They are the people you meet in the grocery store, the bank, at the neighbourhood pub.
They are ordinary hockey fans, the outsiders in the NHL and players’ association talks, the ones who get so little consideration when two business factions clash — and they need to vent.
“Why didn’t they start negotiating months ago?!”
“They’re all so greedy, it makes me ill.”
“When do you think it will get done?”
There is more, but you get the idea. Frustration reigns supreme among fans of a league that is gagging on its own success, with revenues soaring to $3.3 billion last season, up nearly 60 per cent from where they prior to the 2004 lockout, but team owners and the NHLPA can’t agree how to divide the pie. Imagine how difficult consensus would be if things were going badly.
With the current collective bargaining agreement set to expire on Sep. 15, the two sides are on the clock, even if it doesn’t show. There is little evidence the NHL and its players are any closer to settling now than they were on June 29, when they first met and the league pitched a hardball offer.
In fact, one could argue that the developments of recent days have further entrenched the positions, not so much because of stubbornness or sticking to one’s guns, but because as the clock ticks down to the deadline, more energies are being expended on the PR battle than on negotiating a settlement.
For example, the players would like it known they’ll happily start the season without an agreement, play-as-we-go, toward a new CBA. If that is music to the ears of hockey fans who have argued they want to see the season start up, whether or not there is a CBA, it is also unrealistic, considering NHL commissioner Gary Bettman made it plain from the outset that players would be locked out if there is no agreement in place by Sept. 15. Training camps are scheduled to begin on Sept. 21, with almost no one believing they will start on time.
Oh, that there might be a training camp at all. The feeling around the league is that the regular season will not start as scheduled on Oct. 11, and only a heightened sense of urgency can save the season from being lost, as it was in 2004-05, when the NHL brought in a salary cap.
It probably hasn’t helped matters that the NHLPA has pursued side issues, such as filing a claim that the NHL cannot lock out players in Quebec because the PA is not certified by the Quebec Labour Board. The NHLPA has also questioned the legality of teams locking out teams in other provinces as well. On a conference call, Montreal Canadiens defenceman Josh Gorges said the move is being made for the right reasons, including putting pressure on the owners to secure a deal.
“A lockout should be a last resort, but the owners are treating it as their preferred option,” Gorges said. Interestingly, Gorges said that if the Canadiens were barred from locking out the Habs, enabling players to use the Bell Centre and practice facilities, it could provoke a response from rival clubs, concerned about an unfair advantage. Voila: Negotiation pressure point.
We’ll see about that.
In response to the labour board action, NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly termed the matter a “distraction,” but not something that caught the league off guard.
What to make of these little diversions that have little to do with actually rolling up sleeves and getting a deal done? They’re a sure sign that a deadline of sorts is approaching. As the doomsday clock ticks toward the 15th, expect more posturing and positioning in the name of pushing buttons and looking good, rather than getting down to cold, hard negotiating.
That includes a planned show of force by the players. Hundreds of them are expected to be in New York by mid-week for a show of strength, although Washington Capitals forward Jason Chimera will not be one of them.
“I’d rather take my kids to school than go listen to bad news,” Chimera bluntly told Capitals reporter Chuck Gormley of CSN.
So much for the brotherhood.
Otherwise, lock-armed in solidarity days before they can be locked out by the league, players will remind fans, who couldn’t agree more, that they’d prefer to play hockey, with or without a deal.
Sadly, having fan support won’t mean much in the boardroom. If anything, the two sides seem to be annoying each other in lieu of, you know, actually talking to each other.
Like so many hockey fans who are hoping for the best but expecting the worst, local charities are bracing for the impact of a delayed or lost hockey season. A fortunate few NHL clubs have their pre-camp charity golf tournaments this week, while there can still be contact between organizations and their playoffs.
Will the Senators golf for charity? Doesn’t look like it. As usual, the tournament is slated for the day prior to camp opening. Barring a heaven-sent resolution in the next few days, the charity event will be postponed or cancelled. A club spokesman said that at this point, the Senators are going to wait before announcing the fate of the tournament.