Some recent (occasionally grumpy) observations of the NHL lockout, and a brief review of a new book on NHL commissioner Gary Bettman.

Following the recent breakdown (for lack of a better term) in NHL CBA negotiations, headlines in the MSM and the blogsphere made gloomy pronouncements this NHL season was in danger of being lost to another labor dispute.

Largely overlooked (at least initially) among the gloom-and-doom was the fact the two sides, for the first time, appear on the same page regarding division of hockey-related revenue, the prime sticking point in these CBA talks.

For the first time, both sides were talking about a 50-50 split of HRR,which most NHL followers long anticipated would be the eventual outcome of a new CBA.

Granted, there’s dispute over how they’ll get there. The league wants imposition of that split right away, while the players (who’d see their share of revenue drop sharply from 57 percent) would prefer a gradual implementation to ease the escrow bite on their salaries. They want the owners to honor their existing player contracts, which of course doesn’t sit well with the league, which would prefer a “make whole” deferment of escrow payments.

Still, both sides have arrived at the same hotel, it’s now a question of which door they enter, and how they go through it.

 

One of the stupidest things I’ve read throughout this lockout is the suggestion a number of locked-out NHL players plying their craft overseas is some indication of a division within the NHLPA’s ranks, as though those playing overseas were being “disloyal” to their brethren remaining in North America.

Folks, that has nothing to do with NHLPA unity. At all.

I don’t recall any NHL player remaining in North American criticizing those opting to play overseas. If PA director Donald Fehr had a problem with it, he certainly would’ve voiced it, but he merely shrugged it off, saying those players are doing what they have to do and nothing more.

Most sensible folks see it for what it is: a number of players getting in meaningful playing time to be ready in case of a season-saving resolution to the NHL labor dispute.

Those claiming those NHL players in Europe are “out of the loop” regarding CBA negotiations are talking foolishness. Ever hear of telephones? E-mail? Teleconferencing? Skype? Those are just some of the means the PA, and the players’ agents, are using to keep those players informed.

Believe me, folks, if/when real divisions come within the ranks of the PA, thanks to social media and the press, you’ll know about it. Pointing at those playing overseas as “disloyal” to the union is just plain dumb.

 

Since this summer, there’s been a number of columns and blogs devoted to suggestions for a new CBA.

A few were quite silly, with no basis in reality. Most, however, offered up quite reasonable potential solutions to the current labor dispute.

The problem, however, is these suggestions are ultimately meaningless.

The NHL and NHLPA aren’t fielding advice from pundits and bloggers, and they certainly won’t be reading your solutions and say, “Hey, what a great idea, why didn’t we think of that?”

They’re going to hammer this out their way, and nothing you suggest is going to factor into the finished product.

The best that can be said about these suggestions is they’re a form of self-therapy for their authors, providing a temporary distraction from the lack of real NHL hockey news, let alone the seeming lack of progress in CBA talks to date.

 

I’ve been reading and hearing calls from some pundits, bloggers and fans demanding the firing of NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and/or NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr.

That’s a bigger waste of time than penning your own CBA solutions.

They’re not going anywhere, gang. They’re here to the bitter end, whenever that is, be it next month, next year, or two years from now.

And when it’s all over, they’ll still in their respective jobs, especially Bettman, whose control over the league is pretty much absolute.

The PA has gone through Bob Goodenow, Ted Saskin, Paul Kelly and Ian Penny as their directors since 2005.  Regardless of how these negotiations turn out, the players are grateful for the stability and mentorship which Fehr has provided them, so I can’t see him getting the ax when this is finished, unless he steps down of his own accord.

Of course, if this lockout kills another season and potentially threatens another, maybe one or both could find themselves on unstable ground. In the short term, Bettman and Fehr are the respective, undisputed leaders of their respective sides. Calls for their replacement will fall on deaf ears.

 

Over the past twenty years there’s been a number of notable books on the business of hockey. The most notable include “Net Worth” by David Cruise and Alison Griffiths; “The Defence Never Rests” and “Money Players” by Bruce Dowbiggin; and “Gross Misconduct” by Russ Conway.

To that pantheon can be added “The Instigator: How Gary Bettman remade the league and changed the game forever”, by Maclean’s columnist Jonathan Gatehouse.

It’s a balanced, well-written, meticulously researched biography of the NHL commissioner, providing considerable insight into the man and how he’s re-shaped the league.

His rise to the role of NHL commissioner, how he has solidified his power, his role in the last two lockouts, the departure and return of the NHL to Winnipeg, expansion, efforts to keep the Coyotes in Phoenix, and his hard-nosed negotiations with the NHLPA and network television executives (especially those in Canada) makes for a fascinating read.

For anyone wishing to not only understand the NHL commissioner, but also gain insight into what the future holds for the league, “The Instigator” is a must-read. It’s the best hockey book of the year.

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One Response to Random Thoughts on the NHL Lockout.

  1. JJB says:

    I will bet they do end up settling on an immediate 50/50 with current contracts honors as that is what NBA and NFL did. But the league will likely use that to ensure they get the other stuff they want regarding FA and entry levels. I actually think if the league were to say, 50/50 immediately, current contracts offered, everything else is the same it would be a dumb deal to turn down.

    Also thanks for the thoughts on the books, I’ll pick some up.

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