More reaction and analysis of the breakdown in this week’s NHL CBA negotiations, and where the two sides go from here.
NATIONAL POST: Chris Johnston of Canadian Press reports the NHL and NHLPA stepped back on Friday to evaluate their respective positions a day after negotiations broke off. They’ve yet to set a date for future talks but both sides understand their window for saving a partial season is narrowing. The two sides remain divided on “the length of the CBA, a rule would that would limit player contracts at five years and the NHLPA’s desire to see compliance buyouts included as another way to help teams reduce payroll and get under the salary cap.” Michael Traikos, meanwhile, suggests the rhetoric and reaction from both sides following the latest breakdown in talks is simply posturing, and all part of their negotiation process.
ESPN.COM: Pierre LeBrun believes the two sides are still close to getting a deal done, suggesting the sticking points (CBA term, contract term limits, no compliance buyouts or caps on escrow in transition) aren’t insurmountable. LeBrun dismisses the notion the league’s recent “make whole” provision ($300 million) is truly “off the table” as NHL commissioner Gary Bettman claimed, believing “ the reality is, if the players next week are willing to play ball with what the league proposed, that deal is still available. What the players have to figure out for themselves is whether waiting this out longer will help them get more.” Craig Custance, meanwhile, examines the possible damage the lockout could have for the NHL, citing an economist who believes the damage would be minimal and short-term, as the fans would return as they did following the previous lockout. The league, meanwhile, has no plans to reach out to the NHLPA, as deputy commissioner Bill Daly believes the next move is up to the union.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: For all the blather I’ve read and heard from fans claiming they’ve forsaken the NHL forever, the simple fact is most simply can’t quit the NHL. Sure, a handful will make good on their threat, but most won’t. If the NHL were truly concerned about the damage this lockout was having to its brand, it never would’ve staged it in the first place, let alone having it last this long. The number of folks cancelling season tickets or their NHL Center Ice packages haven’t been sufficient enough to force the league to reconsider its position. As I’ve always said, the only way fans can bring this lockout to an end is a massive cancellation of season tickets, refusal to purchase available season tickets, and massive cancellation of subscriptions to NHL products like its Center Ice cable package. If hundreds of thousands of NHL fans were doing this, trust me, the lockout would end immediately. But that hasn’t happened, which only buttresses the owners opinion the fans will come back.
SPORTSNET.CA: Scott Morrison offers up his take on the latest breakdown in NHL talks, and wonders if the NHL owners game plan is “to kill the season and hope another executive director of the players’ association disappears in the process”, as that tactic worked during the last lockout. Stephen Brunt, meanwhile, wondered if Gary Bettman’s emotional press conference following the collapse of recent talks was due in part to the frustration of dealing with his mirror image in PA director Donald Fehr.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: It’s obvious the league has been trying to employ “divide and conquer” tactics with the PA as they did in the previous lockout, as it resulted in the successful overthrow of then-PA director Bob Goodenow back then. It might work again, but I think the players understand if they have another revolt against their leadership, it’ll irrevocably damage themselves as an effective union, leaving them at the owners’ mercy in future CBA negotiations. Time will tell, though. It’s still early December and there’s plenty of time to reach a season-saving deal. If, however, this results in another lost season, or threatens to do so, that’ll be the true test for the players’ unity.
As for Bettman, while he is a shrewd, calculating negotiator, he’s also human, and I believe his emotional outburst on Thursday wasn’t calculated, but an honest reaction. He is usually calm and collected during his press conference, but on Thursday night his mask slipped, and his frustration over dealing with Fehr broke through. For the first time, the pressure he’s feeling was evident. I’m not suggesting Bettman is breaking. Far from it, but we caught a rare glimpse of his emotional side on Thursday night.
