“No progress” in lockout talks, but the end is near all the same

Jonathan Willis
December 12 2012 05:08PM

Remember last week, when negotiations between the NHL and NHLPA collapsed? Don Fehr gave a press conference, saying the two sides were close, then came back and said that talks had broken off, and then Gary Bettman gave what was likely the angriest media availability of his NHL tenure, insisting that the owner’s offer of $300 million in “make whole” payments was now off the table.

The two sides met on Wednesday, and despite the rhetoric seem not to have moved much at all from their positions during the ‘owners/players only’ meetings.

Here is how Nick Kypreos characterized today’s discussion, which included federal mediators:

The “no progress” isn’t surprising. The rest of it is surprising only for those who continue to take the league at their word, rather than cultivating the skepticism necessary to evaluate public statements by either side during this collective bargaining process.

The good news for those hoping to see an immediate end to the dispute is that the two sides are close. Had the league really walked away from their last offer, it is unlikely that negotiations would continue; the NHLPA would be highly unlikely to accept a worse offer from the league later on. The battle now is over items like the term of the CBA, how long players can be signed for and how much year-to-year variance there should be, and dividing the negative financial effects of the lockout between the two parties, as well as the mechanics of transitioning (i.e. how will teams with lots of players under contract survive in a world with a smaller salary cap?).

The negotiations to cover the last gaps between the two sides will not be easy. The NHLPA will likely offer more; the membership pretty clearly wants to play and the gap between the two sides is not large. The league, despite their “take it or leave it” offer, will probably move as well. There will undoubtedly be those who suggest that the league is serious this time, but given that every other time the NHL has said something like “take it or leave it” or “this offer is now off the table” or “offers will get worse as we start seeing revenues damaged” they’ve done the opposite, there’s no reason to believe that this time they’re telling the truth.

The end is in sight. The players’ rejection of the league’s last offer has not set the process back, which means that the league wants a deal. Judging by comments from NHLPA members, the players want one quickly, too. Barring sudden, irrational stubbornness on the part of ownership or a shift in the NHLPA membership in favour of the courts rather than collective bargaining, it’s just a matter of time now.

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Jonathan Willis is a freelance writer. He currently works for Oilers Nation, the Edmonton Journal and Bleacher Report. He's co-written three books and worked for myriad websites, including Grantland, ESPN, The Score, and Hockey Prospectus. He was previously the founder and managing editor of Copper & Blue.
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#1 Will
December 12 2012, 05:29PM
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Jagr had a stunning comment today. The NHL should give in to contract lengths, then have the owners simply mandate to all their GM's that no contract is to be given out over a certain period of length. It's the owners that sign deals, why aren't they leveraging that power in other ways instead of dying on a negotiating table? If the owners want it, it's pretty easy to just tell their gm's no contracts over a certain length or you're fired. Boom simple. I wonder how many other points of contention could simply be solved by giving in to the NHLPA, then having a closed door owners meeting and discussing what is really going to happen?

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#2 Cwadams81
December 12 2012, 05:46PM
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Will wrote:

Jagr had a stunning comment today. The NHL should give in to contract lengths, then have the owners simply mandate to all their GM's that no contract is to be given out over a certain period of length. It's the owners that sign deals, why aren't they leveraging that power in other ways instead of dying on a negotiating table? If the owners want it, it's pretty easy to just tell their gm's no contracts over a certain length or you're fired. Boom simple. I wonder how many other points of contention could simply be solved by giving in to the NHLPA, then having a closed door owners meeting and discussing what is really going to happen?

You and Jagr should look into why cartels never last. Someone will always break the cartel.

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#3 Baalzamon
December 12 2012, 08:45PM
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@Kent Wilson

methinks the ratings would be astronomical.

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#4 Chunklets
December 12 2012, 05:42PM
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@Will

Anyone who knows more about labour law than I do, and there are a lot of people in that category, can feel free to set me right on this issue, but I think that what you are describing there is collusion, and it's highly illegal. Proving in court that collusion has occurred can be a little bit tricky, of course, but iirc baseball owners got slapped down fairly hard several years ago for banding together to keep salaries low.

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#5 Unknown Comic
December 12 2012, 05:49PM
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I see again no Bruins were involved in anything today while Jacobs runs the show for the owners. Let's make things as easy as possible for the Chairman of the Baord of Govenors by making sure he isn't too uncomfortable facing his own players.

At least Ryan Miller saw the irony in doing Lucic's dirty work for him last week while Lucic hid from Montgomery Burns, as he's no where to be seen today.

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#6 Mike
December 12 2012, 05:49PM
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@ Will

That could work...

for a year.

The owners want to win just as much as the players. If offering a player an extra year or two over what everyone else is offering gets said player. Then all secret deals/bets are off.

