There comes a point when ridiculous becomes even more ridiculous. This seems to happen every week in the NHL CBA negotiations. There is no doubt plenty of blame to go around on both sides, but all signs point to the egos at the very top being the reason we’re still not playing hockey.
If you had told me back in September the issues that remain today are all that stands between a new CBA, I would tell you a deal would be done within a week. The players have agreed to a 50/50 split of hockey related revenue after the owners making whole somewhat on previous contracts negotiated in good faith (a reasonable request). The days of back diving deals are probably gone. The players and owners can’t agree on a 10-year CBA term with an 8-year opt out, or 8 with a 6-year opt out. They also can’t agree on the length of player contracts.
How are we losing games over this? Simple. It has now become an ego-fest. It has now become about winning. Gary Bettman doesn’t like Donald Fehr. Sound familiar? He didn’t like Bob Goodenow either. When you talk to Gary Bettman and then you talk to Roger Goodell, David Stern, or Bud Selig, you will notice one thing. Gary very rarely admits he is wrong.
Whether it is an accusation of wrongdoing among any NHL league employee, whether it be league numbers, whether it be decisions regarding officiating, rules, etc. Has Gary Bettman ever admitted he was wrong?. The closest thing to it was when he pretty much said he regretted not stepping on the players throats in 1994 instead of 2004. How delightful.
Bettman is now hell bent on beating Fehr. Fehr hasn’t been an angel in this either but he probably believes in his heart that the players are getting royally shafted in this deal. If you look at the facts of the deal, the players are making almost every concession. The owners don’t appear to be making even one concession in the deal.
Owners are pointing at “make whole” money as a big concession. Translation: We’ll pay what we agreed to pay you in your contracts that we signed, or something close to it. How is that a concession? It’s not. What have the owners conceded to the players that they didn’t already have before?
No matter what happens, the NHL has already won this thing. For some strange reason, the league owners and Bettman seem hell bent on destroying their relationship with the players and letting them know “who’s boss.” They’re doing it at the expensive of risking a season.
There have been a ton of reports regarding the players possibly filing a Disclaimer of Interest (DOI) and dissolving the union. Previously the NHL stated this would most likely mean the cancellation of the season. Other lawyers suggest this will expedite a deal because neither side wants to battle in court.
Despite what happens, it doesn’t seem like there’s ever been CBA negotiations that have gotten this personal in recent times. With Don Fehr’s famous “we’re close” press conference followed by Bill Daly’s red-faced tirade about dying on a hill, the leadership of these two sides are acting like spoiled children. It’s gotten so bad New Jersey Governor Chris Christie chimed in on Friday saying that he felt “bad leadership” on the NHL’s side was to blame for the continued lockout.
The problem is the CBA negotiators could care less about what Christie or anyone else says. They are determined to fight over every last dime and complete victory. It’s personal now. These two sides aren’t friends, and won’t be friends when the ink is on the paper either. They want a knockout victory, and it’s a shame it’s come to that.
The truth is the only thing we know is that we don’t know anything. There have been many journalists, players, lawyers, and league employees that have tried to guess the NHL and NHLPA’s motivations for the past year. Almost none have been right so far. This whole situation reeks of a strategy planned out a long time ago that might lead to the lockout’s end. The timing of the NHL’s lawsuit and the NHLPA’s threat to disband just looks all too familiar, but we could be wrong.
One can only hope the absurdity that is this NHL lockout has a little more clarity soon, such as by the first week of January. One thing seems certain. If this is deal is going to get done, it needs to happen privately, quietly and without the biggest egos having total control of the negotiation, because so far they’ve done nothing but be a total embarrassment to the game, and most importantly the fans and supporters of the game of hockey.
Justin Johnson is a Senior Correspondent and has been covering the Philadelphia Flyers for The Hockey Writers since the 2008-09 season. Justin has covered all levels of hockey across the United States and Canada. Justin is a graduate of Rider University in Lawrenceville, NJ and currently resides in Southern New Jersey.