THE GLOBE AND MAIL: Eric Duhatschek suggests the NHL owners have only themselves to blame for the current situation, believing the players will win, just as they always do, because the owners will turn on each other as they always do once the ink is dry on the new collective bargaining agreement.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Once again, “The Hat” is spot on. Sure, the owners will get what they want from the players in this CBA, just as they did in the last two, but as I’ve also noted many times in the past, their unity will disappear once the puck drops on the season, because they’ll immediately start seeking ways to exploit loopholes in the agreement to their own advantage, resulting in the unintended consequence of benefiting the players. The owners just can’t help themselves. Like the players they employ, they’re competitive as hell, and look for any edge to exploit for their own gain.
CSNBAYAREA.COM: Ray Ratto believes this NHL labor dispute is little more than a clash between Fehr and Boston Bruins owner and NHL Board of Governors chairman Jeremy Jacobs, chiding the hard line owners for their seeming desire to kill a season to beat Fehr rather than engage in meaningful negotiations. Ratto also chides the supposed moderate NHL owners for doing nothing but allow the hardliners among their ranks to control their side in these negotiations.
PITTSBURGH TRIBUNE-REVIEW: Penguins captain Sidney Crosby has had enough of involving himself in CBA negotiations, and is considering plans to play in Europe if this lockout ends up killing the season.
BUFFALO NEWS: Sabres goalie Ryan Miller explained his side of his verbal encounter with BoG chairman Jeremy Jacobs during this week’s CBA talks.
TSN.CA: Winnipeg Jets player rep Ron Hainsey suggested a breakdown in communication between the two sides led to the collapse in negotiations this week. Hainsey also went into detail over the NHLPA’s desire to bring Fehr back into the negotiations, and the owners suggesting that move would be a deal breaker.
STLTODAY.COM: Blues forward David Backes backed up Hainsey’s statement regarding the league telling the players bringing Fehr back into the talks could scuttle things. “That was very confusing to a lot of the guys,” Backes said. “Don and (assistant director Steve Fehr), they are the people we chose to represent us. We’re not well-educated businessmen; we’re hockey players. We expressed our views, had some phenomenal discussions with the owners. But we’re not billion-dollar businessmen that cut deals in boardrooms all the time. That’s why we’ve hired Don Fehr.” Backes also suggested the fact only NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly and counsel Bob Batterman turned up for Thursday’s meeting with Fehr and the players indicated the league side was “not taking it very seriously and they don’t want a deal.”
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Bill Daly and PA counsel Steve Fehr were supposedly sitting in on the “owners-players only” meetings this week, so why would the owners even try to do an apparent end run around Donald with his brother Steve in the room? Even if Steve wasn’t there, it would be naive for the owners or Daly to make that suggestion and not believe the players would immediately notify the Fehr brothers.
OTTAWA SUN: Joe Warmington reports Hockey Night in Canada personality Don Cherry believes the players should put the NHL’s latest offer to a vote, but Chris Stevenson cites a player source saying that isn’t going to do the players any good. “ If it turns out there are 100 or 150 or 200 players who vote for taking the offer and play, it will get it out — as almost everything does — and that will lead to a rush of “the union is fractured” stories.”
THE HOCKEY NEWS: Ken Campbell explains how shorter contract lengths could be a curse in disguise for the owners.
“The league had better watch what it wishes for here. There’s a good chance what you’ll begin to see instead of 10-year contracts worth $70 million are five-year contracts worth $70 million, or seven-year deals worth $70 million. The same amount of money the owners are putting out now would just be crammed into fewer years, which will create a system where superstars are highly paid and the rest make minimum wage. It would effectively wipe out the middle class in the NHL.
And despite the notion that players will not honor the final years of front-loaded deals, we have no real evidence that’s actually going to be the case. Daniel Alfredsson, for example, was prepared to play this season for $1 million, an amount that will be even less during a truncated season.”
SPECTOR’S NOTE: An excellent point by Campbell, which has me rethinking my opinion on the subject. I’ll explain further in my Soapbox update later today.
LOS ANGELES TIMES: Remembering David Courtney, the Los Angeles Kings PA announcer who recently passed away.