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.