There are two sides to every story. In this case, there are three sides to the same story. The NHLPA, the owners, and common sense.
Gary Bettman addressed the media Thursday night to update the public about what went on through the hyped last few days of negotiations. Apparently nothing happened – except for breaking a few owners hearts.
Gary was very adamant and quite emotional when it came to discussing the specifics of things famously “on the table”. The recent praise of the players dedication with the process by Bill Daly came as good news as he stood beside Steve Fehr while saying it. This was the first time either side said anything positive about the other. While this seemed to rile up the fans and start an “Oh my God, a deal is near completion” combustion within social media, there was nothing to get excited about.
It has been clear since the beginning of the lockout that this was going to be messy, lengthy, and damaging to the league and its reputation. The first sign was the mass exodus of players to Europe. One after one, the signings in Europe came in batches. When the lockout was announced, there were a chunk of players headed overseas. After games were cancelled, there was another. When the PR battle got heavy within the media, another group left for Europe. Turn the page on the calendar to December and a few more went.
The players leaving sent a strong message to the owners that they were not going to sit and mope during this process; they were going to find other ways to play hockey.
Who’s side are the fans on? There’s the players, there’s the owners. There’s also arena employees, front office people, sponsors, fans, etc. As Chris Lund of TheScore’s BackhandShelf Blog mentioned in November, this lockout isn’t about Owners vs Players; it’s about trust.
The issue between owners and players is the business. The players want security, they want pensions- which Bettman so delicately put it thrusting his hand in the air over the podium- and they want to be able to do their job which is play hockey in the NHL.
The owners are businessmen. They want their businesses to be profitable. Who wants to make a huge investment in a sports franchise and struggle to make ends meet when the franchise can’t deliver in the least breaking even? The owners want to be able to control spending and contracts so that the business can thrive.
This will not damage the sport. Nobody could argue that issuing 5 year maximum contracts to players would hurt the NHL. If anything it would make it more interesting considering free agency and the opportunity to move franchise players after 5 years. There wouldn’t be a Rick DiPietro problem, or a Roberto Luongo problem. Alexei Yashin, Scott Gomez… Should I keep going?
This kind of business move would improve the game. But the players aren’t going to give up the security of starting a family, buying a house, and having financial confidence in themselves to better the games newsworthiness. The PA has every right to reject this proposal vehemently.
Sticking up for your own interests is what this all boils down to. The owners aren’t going to keep putting their necks on the line like they have with humungous contracts. Charles Wang is a prime example of the NHL’s laughing stock owner. No other owner wants to be able to hang his hat on the fact that he made the worst deal in NHL history.
The NHL and NHLPA have very different agenda’s. There doesn’t seem to be a compromise in the future, and for each side to come out happy, there has to be give and take on both sides. Bettman expressed his concern for the willingness of the owners to take the players needs into concern in exchange for a compromise on the owners needs. You want pensions? Give us X,Y, and Z, and we’ll work your pensions out.
Seems Fehr. I mean, fare. FAIR! The players are trying different things out too. This can’t be as one sided as Bettman is making it seem. Although, nobody really knows.
The optimism that flurried around the NHL sphere was obnoxious to say the least, as you could almost see this thing crumbling. There were so many tweets and posts about how the negotiations were going to create a deal that just might be approved. If the talks were that close… do you really think Bettman would have had that 25 second speech saying nothing? Do you think Steve Fehr would have come out to offer the media members in attendance pizza? Do you really think Steve Fehr and Bill Daly being so compliant with the media would give the green light on assumptions that a deal was close?
When a deal finally gets done, there will be no buzz. It will be absolutely quiet on both sides. The media in the lobby will be taking bets on which reporter dozes off in his/her chair first. There will be utter silence around the whole process because they’re working diligently to end the lockout.
The next round of negotiations might look a little more desperate, seeing as the holidays are upon us, and talks will definitely take a break during that time. When something finally happens after the holidays, begging might ensue. “Please just give us our pensions, we’ll take something off the table, let’s just make some progress.” I imagine Sid saving the day with that one, taking one for the team.
After all of this hype and all of this wasted optimism, I can truly say I hope this is exactly what it looks like when the players and owners get back into the negotiating room. Please, hockey Gods, please.