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NHLPA trying to chase Gary Bettman's moving target...

As much as labour negotiations are probably more painfully dull and detail-oriented than they are invigorating, sometimes I think it would still be fun to be a fly on the wall, as it were, when the NHL and the NHLPA are meeting- as they have on at least two or three occasions this week. While, as "reality TV" fare, the overall program would be dreadfully boring to watch non-stop, certain moments would surely be must-watch television.

I mean, as much as I find player salaries absurdly high these days and have zero sympathy for the players when they try to sound hard done by (what's the average NHL salary nowadays, two and a half million a year?), what can Gary Bettman possibly be telling Donald Fehr that would make the PA want to give much more back to the owners?  Are we to believe that the last time, when the owners got the cap they wanted, they somehow also believed the new deal would place a cap on their own stupidity?

The owners, clearly, have moved the target yet again.  Last time, all we heard from their side was the absolute need for a cap to ensure what they called “cost certainty”.  They got the cap, and somehow that didn’t solve their problems.  Now they want more- not that it would trouble me if players had to, say, struggle to get by on max contracts that could only last five years.

I get that owners face the pressure to be competitive.  If you put a winning team on the ice, more fans are apt to buy tickets, even in non-traditional hockey markets like Phoenix, Carolina, Florida, etc..  So often, all it takes is one GM or owner every summer to open the vault because they need to make a splash and invigorate their comatose fan base, and others join the feeding frenzy.  The players can’t help but think, hey, if the owners are willing to pay that kind of insane money, they obviously can afford it.  So the cycle never stops.  Kids will usually take as much candy as you give them, right? And if you stop providing a never-ending supply, they get cranky.

And in layman's terms, that's partly where we are right now in these negotiations.  Both sides want every cent they can get their hands on, but they want to make the rest of us think they are doing everything they can to end the stalemate.

Unfortunately, players now really and truly believe they are actually really worth every cent they get in their not-very-realistic fairy-tale world, and in some capitalistic sense, they are.  Not to me, but they are, I guess, in the sense that the so-called market seems to suggest individuals in the sports and entertainment industries are owed- and should make -what the "market" is willing to pay.

So while I’m not a “pro-player” guy, I also find following the bouncing ball that the owners have been playing with since the mid’-90s wholly disingenuous.

The two sides deserve each other.  I don’t believe either truly is trying to do what’s “best” for the sport, the game, or the fans.  (I particularly find the role of agents in this greed-fest detestable.  If it’s possible, I believe the agents who speak out on these issues less credible than even Bettman, the owners or the players.  Not that the credibility bar is very high to begin with….)

This all said, I’ll take reports that the two sides have moved a bit closer together with more than a grain of salt.  While I don’t doubt some owners could live with a lockout for a few months, I can’t believe most owners don’t want to play with their “toys” this season. Too, these are competitive people, who like to win.  And, they like to make money.  While a few franchises may “lose less” by not playing, most won’t benefit if the teams don’t play.

Surely none of us thought they would have this wrapped up by now.  I still think we’re facing a shutdown until January.  But I’ll gladly entertain the notion that the two sides are at least speaking the same language now, and they may somehow work their way through the negotiating maze and produce an agreement by September 15.


  1. MIchael,

    Thoughtful post today. What petition do I need to sign to trade Komisarek? I really wish there was some hockey news to talk about that didn't include the CBA. Its such a great game, I would love to see some kind of long lasting labour peace, like baseball has, for example. I have no idea what kind of solution they will come up with. As long as a half dozen teams lose so much money, I don't see how a 20% reduction on players salaries help them all that much. It certainly won't make them profitable in the NHL. So owners in Phoenix and Florida etc. lose fewer millions, still not a good situation.

    I see very little in the media about the elephant in the room here. Specifically that if you shutter 6 teams, the league gets a whole lot more profitable immediately. I am interested to hear your thoughts on this. The only media member I have ever heard say that there are way too many teams in the league is Bob McCown. None of the insiders as they are called, ever seem to want to talk about the fact that these teams would lose money if their player costs were $20 million a year. Without a big TV deal, or very significant revenue sharing in an agreement, I see the exact same scenario played out in 5 years when this agreement is up. The whole 'The system is broken' 'We will never agree to these concessions' is getting to bore, as well as make me angry, quite frankly.

    I heard today that Bettman claims that the negotiations of the past have no bearing on the negotiations of today. I found that very interesting, and would agree with him if I felt that he was being honest. I thought the whole point last time that they were fixing the problems, not just getting more of the pie. It seems to me at this point to be just a big PR handjob. We have the best fans, the system is broken and we have to fix it. All BS in my opinion. I would have some respect for these clowns if they said that they are out to get theirs and the other side can get stuffed. If there is the level of animosity that I feel goes on behind the curtains, I would absolutely love to see it happen in public. No more dog and pony shows when a new player signs a huge contract, kissing the owners ass and vice versa. That is the kind of fly on the wall discussions that I would personally like to be a part of.

    I have another item that I am interested to hear your opinion on. Why do we never hear from Mario Lemieux? He would seem to be uniquely qualified to speak intelligently on the difficulties both sides have to overcome in order to be partners. I don't believe that either side wants this by the way. I think that the players would like the owners to know as little about what it takes to win hockey games as possible, MLSE. And the owners would love to have contractual rights to the players for life.

