Well into the second month of the NHL lockout, fatigue over CBA negotiations appears to be taking a toll on everyone, including pundits and fans.
Things got a little interesting recently when the Philadelphia Daily News reported sources suggesting Flyers owner Ed Snider may be growing disenchanted with Commissioner Gary Bettman’s handling of the CBA negotiations.
Meanwhile, reports circulated suggesting some players weren’t pleased with the leadership of NHLPA director Donald Fehr, claiming that despite the PA’s supposed transparency, they weren’t being kept fully informed about the league’s recent proposal.
NHL owners are under a league-imposed gag order, preventing them from speaking publicly about the lockout. We have no idea if Snider (who subsequently denied the Daily News report, calling it “erroneous”) is truly upset over the league’s handling of CBA talks, let alone if other NHL team owners might be getting impatient.
The PA membership isn’t under such a gag order. While most players interviewed maintain support of the PA leadership while blasting Bettman and the owners (the latest being Detroit defenseman Ian White, who called the commissioner “an idiot”), a handful (Dan Boyle, Tomas Kaberle) have been critical of both sides. No player, however, has yet to publicly single out Fehr for criticism.
We can only guess there are people on both sides growing weary and frustrated over the lockout, willing to accept what’s currently on the table to salvage the remainder of the season.
The strain of this lockout has taken a toll upon NHL fans, as well as some league sponsors (MolsonCoors Canada), television network executives (CBC, NBC Sports) which carry NHL games, and the punditry forced to cover the CBA proceedings.
It therefore stands to reason it might also be taking a toll upon some folks on both sides of this labor dispute.
I have no doubt Bettman and Fehr are facing pressure from those they represent to get a deal done. Some of that pressure is probably coming from influential sources. Ultimately, it is Bettman, Fehr and their lieutenants who’ll have to get a deal hammered out to end this lockout and hopefully salvage this season.
A revolt among the membership of either side would undoubtedly have significant influence upon ending this.
The owners folded during the 1994-95 lockout, and though it didn’t cost Bettman his job, he moved swiftly soon afterward to consolidate his power to avoid being placed in that position again.
It was the players who capitulated during the 2004-05 lockout, deposing Bob Goodenow as PA director and accepting a salary cap they had fought against for months.
Though it doesn’t appear either side has reached the point of “blinking” at this stage, recent reports suggest genuine concern on both sides over the potential damage to the league product by this lockout.
This time, there’s considerably more money on the table, and a lot more to lose compared to the previous lockouts. Both sides have more at stake.
That would explain why there’s been more negotiations in the opening two months of this lockout, compared to the same period during the previous two lockouts, where both sides barely spoke, let alone made proposals and held serious negotiations.
Cynical observers have adopted a “wake me when it is over” attitude, chastising those who get their hopes raised whenever word of ongoing negotiations is reported by a hockey media with precious little to cover.
The ups and downs, the hopes and disappointments, are part of the bargaining process. For NHL fans desperate for any sign of a season, it’s only natural they’ll be caught up in it.
Both sides are of course engaged in their respective PR campaigns, trying to curry fan favor by painting each other as the bad guy with their public proclamations following each breakdown in talks.
But among the public posturing are kernels of truth. The disappointment and frustration expressed by both sides in their official statements may be for show, but is also undoubtedly real to some degree.
Most observers believe the two sides are close to a deal, an opinion likely shared by the principals in these negotiations and those they represent.
Having a potential deal tantalizingly close is behind the frustration, but as the old saying goes, the devil is in the details, and that devil has been difficult to pin down.
Another round of labor talks being again this week. We will once again watch and wait, hopeful for an end to our lockout fatigue.