League commissioner Gary Bettman’s recent suggestion of an owners-players only meeting as a means of finding a solution to the NHL lockout impasse seems at first glance like a good idea, if for no other reason than everything that’s been previously attempted has failed.

So, no harm in having a select group of owners and players meet, without Bettman or NHLPA director Donal Fehr, to exchange ideas on how to end this labor standoff, right?

I’d like to believe that, but I doubt anything could emerge from the meeting – scheduled for Tuesday in New York City – to bring this lockout to a swift conclusion.

The biggest reason for my doubt is NHL Board of Governors chairman and Boston Bruins owner Jeremy Jacobs – the most hawkish of the hard-line owners – will be among the six owners attending the meeting.

Calgary Flames owner Murray Edwards, another hawk, will also be there, both of whom are two members of the NHL’s negotiating committee. Now, it can be argued there’s nothing wrong with that, since supposed moderates like Winnipeg’s Mark Chipman, Pittsburgh’s Ron Burkle, Toronto’s Larry Tannenbaum and Tampa Bay’s Jeff Vinik round out the list.

Those four, however, have been very quiet throughout this lockout, and you can bet Jacobs and Edwards will ensure they toe the party line, as will NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly, who will also be in attendance.

It was interesting to note Ed Snider of the Philadelphia Flyers and James Dolan of the New York Rangers weren’t part of the ownership group.

Dolan’s exclusion shouldn’t come as a surprise. He’s butted heads with Bettman for several years, and is believed most keen to end the lockout. No way the commissioner would want him in that room, even with Jacobs, Edwards and Daly present.

Snider’s exclusion, however, seems odd, considering he’s the longest-tenured member of the Board of Governors, considered among the most influential of the owners, and thought to be a Bettman supporter.

Perhaps there’s nothing unusual behind his absence from this list. Given a report a couple of weeks ago, however,  citing sources suggesting Snider may be growing unhappy over the league’s direction in CBA negotiations and unimpressed with Jacobs, his exclusion does raise eyebrows.

The names of the players have yet to be determined, but whoever they are will have legal counsel present, so they won’t be going into this meeting unarmed.

Even if the two sides are genuinely willing to work together toward a new collective bargaining agreement, I just don’t believe the respective negotiators on both sides  will seriously accept any recommendations from those talks.

The players could put any recommendations to a vote, and a simply majority would force the PA leadership to accept them.

It’s not the same thing for the NHL owners. Bettman needs only the support of eight owners to continue the lockout.

Currently, we know four of them – Jacobs, Edwards, Washington’s Ted Leonsis and Minnesota’s Craig Leipold (all part of the NHL’s negotiating committee) – will support Bettman.

As per a recent column by Sportsnet’s Mark Spector, other “hawks” include Anaheim’s Henry Samueli, Carolina’s Peter Karmanos, Jr., LA’s Philip Anschutz, Columbus’ John McConnell, Florida’s Cliff Viner and Dallas’ Tom Gaglardi.

All Bettman needs is four of those to join the others, and he can shoot down anything recommended by the moderate owners.

As I’ve said before, unless there’s a very public revolt amongst the NHL owners to over-rule Bettman and his small but influential group of owners (which would include some of those “hawks” switching sides), I doubt those moderate owners attending Tuesday’s meeting will have any significant influence upon the direction of these negotiations from the league’s side.

The next crucial date is December 5th, which is the NHL Board of Governors meeting, where Bettman is expected to debrief the owners on the status of negotiations, as well as the league’s course of action in the coming weeks.

It’s believed Bettman could emerge from that meeting with a deadline for the full cancellation of this season, which could be around mid-January, if there’s no resolution to this standoff with the PA by then.

That, folks, appears more of a certainty to me than any meeting between players and owners resulting in recommendations which bring this lockout to an end.

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6 Responses to NHL Owners-Players Meeting Could Be As Futile As Mediation.

  1. BenS says:

    In contrast to Mark Spector’s report, the majority of the Dallas media tend to believe that Gaglardi is a moderate who wants the lockout over because it’s hurting the gains that the Stars made after the sale went through.

  2. Uncle Slavko says:

    As far as I’m concerned, idiotic Gm’s (they are the employees of the owners, are they not?) have pushed contracts through the roof both in price in in term. If my boss offered me twice or even three times what I’m worth, who am I to turn him down? But now the average player is being penalized for the folly of GM’s, and perhaps player agents. Fire Bettman! Let’s get this league back to being a sport!

  3. JDBiGC says:

    @ Uncle Slavko

    If you’re saying the GMs are to blame, then why would you fire Bettman? Bettman doesn’t hire GMs, the owners do.

    Bettman is only doing the will of the majority of owners. If owners were that upset they could break their silence and speak out. I think it may even be wishful thinking to assume that their are moderate owners.

  4. HABS_FTW says:

    I do find it odd that Tannenbaum is there from an owners perspective. I mean there can’t be any reason Toronto would want a lock out with the cash they bring in. What is it, 30% give or take of league revenues is TO alone?

    You are right though Spector in that as long as there are 8 owners that want this lock out, it doesn’t matter what anyone else wants.

    I don’t think firing Bettman is going to do anything either. They’ll hire someone new, and he’ll be the scape goat for what the owners push. This is of course looking at this fiasco in it’s simplest form, who really knows what happens behind closed doors. I just can’t see Bettman driving this 100%.

  5. Captain Ahab says:

    If the status quo is not working as far as Bettman/Fehr and the owners/players who have been attending the meetings to this point, it only makes sense to have 6 owners who have not been at the meetings thus far as well as 6 players who have likewise not been at the meetings. To trot out the same six hawkish owners so that whoever the players send hear the same rhetoric that has been hashed and rehashed since the lockout began 80 days ago seems like a total exercise in futility. Why not have six owners who Bettman has chosen not to attend previous meetings be the second wave to see if they can spark a settlement? Equally, having six players who have not attended previous meetings seems like a step in the right direction if the owners are sending in their second stringers.
    As a number of players have said recently, I too wonder what it really is that the owners want. Every time the league and the union get anywhere close to hammering out a deal there seems to be a new sticking point that causes disruption. If it was just the 50/50 split that they were looking for it would have been done, especially seeing as they were within $180 million or so but then came another line in the sand and when it was or at least seemed to be addressed it was followed by another line in the sand.
    Bettman has been contrite about many of his offers having expiry dates and saying that it will not be on the table for very long. If he (the owners) wanted to get a deal done he would be more flexible and not put offers on the table that would be off immediately if the union did not agree to all other demands.
    I believe that the owners have a hidden agenda and it far outweighs the 50/50 revenue splitting bull muffins that the fans were fed. In time it will become visible but only if people are willing to wade through the anti union publicity verbiage that Bettman is/will be attempting to hide it under.

  6. JDBiGC says:

    Where does everybody keep getting this idea that some owners are hawkish and some are moderates? To my knowledge, there haven’t been any polls, I haven’t heard of a divided owner’s meeting, and I haven’t heard of any warring factions amongst the owners.

    That question wasn’t completely rhetorical. I live in Southern California, so I don’t get a lot of updates unless I check this site or TSN. But with that said, I’m not sure that there are moderate owners, or at least moderate owners who are willing to compromise at this point.

    But, based on what I’ve read, I think the owners need to get certain things in this CBA. I think that in order to have a healthy league and 30 healthy teams, the owners need to get their way.

    @ Captain Ahab
    The offers have to expire because they are predicated on being able to play a certain amount of games, and projecting revenue. Once it becomes clear that a full season cannot be played, the offer has to be withdrawn and the numbers reduced.

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