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.

Sidney Crosby won’t get directly involved in future NHL CBA talks.

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.

THE NATION: (hat tip to Kukla’s Korner): A critical look at the Proskauer Rose law firm, which represents management in all four North American pro leagues (including the NHL).

LOS ANGELES TIMES: Remembering David Courtney, the Los Angeles Kings PA announcer who recently passed away.

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9 Responses to NHL Lockout (Day 84) Morning Coffee Headlines – December 8, 2012.

  1. TopRightCorner says:

    The idea of star players making huge bucks in a shorter time is not that bad for me since they are the ones that both deserve it and almost always do not sign and then coast.
    If the top guys right now make about 8m and the average player 2.4m then the middle class is the 4.5-5m players.
    I am one that sees those types as the most overpaid for what they do and are the biggest class of sign and coast types.
    Some of these types in the news lately such as Hainsey/Versteeg are good examples of wasted overpays.
    Even seeing a lot of 3rd/4th liners and 5th/6th dmen making less is fine since a lot of them are overpaid due to a watered down talent pool.
    I have no problem with the stars making more and those types less.
    If i am watching Sid/ovie/Toews/Datsuyk etc at 11m a year and 2nd liners like versteeg/grabo/cole etc at 3m that works for me.
    Add in that few stars these days are traded and it is mostly 2nd/3rd/4th liners and bottom 4 dmen it would probably open up trading as well.
    This is far prefered by me over 15 yr phoney contracts to get out of paying it properly.

  2. Scott says:

    It seems that it is always the union who asks the NHL to meet or has a new . More players are going over sea’s to play but some have returned with injuries. I wonder if and when Crosby goes over and comes back with a injury what pittsburg owners would say

  3. Captain Ahab says:

    I have thought for some time now (80 some odd days) that Bettman has a problem with Fehr because he has finally found someone with whom he can’t bully and in fact may be, as was stated in one of the above articles, as his “mirror image.” I also think the owners, who I would suspect have all employed people exactly like Donald Fehr to get them where they are today, are upset because they haven’t been able to steam roll over him and the players this time around.
    If the rumours and reporting are correct then from what I am hearing is that the owners were upset because of the reaction, or I should say, non-reaction when they raised their offer to $300 million. What did they expect, Fehr and the players to do, bow down and kiss their respective rings? This has been an uphill battle for the players from the minute they were locked out and after almost three months of on again, off again negotiations where offers where tabled only to be pulled from the table if they didn’t sign immediately and lines drawn in the sand only to be redrawn again and again, how else would you expect them to react. Here you have billionaires and multi-billionaires who are still making millions per day from their other businesses negotiating with players who are not receiving a pay check and you expect them to act like you are doing them a favour when you concede to give them something they already feel they deserve.
    It was not the players who started this and so for the owners to expect these men to be subservient when they finally get an offer to where they feel it should be then it’s no wonder the negotiations are in the state they are.

  4. backchecking says:

    I am at a loss on how the owners feel that they were going to sign a deal with only NHL players at the table …it doesnt make sense , and the owners should now better that it wasnt going to happen that way!

    As far as the last two CBAs have gone the players may have made more money ( by mistake) but they haven’t won anything at the bargaining table and like Captain AHAB has stated would have been steamrolled by the owners hasd it not been for Fehr …the players seem to have come up on everything that is negotiable to meet alomst on every level what the owners have asked for …I truly wish people following this would see this is not Hoceky players being greedy in this negotiations its them fighting for rights they deserve to have ….Does anyone really know what the owners and business people did to the players before Ted Lindsay created an NHL union …they took advatage of them in everyway possible and blatantly stole from there pockets .

    Sure I miss hockey …yes Iam a business owner……but I played hockey and I also know how good you have to be to play in the NHL and compete for a few years 750 guys out of the tens of millions who want to be there world wide….the game makes all the money off the players …they are the product plain and simple and in reality they should have an open market just like any other person on this planet to earn as much as the deserve based on there services and talent level …all that has been curbed by the owners along the way and the league.

