a telegraphed scenario. Gary can stand up at the podium and act indignant and maybe, just maybe, players and fans won’t realize that this was the plan all along.

Gary knows how much lockouts play a part in our enjoyment of pro sports. At last night’s conference, he reference the four NBA lockouts, the NFL’s last year, and eight consecutive work-stoppages in baseball before labour peace. In the same press conference, he brought up the “importance of a long-term working relationship” with a union head, something the NHL doesn’t have with Donald Fehr, and definitely didn’t have with Bob Goodenow, but did have with the notorious, leeching Alan Eagleson.

There’s a deal that’s very close here. Gary just needs to stop talking, and he should probably avoid presenting the Stanley Cup again. Frank Luntz could tell him he’s a polarizing figure that fans simply associate negatively.