    A final question and then I will go. Why are contracts for players allowed to exceed the time limit of the current CBA?

  2. I would so much rather be talking hockey than this, Jim. In fact, I promised myself I would try to not post on the talks, but I find that, in the absence of real hockey "news", trying to anticipate actual Leaf-related hockey decisions is tough because we have no real idea where the CBA is going (much less if there will even be a season).

    You may recall that, some months ago, I posted on the reality that the league would be better off if we had about 24 franchises. I don't like to sound critical of existing franchises, but who would really care- in 5 years - if there was no team in Carolina, Florida, Phoenix, etc? Yes, there are some great, hard-core fans in every market, but not enough, as you point out, to make any of those franchises consistently viable.

    That just makes "negotiating" a deal that works for "everyone" impossible. What's "good" for MLSE is not necessarily what's fair or good for Nashville, Phoenix or the Panthers.

    I've long advocated fewer teams, but the NHLPA would fight that, of course.
    The media wants more teams because it means more jobs for them.

    I trust neither side in this dispute. Everyone is self-serving- Bettman, the owners, the PA, the players and yes, the agents. Would they ever, as you mention, be truly honest- for us all to see how greedy they really are? Not a chance.

    The stakeholder with no voice (or not much of one) remains us, the fans.

    Regarding Lemieux, I don't know. Didn't he play a role last time around? It was behind the scenes, rather than public, I think. Perhaps he feels conflicted between his old role as part of the PA and his very different self-interest as an "owner" of sorts.

    Your last question is a good one. Wouldn't it make sense that all contracts expired when the CBA did? That way, free-agents this past summer, for example, could only have signed for one year.

    I'm sure there are legal (and other) reasons why this can't be, but I'm with you....

    Thanks Jim, solid post, as always.

  3. It's a funny old world, isn't it? Just when the NHL is finally gaining its long sought-after toe hold in the US market, the players and owners seem to be determined to shoot themselves in the foot. Awareness of the NHL has never been higher in the US. (High def screens have finally allowed people to be able to follow the puck is one of the reasons I've heard). Whatever the reasons, it seems the worst possible time to threaten a strike/lockout. And yet, it's almost as if the owners and players have been expecting/planning it.
    Call me an "icy knoll" conspiracy theorist, but I've been suspicious of the Maple Leafs' inclusion in the 2013 NBC New Year's Classic. First, they're a non-contender. Second, they're a team based in Canada. Not a guaranteed ratings-buster for NBC. Generally speaking, US promotion of the NHL (like that of MLB) more or less ignores the Canadian teams, although coverage on the NHL Network is balanced. Was it a sop to Canadian fans to include the Leafs in a game that the league knew might not happen? Or is that just my good old Canadian paranoia when it comes to US controlled leagues? (Come on - hands up all those who thought the Jays were robbed on that triple play call in the '92 World Series!!) BTW - I'm speaking as someone who has lived many years in the US, so it's not any anti-Americanism speaking here - just experience and observation..
    As for Jim's "elephant in the room"... I doubt the league would have an NBC contract without a presence in many of the markets that are losing money - despite the fact that fewer teams would make a stronger product. The irony is that some of the financially weaker teams are competitive, while some teams that are flush with bucks languish at the bottom of the standings. And Michael, as you point out, there are reasons why the NHLPA supports this dilution of the product and would fight any change to it.
    To my eyes, it seems both sides are blowing smoke at "the world's greatest fans" while pursuing their ritual dance and ignoring our interests entirely.

  4. A Kelly Gruber/Jays conspiracy reference- I love that, Gerund O'!

    Great post. So many good points.

    No, players would never accept contraction- they would lose "jobs", though the product would clearly be better.

    I'm with you, I trust neither side. It's all self-interest, and the fans don't fit in that equation.

  5. Excellent post Michael! You captured the thoughts of many people out there without going into the explicit (and somewhat boring) details of the CBA negotiations.

    I do find some of the negotiation process interesting, only from the standpoint of the NHL trying to fix what is wrong with the existing CBA. From what I've seen lately, it appears they are too focused on money rather than actually trying to make the teams economically stable and competitive. Sadly we are probably looking at rich owners just getting richer, along with rich players and their agents getting richer, while small market teams limp along. Maybe by default there eventually will be contraction or relocation, which perhaps both sides secretly want anyways.

    Just a point regarding why owners like Lemieux are not talking. It is pretty simple. Bettman has a strong muzzle on all the owners and GM's. He speaks for them, and they've gladly agreed to let him take the heat.

  6. You've captured the present climate beautifully, TML__fan. (And you're right about Bettman- he is taking the heat for the owners...)

    Thanks Don. Well said, as always.

  7. Hi Michael,

    Check this out!

  8. Thanks for that heads up, cbh747. (If I'm reading this correctly, this is a just-published analysis, and the Leafs are in the "top" 120 of all major league franchises, though that also puts us way at the bottom end of the spectrum...)

    While these determinations are somewhat subjective, it seems this one does have some "statistical validity".

    Let me think on this. Thanks cbh747 - I had not seen the story.

  9. Yep. 118 of 122

    Saw it on KuklasKorner.


  10. Thanks Brad- I may post on this topic tonight...