    The main reason we have a problem today is becuase the owners weren’t treating each other fairly over the past 40 years and the rich owners were stockpiling talent and paying ubseen money to create a winner and creating a deep divide amongst teams and talent ….it was never ever the players fault ……the only fault of the players was that they were highly talented and 27 plus teams were fighting for there services by throwing money at them …..GO FIGURE …its tsill happening today …its the owners fault at every turn ….what is really happening is that the owners are looking for ways to make there money back on paying those elite players from the pockets of the 90% of the players who aren’t making huge coin to justify there spending.Its robbing fomr peter to pay paul ….the owers want the 90% of the lesser players to subsidise and pay the salaries of the elite players ! WTF….if you want a winner pay for it yourself !

    I wish someone would ask The LA KINGS owner Anshutz if he had the choice to spend more than the cap to win the Stanley Cup how much would he have paid to win????

    What would have been his limit to his spending if rules weren’t in place ……I know the answer …hes like a guy with a bad gambling problem ……he would have spent everything he had …I know that and the owners know that …BUT so it goes the players who are the PRODUCT of the game and the are the Game itself have to concede to the owners to help the owners correct there bad spending habits and tell them as a cousler would you have to stop your spending you have a problem ……stop paying me so much for who Iam and my talent ….maybe the owners should put on a pair of skates and see how many tickets they sell ….I tell you one thing I would pay top dollar to watch an owner on skates for one game play a whole game and get crushed in the corners and finally earn the respect of the players …..try doing it at at that level since you were 10 years old and compete on the highest level with the best players from around the world for an 82 game season playing almost everyday.

    The owners have no respect of what it takes to be an NHL hockey player or even what it takes to get there …if they had any real clue there wouldn’t be any issue today!

    The game just grew by almost 50% in 5 years. The problem is Hockey players are to nice becuase they respect the sport ….where as Basketball and Football players know its all about one thing ….MONEY for the owners who own them !!!!

  5. JDBiGC says:

    Several things;
    1. I don’t think the league will suffer irreparable damage from the lockout. Every one of the major 4 have suffered some time of labor strife in the last 20 years. The only way to damage the product is to play a season and then have the players strike right before the playoffs (see the MLB).

    2. Ken Campbell is way off. I don’t agree that shorter contract lengths will blow up contract values. First, the CBA has a stipulation – which I assume would carry over to the new CBA – that no contract can be worth more than X% (I believe it was 20%) of the team amount. The only reason that teams used front-loaded (aka back-diving) contracts was to keep the salary cap hit down. If that’s not a realistic possibility, then the bigger contracts won’t be handed out. There is just no way that somebody is going to get a 7 year $10M per season deal. I don’t see a team giving $10M per season of cap hit to anybody. If a team does, they won’t win. History has shown that a handful of superstars won’t win a cup.

    3. Sidney Crosby may be working his way to being the most hated player in the league. There is already a wide belief that he’s a whining diver. This chatter isn’t helping. Note how many players quietly went to Europe and haven’t said a word. It’s as if Crosby is expecting everybody to say, “Wait, hold on! I didn’t care if Ovechkin and Malkin went to Europe, but wait! We can’t have Crosby go. We were wrong. Let’s just give the players what they want.”

    4. Don Cherry is absolutely right. Unless Fehr could ensure a near unanimous outcome, a vote now would create the appearance (rightly or not) of a fracture in the players.

    5. Eric Duhatschek perfectly illustrates why the owners NEED to get what they’re asking for. They need to get certain things now because once the league starts again it will be dog eat dog. This is why Daly referred to the contract length as “the hill we die on”. It’s that important. This is why I can’t understand why the talks are breaking down over these lesser issues. I understand fighting over money, revenue-splitting, etc. But the players fighting over contract lengths is silly and contract variances is silly. It’s not like the owners won’t spend the money. I could understand the players’ concerns if the owners were devising a scheme to pay the players a minimal amount and hang out near the cap floor, but we know that won’t happen. So if Crosby gets a little less than he wanted, it means Neal and Kunitz can ask for a little more than they would have expected. It will all balance out in the end.

