A deal will get done in the NHL. Eventually.
Perhaps even sooner than the overheated rhetoric might suggest.
It will get done because it makes too much sense not to get done, because a $3.3 billion pie is sitting on the table, spoiling.
But the lockout won’t end soon enough to rescue a full 2012-13 season as long as the NHL and its Players Association mistrust each other to a degree more in keeping with Cold War politics than modern collective bargaining. It won’t end until NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and players’ association chief Donald Fehr realize that “winning” a negotiation usually starts with compromise.
In the latest side dish in lieu of main course negotiating, the Twitterverse was abuzz Tuesday with the news that the NHL had allowed direct contact between franchise owners/general managers and their locked out players for a 48-hour window. This was last week, after the NHL had made what it considered its “best offer” to players. The players then came back with three separate offers of their own, which were rejected out of hand by the league.
Via email, Senators general manager Bryan Murray told the Citizen that in the case of his franchise, “no contact was made by either side.” That is, Senators players did not talk CBA shop with Murray or owner Eugene Melnyk, despite the memo from Bettman allowing brief verbal contact.
Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson says he ran into Murray a couple of days ago.
“We didn’t talk anything about the lockout,” Alfredsson said. “I haven’t talked to anybody.”
Nevertheless, the players’ association views the action by the NHL as a sneaky end-around, circumventing the usual association filter, Fehr (and frère of Fehr).
“Most owners are not allowed to attend bargaining meetings,” said Steve Fehr, the Players Association’s special counsel, and brother of Donald Fehr. “No owners are allowed to speak to the media about the bargaining. It is interesting that they are secretly unleashed to talk to the players about the meetings the players can attend, but the owners cannot.”
The reference is to the gag order Bettman has on owners, keeping them from speaking to reporters about the CBA wranglings.
In his memo, Bettman was explicit that owners/GMs should not negotiate with players, as that is the privy of the NHLPA. But in what reads like a parody of the commissioner, he included potential questions and answers between a team manager and a player.
For example, asks Player X: “I want to be sure that I’ll be paid the face value of my contract — the amount the club agreed to pay when it signed me. Why won’t the club stand by its agreement?”
Bettman’s proposed answer: “In our system nobody is ever ‘guaranteed’ to receive the face amount of their contract. That’s a function of escrow. It’s in your interest, and the league’s interest, to maximize our revenue; as that grows, your compensation grows.
“But we have proposed a mechanism whereby players can be made whole through deferred compensation for the face value of existing contracts for the next two years to the extent aggregate compensation is lower in those two years than it was last year because of the 50-50 allocation of leaguewide revenues.”
And so on.
The NHL insists the 48-hour window of opportunity to speak directly to players was not a circumvention of CBA talks, but a chance to answer any questions players might have. Nice try.
In this increasingly toxic atmosphere, the tactic is being seen by players as just another reason not to trust Gary. Not to believe in Gary.
Senators defenceman Chris Phillips told reporters on Tuesday that “the lockout will end when Gary Bettman decides he wants to get a deal done.”
It won’t get done as long as the main thrust is igniting fires in private — that always become public — and then trying to put them out via the media.
It won’t get done until the two sides sit down to debate what is supposed to be at heart of the matter. Figuring out a system that will work toward a 50-50 split of revenues.
Bettman has been pushing Thursday as a significant deadline in getting a deal, because he arbitrarily deemed this to be the last chance to start the season on Nov. 2 and complete an 82-game schedule (there is slightly more flexibility than that, though not much). In the scenario he proposed last week, the players accept the deal as offered, stage a one-week training camp and then begin playing on the first weekend of November.
In theory, the possibility still exists, that the league and the players’ association could sit down on Thursday, engage in the first true negotiations of this entire mess and come out with a deal this week.
If there is no back and forth in money talks ASAP, the risk is that the league has only further annoyed player and exhausted fan patience with a tactic many view as sneaky and typically Bettman-esque.
Just when it seemed the players’ mistrust of the commissioner could not get worse, something else blows up to widen the divide.
The commissioner’s trolling expedition sought weakness in the ranks, and instead ran headlong into a block of solidarity.