Thursday, December 6, 2012

As the Puck Turns

I've spent some quality time with my computer tonight listening to TSN Radio out of Toronto as they covered the NHL press conference and analysis. It sounds bad. It sounds like the NHL and NHLPA aren't speaking the same language. Something I've felt this whole time, but tonight was the first time I was able to actually listen.

I've always been a union guy (and not just in hockey). I think the NHL players are going to get screwed by the hard-line owners. I think that's wrong to happen. Don Fehr has a job to do, and this is to prevent that from happening. But I think Don Fehr is not going to get a deal done, and without a season, the terms of the CBA that they're fighting for are moot.

I don't know if the words that come out Don Fehr's mouth these days are anywhere near reality. He's painting a picture for us that really makes it sound like there is going to be a deal very very soon. And while that's going on, the owners aren't even eating at the same table as Fehr. Maybe this is a PR move, or maybe he's smoking something. Reality is that it's probably somewhere between those two ends. It's been suggested that Fehr, on behalf of the NHLPA, is pushing instead of rolling over. Good for him, and good for the NHLPA for trying. But giving the media and fans the appearance that is so far from the truth is not a good move. It's going to backfire, and I think tonight, at least in the court of public opinion, it has. It really makes me wonder what purpose he's going to serve.

I went into this with a great distrust of Gary Bettman. Two lockouts in less than 20 years in the NHL. In general, I don't trust the Hockey CEOs (that's the owners). By in large, I feel that way outside of hockey too. I think a 50-50 deal is fair for both sides, and anything that crosses that line is, well, crossing the line. Of course, there are many things, as I've learned in following the lockout, that don't seem to be able to be quantified as 50-50. For example, there is maximum player contract length. That complicates things.

Negotiation is a compromise. Both sides have to give a little in order to take a little. The line of 50-50 is not a straight line. It's a wavy line. Some of it leans above the line in the favor of one side, and some of it leans below the line in the favor of the other side. What the NHL and NHLPA are doing with this lockout is drawing their own lines that I don't think are even on the same plane.

Both sides will need to understand this before we can really move forward. I don't think I can trust what information Don Fehr is feeding the media. Each side is trying to dictate the rules of the game, take it or leave it. Neither side was prepared for this. They both need to get past this. They both need to get past the PR games.

The best 2 best things for the league as a whole are to put the PR war aside, sit down, and buckle down and draw out a real deal, maybe even from scratch, and then to get back to playing hockey and have labor stability. The NHL's PR image has been damaged just by having this lockout, just like it was damaged by the other lockouts under Gary Bettman. The more the two sides talk out loud (to the media and fans), the more damaging it is to their PR images. They need to get past the "us versus them" mentality and rebuild their broken partnership, because without the partnership, there's nothing.

Tonight, I came to the conclusion that there won't be an NHL season in 2012-13. I've been (half) joking this whole time that there was a 1-in-10 chance that the league never plays another game. This morning (before these press conferences), I bumped that up to 1-in-8 that the league never plays again.

But all I can hope for is this:

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