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.

Comments (25)

  1. Lecherous? Might want to reconsider that word. I don’t think it means what you think it means.

  2. Should have :-D

  3. Thanks, one of the better assessments on this situation.

  4. Interesting, can I hear your take on Donald Fehr? Please be sure to include the part where he cancelled a world series. Obviously a guy who was hired to make a deal, I mean he was so quick to pick up the phone over a fucking year ago when the NHL wanted to start bargaining.

    • How much labour strife has there been in baseball since the cancelled world series?

      Maybe no stanley cup this year is what it takes to get a lasting peace.

      • Are you serious with this? Or do you not recall the 2004-2005 cancellation? Sorry, but the NHL only gets one kick at that can. That ship has sailed…

        • Bettman must be taught a lesson. He’s a bully. Even if you lose, when you break a bully’s nose, he respects you and leaves you alone next time.

          Hockey is about respect. You don’t make it to the NHL by giving into bullies. You fight back.

          If the owners want true capitalism, they should compete amongst each other and give up the salary cap. If they want true capitalism, they should allow unrestricted contracts. But no, what they really want is a bunch of obedient monkeys who put on a show. That’s not real hockey.

          Hockey is about respect: the owners need to understand that, and they will. Watch.

  5. Not that I disagree with this article, but the timing of it is curious. Yesterday, Donald Fehr’s initial proclamation (I’m paraphrasing) that the players have moved substantially towards the owners and that we should have a deal soon, was a flat-out lie. One of Fehr’s strategies is to state publicly how much the players have capitulated, and as a result of that a deal should be imminent. He does this knowing the NHL will summarily dispatch the union’s offer, and that the league ends up looking like the bad guys who don’t want to make a deal.

    As others have pointed out, if Fehr was so convinced they were close to a deal, why did he request federal mediators be brought back in two hours earlier? Even Don Koharski could see that smokescreen. The person whose credibility / integrityI expected to see under fire this morning was not Gary Bettman.

    • You’re right on. Bettman isn’t the good guy in this, but Fehr is much worse.

      • The players have already agreed to 50/50 share of revenues.

        What have the owners offered in return ? Nothing: just more demands. The owners want unconditional surrender.

  6. It should be abundantly clear to everyone by now that the NHL leadership’s (Bettman and his lawyers) negotiation strategy is, was and will always be, “lockout and capitulation”. Bettman got the salary cap last time. This time the goal is more ambiguous to get the players to take less of the revenue pie than last time.

    Unfortunately this strategy is totally outdated 19th century thinking. You don’t need to be Harvard Business MBA to know that it is counter-productive to growing your business. The Sports Market radio show has been giving pretty convincing reasons why a lockout was not necessary from a business and economic perspective.

    God help us if Bettman’s still commissioner the next time around because it will be “Lockout IV: WTF”

    • “The Sports Market radio show has been giving pretty convincing reasons why a lockout was not necessary from a business and economic perspective.”

      Such as? Entering the season without a CBS would have been suicide with Fehr across the table.

      • Watch Bettman destroy the NHL: he is such a bully that the players elected Fehr. This guy Bettman already got the 50/50 split of revenue. Now he wants to restrict player rights. He’s a real dictator and has to be fought.

        Not only does he want their money, but he also wants their rights.

        Hockey is not for wusses. I expect the players to fight. It’s not about money, it’s about player rights and respect.

        Bettman must be taught a lesson.

  7. Remember that time the NHLPA gave the league three proposals and the league spent the entirety of 10 minutes looking them over before shooting them down and walking out?

    Now the NHL makes their offer and the PA reaction is a collective “Meh, is this all you’ve got?” after looking it over for a couple hours.

    And the NHL wants to cry bloody murder? What a joke these “negotiations” are.

  8. Thank you to the two most recent comments. I get sick of this pop-politics crap that the majority of hockey bloggers engage in, seemingly unable to see the world in any terms other than “good little guys vs. bad big guys.” They’re playing right into Fehr’s hand, automatically swayed by any appeal to the “workers” over the “billionaires,” as if stubbornness is more excusable from those with two-comma incomes than it is from those with three-comma incomes.

    Fact is, both sides view the other as an adversary and are more interested in “winning” from their POV than getting the NHL back on the ice, and we should be pissed at everyone. I am pissed at every player and owner in the league right now, and couldn’t care less about Fehr or Bettman, other than hoping they both get fired as soon as this is over, if not sooner. Bring hockey back so I can start forgetting all of this, please.