  6. Leafs Fan says:

    The league has asked for contracts that will put a stop to those large front loaded deals which alot of teams and owners hate. I for one will not be sad to see them go. I cannot see the top players getting anymore than 7-8 million under the new system as it will limit a teams ability to put together a winner.The second teir players that in my mind are grossly over payed right now will loose out but they need to. It will in my mind bring the escalating contacts under control.

  7. backchecking says:

    @ JDbigC

    I agree with almost everything you said …but the lack of respect for Crosby his talent level, what hes accomplished at every stage of his career along with the fact he was an 18 year old who had a bullseye painted on his back in a young frame and literaly man handled and mugged game in and game out when he entered the league with absloutely NO PROTECTION ( enforcer) and the fact he broke his neck and still played hockey for almost a 2 weeks afterwords is a slight to someone who doesnt deserve it weather your a Crosby fan or not ….justly undeserved for someone who accomplished….. everything…… while taking the horrid abuse he did as a young player is abslotely remarkable …..not to offend you but id say you never played hockey with grown men at 200 plus pounds willing to almost kill you at 40 to 50 mph with razor blades on ther feet and a carbonfibre weapon in there hands!
    He was abused at every stage of his young NHL career abd still came out on top in the game …thats not whinning thats being the best in the world !

  8. Captain Ahab says:

    Hi backchecking:
    I agree with you about Sidney Crosby earning respect because of what he has done. Sure when he was a bit younger he did a few things as well as said a few things that didn’t go over too well with his peers and the fans, but he has matured and with that maturity he has learned to think before he speaks and to stop diving and whining on the ice. I don’t think for one second he wants anyone’s sympathy as far as him going over to Europe to play but rather by saying that it shows how frustrated he is with the negotiations and his waning optimism that the owners and the union can get a deal done in time for at the very least, a 48 game season.
    Sidney Crosby is arguably the face of the NHL and it is on that face as well as about a half a dozen other stars that the NHL markets itself and without players like Sid and the others the owners would not be getting as much revenue to bank and to share as they have been and they need to realize that.
    As far as contract lengths and front-loaded or back-diving clauses, it has been the owners and their GM’s that have caused this dilemma and they want to blame the players who have actually been pawns in this 29 or 30 owner chess game that they have been playing. As soon or possibly even before the ink was dry on the last CBA the owners and GM’s had their lawyers looking for loop holes with which to circumvent the contractual rules they had just negotiated. The players didn’t do this, they just sat there and watched these same now miserly owners attempt to throw bucket fulls of money at them to get them to play for their team. The same exact thing will happen once the new CBA is signed and all of this belly aching and the throwing around of phrases like, “this is the hill we are prepared to die on” will be forgotten and it will be owner trying to screw owner by finding new and different ways to entice a star or superstar to come play for them, no matter what it does to the overall health or viability of the league.
    The only thing stopping a deal getting done are a few owners, not the majority and not Gary Bettman nor is it Donald Fehr. If they really, and I mean truly wanted to have hockey being played in their arenas, a contract would be worked out. The players know that they are losing money they will never be able to recover and every week this drags out they will be losing another paycheck and their bills and expenses will keep coming which makes me believe they really want to get an agreement signed and back to earning a living, but the owners refuse to allow this to happen and continually throw up one stumbling block after another. To what end I have no idea but it has been their modus operandi since the very beginning and for whatever reason continues to be.
    Once the smoke clears we may be privy to the real root cause but I’m guessing it will be quite some time before anyone is able to reveal what the owners true agenda was.

  9. Sandy says:

    The players were close to accepting that deal until Fehr told them not to.. .wait for a better offer.

    I hope there is no better offer and Bettman cancels the season.

    Fehr has been playing the game of frustrate the opposition and make them negotiate with themselves…

    I agree that the players should have their contracts paid in full… and to me it shouldn’t matter about the length of the contract… just have a stiff variance within it… Maybe put a 10 yr limit on the contracts 5% variance.

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