Far sooner than later
Despite each side's attempt to win the public battle, these CBA negotiations need to pick up steam.
LOS ANGELES -- When HBO makes a television mini-series about these CBA
follies (hopefully not to replace Maple Leafs-Red Wings 24/7), it's
sure to win multiple Emmys.
The network won't have to cast professional actors in the lead role of
Donald Fehr and Gary Bettman because their real life performances have
If you're a fan, you have every right to be depressed after this
week's latest exhibition, but you should temper your sadness because
what's not going public is the continued dialogue between the two
The more I hear the rhetoric and those awesomely bad pressers, the
more I believe it's a smoke screen to distract the media from the
traction that is being made behind the scenes.
The latest give-and-take was the release of NHLPA head Donald Fehr's
love letter in the ice to his constituents. The tome was made public
Saturday and I'd like to think it was done to give the fans a clear
picture of how reasonable the NHLPA's demands are. Setting aside the
fact the only fans that can truly comprehend the proposals need to
possess an advanced degree in economics, the real reason we all get
transparency is because the NHL did likewise earlier this week.
The day the public posturing stops will be, in using Fehr's phrasing,
'the very good day' for us all. I agree that there is no legitimate
business reason for a rollback in player salaries. This wonderful
group of athletes has worked their entire lives to get to the apex of
their industry. Their average career lasts six fleeting years and at
great physical risk. I don't begrudge them dollar one and in
comparison there's no limit to what the top 700 doctors or lawyers in
the world earn.
But the point is coming soon where the players and Mr. Fehr have to
take their heads out of the ice and look around. They need to look at
the sports they directly compete against -- the NFL and NBA -- to see
the trend where players no longer take the larger cut of the pie.
Neither league was in financial dire straits when their impasse hit,
yet those cousins of the NHLPA rationalized that 0 per cent of zero
dollars was the worst deal of all. There was no reason for Tom Brady
or Lebron James to take a haircut other than they wanted to play,
words now conveyed by many NHLers both privately and publicly.
The further reality is that if the players signed on the line that is
dotted for the current offer, not one of their lifestyles would
change. There would be no repossession of the Maserati, no foreclosure
of the house on the lake, and the summer trip to Europe would still be
on the docket next summer.
The real life impact of Drew Doughty playing for $5.7 million instead
of $ 6.5 million is non-existent and that's why the players appeal to
the principle and not the reality of the impact of the owners not
wanting to honor the deals they struck.
If you're an accountant and your boss walks in and tells you, "we're
reducing your pay from $60,000 to $52,000," you can likely find
another job with another firm for your existing pay.
And then there are the owners. They're beauties, too.
Do you really need to go from 57 per cent to 50 per cent in one fell
swoop? Really? Seriously? Of course, you don't.
These champions of industry -- none of whom directly rely on the
income from their teams -- need help right now? Murray Edwards, the
Calgary Flames' majority owner, controls a nice hunk of the Alberta
oil sands, while Mark Thomson, at the top of the food chain for the
Winnipeg Jets, runs that cool little company Thomson Reuters.
There is zero reason the owners couldn't get to 50 per cent over time,
not necessarily over a five-year stretch, like the Players' Option 2
at 5 per cent growth suggests, but within three years.
After Bettman's quick rejection of all three proposals, I can't help
but feel that more than one dude sitting in corner booth at the
country club was puffing on his cigar in front of a martini while
saying to his cronies, "How did you like my boy Gary today?"
I've said since the start of summer that the owners are slow-cooking
the players; they're not billionaires by accident. They'll get their
pound of flesh one way or another, either getting the players to agree
to the current deal now or a variation of it to execute half a season
that will affect an $800 million cost savings the players will never
get back. The latter makes 12.3 per cent escrow look like a great
So, when things don't look great, but certainly not the darkest, there
are X factors in this continuing saga that will push both sides closer
to each other and ultimately a settlement that likely has the NHL
playing 70-76 games this season. It won't be a federal mediator or a
labor board, but rather parties who have a very real stake in the
At some point, dozens of hockey wives will be fed up with their
spouses pacing around the house like caged animals. Word on the street
is the extra, no cost hands in managing the household and the kiddies
already have diminishing returns. The tipping point may very well be
the scores of badly cooked meals presently served by the same hands
that net 30 goals every season. When we look back in retrospect, these
moments may be the defining ones that have this group of heroines rise
up en masse and say, "go back to freaking work, I can't stand it
While Bettman takes all the hits publicly, one of his valued
lieutenants not named Bill Daly is getting jammed up privately worse
than a number three defenseman with a pissed off hockey wife.
John Collins, the NHL's Chief Operating Officer and as responsible as
any for the rise in -- wait for it, I've not mentioned the phrase the
entire piece -- Hockey Related Revenue, is getting sweated big time
these days. He's the business guru Bettman lifted out of the NFL who
has crafted long-term deals with major partners to get to the $3.3
billion that is being held hostage.
After reassuring his clients that the lockout would not be an issue
for the coming season over the summer, they're now pressing him daily
on not how but when the impasse will end. Talk about escrow and
rollbacks all you want, what Fehr and Bettman ignore (at least
publicly) are the long-term relationships that now hang in the
balance. It's the multi-year deals with Honda, Bridgestone, Molson
Coors and Scotiabank that allow Dennis Wideman to get more than $26
million over five years and if the season is lost, I expect to these
firms to voice their displeasure.
The business magnates who run the NHL know that while they can screw
with one segment of customers (the fans), they can't lose PepsiCo
because they'll either not get them back or will do so at lower
revenues, a risk they're unwilling to take.
If you're fan sitting at home, tired of watching re-runs of All-Star
Games on NHL Network and fret over whether you'll ever activate that
NHL Center Ice subscription (please don't tell me you let it re-new
automatically), go watch a Brooklyn Nets pre-season game on NBA TV or
go to a movie for another week.
Both sides continue to talk and with every 24 hours that burns towards
the deadline of losing an 82 game season that everyone truly wants,
we'll all get there sooner than later.