    • Yuh………the players should have just wrote that check and started playing. Equal blame right?

  9. Also don’t forget a few weeks ago when Bettman publicly stated that the league was willing to honor the Make Whole 100% on the owners’ end. Turns out that was BS as well. Apparently the owners were surprised to learn that they were actually expected to *gasp* NEGOTIATE during these meetings instead of dictate and offer “concessions” of things they never had in the first place.

    Also notice how Bettman can’t make eye contact with anybody in the room as he speaks. A classic tell of somebody lying his ass off. Bettman is getting his ass handed to him in these negotiations and he is clearly overmatched and not experienced with dealing with anybody skilled. He’s lost all his composure. As if taking everything off the table is going to get him a deal.

  10. I don’t know how someone can look at Fehr’s shameful, embarrassing spectacle yesterday–where he cynically used the earnest, blindsided disappointment of the people he represents as pawns and props–and think the headline is something about Bettman being dishonest about something.

    It’s not lost on me that Bettman and the league aren’t doing any big charity to the players by lessening asked restrictions, but ffs, at least the guy hasn’t trotted people he purportedly represents in front of a roomful of media and slaughtered them in the hopes that nobody would understand what he just did.

    Just sad and shameful. Flushing half a billion down the toilet to preserve a contract structure that 95% of these guys will never see and betraying the other 5% by knowingly giving them false hope then exploiting their sadness to cover his own ass on national television. Who the Hell is this guy supposed to represent other than himself?

    I just feel bad for these guys. And not because of Bettman. First union boss sold them out to the owners. Second union boss was great, but stubborn and, at the end of the day, couldn’t make a strategic retreat and re-enacted Custer’s Last Stand. Third union boss spied on them. Fourth one was fired in a conspiracy by a secret cabal who didn’t want him auditing their expense accounts. And the fifth sacrifices them on television to score points in some game that benefits nobody and nobody wants to play.

    The headline today is not that Bettman’s an evil businessman. Even if it’s true.

  11. Judging from players’ comments and tweets, many of them have drank so much union kool-aid that they have completely lost perspective. The owners aren’t 30+ greedy guys in suits, they’re 30 organizations. They pay for the arenas, employ thousands and donate millions to various charities. They’ve also invested millions to purchase a team.

    The reality is that the previous CBA was flawed. To the benefit of the players, some owners found loop holes to pay more than the system was intended to allow. That is why the league is asking for a market correction.

    The players shouldn’t be going to battle for the sake of unions. They’re millionaires who play a game. Does it really make a difference at the end of the day if they take home $2 million or $2.5 million? If it does, the PA should devise a revenue sharing plan. The owners are willing to do this for the smaller market teams. Why don’t the players?

    Asking for a pension for current players is also completely ridiculous. If the players want to show gratitude to those who came before them, they could pool 10% of their wages and create a charity that looks after athletes once their careers are over, should they require financial assistance.

    • The players already have a pension plan (2 actually, but for purposes of simplicity, I won’t go into it). And a good one at that. Wanting a modification to that is pretty standard stuff in a collective bargaining negotiation. It’s not only normal for the players to want to tweak that, but wise.

      What is not normal or wise is to say nothing about a pension plan until the other side thinks a deal is closing, THEN introduce the idea of modifying the pension plan as a make-or-break issue. If the pensions were an issue, why would they have not mentioned them once until the deal is closing?

      Doing this makes the people on the other side of the table think you’re just jerking them around because you don’t want to close. And in the case of Fehr, my suspicion is they would be right.

  12. Can someone explain Bettman’s words. The league losing 18 to 20 million in revenue and the players are losing 8 to 10 million a day in revenue. How is that 57% for the player’s and 43% for the owners. So what are the real numbers in this negotiation? Bettman makes alot of inconsistent statements or am I the only one that sees this?

    Call me crazy but even at 50 / 50 … it would mean that the owners and players both lose the same amount. Its the math i was taught … is there some other kind of math the NHL uses?

  13. I have been a season ticket holder of the NY Islanders for over 30 years. I will no longer watch in person or on TV hockey games. I am moving on to other sports that think more of the fans than themselves.

    Gary Bettman is a joke and has not done anything to promote the sport. Why is is kept on as commission is anyones guess, but it has not been good for the game.

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