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#8 Unknown Comic
December 12 2012, 05:57PM
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Will - google "MLB collusion". It'll say something about Donald Fehr himself getting awarded over $100 million in the late '80s from baseball owners when they colluded to not compete for players. An award in todays dollars would be in the billions?

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#9 Dawn
December 12 2012, 06:23PM
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I'm of two minds on this. First of all, they better not eff up our WJC team by coming to an agreement too soon. And if they can't figure it out in the limited window remaining, they can just screw off until the Barons get another crack at the Calder.

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#10 Rob...
December 12 2012, 06:25PM
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@Jonathan Willis

Your second bullet is the most important, despite the legal ramifications of the first one. If it's written into the CBA, 29 owners will crucify the 30th for breaking the rule. If it's a back room word of honour deal, every single team will ignore the deal as soon as they think it benefits them... then he'll sue the others if they collude to punish him. This is why each of them has lawyers pouring over the CBA looking for loopholes they can exploit. They all NEED to follow the CBA while trying to screw each other over.

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#11 dougtheslug
December 12 2012, 06:41PM
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Unknown Comic wrote:

Will - google "MLB collusion". It'll say something about Donald Fehr himself getting awarded over $100 million in the late '80s from baseball owners when they colluded to not compete for players. An award in todays dollars would be in the billions?

To be clear, the money was awarded to MLB players, not to Fehr himself. To avoid such charges of collusion is the whole point of negotiating a CBA.

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#12 Kent Wilson
December 12 2012, 07:44PM
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The fans get to tar and feather all the lawyers involved once this thing is finally over, right? I wonder what kind of audience TSN would get for that...

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#13 RexLibris
December 12 2012, 10:36PM
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Good read, Jonathan. Thanks. One problem...

You had me right up until you wrote "Barring sudden, irrational stubbornness on the part of ownership..." You sly devil, sticking the punchline in right at the end there.

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#14 Kevin R
December 13 2012, 12:12AM
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For the life of me I dont know why the players wouldnt agree to the 10 year term/8year option CBA term. Then take their pick, give the owners the 5 year term contracts but ask for 10% variance or give them the 5% variance & ask for 8 year max contracts. Give the owners 2 of the 3 issues & negotiate one & tell the owners its a take it or leave it. Players would move back into public favor & this thing probably gets done. Players really do need to give a sweet take it or leave it offer to the owners. Fehr has actually succeeded in me liking Bettman in this fiasco. Now thats a tough thing to do.

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#15 Burger
December 13 2012, 02:42AM
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I don't see why the players wouldn't give in to either of the CBA length or contract length demands.

I bet most if not all the players wish that the last CBA term length was 10yrs. The shorter the term the sooner the owners will take more again in the next CBA. Don't the players realise that they will never come out on top unless there is a rival league which the players can threaten to go to.

As for the contract lenghts there are only 89 players with contracts over 5yrs. Of those 89 just over half are 6-7yrs signed as UFA/RFA with their current team. So that means only 45ish contracts sit outside what the NHL is demanding, and of those 45 i wonder how many are back-diving and wouldnt be valid under the new system anyway.

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#16 CaptainLander
December 13 2012, 09:02AM
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@RexLibris

Barring sudden, irrational stubbornness:

Pretty much sums up the entire negotiations from both sides does it not?

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#17 nanodummy
December 13 2012, 09:39AM
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@CaptainLander

Has Fehr really been irrational?

His stance throughout seems to have been: Make sure the players lose as little as possible.

Seems like a stance worth being stubborn about.

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#18 Baalzamon
December 13 2012, 09:58AM
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@Burger

"Don't the players reali[z]e that they will never come out on top unless there is a rival league which the players can threaten to go to."

I heard something the other day about this thing called the KHL or something.

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#19 ed in mada
December 13 2012, 10:27AM
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Will wrote:

Jagr had a stunning comment today. The NHL should give in to contract lengths, then have the owners simply mandate to all their GM's that no contract is to be given out over a certain period of length. It's the owners that sign deals, why aren't they leveraging that power in other ways instead of dying on a negotiating table? If the owners want it, it's pretty easy to just tell their gm's no contracts over a certain length or you're fired. Boom simple. I wonder how many other points of contention could simply be solved by giving in to the NHLPA, then having a closed door owners meeting and discussing what is really going to happen?

I believe that would be collusion and would be subject to anti trust laws.

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#20 Alt
December 13 2012, 06:50PM
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Four issue,s left.Rookie contract length/Player contract length/CBA length/Player contract length.Simple, each side pick two,and start playing.If both sides choose the same two ,than toss a coin

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#21 Burger
December 13 2012, 07:41PM
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@Baalzamon

"reali[z]e" Sorry mate, not everyone in the world uses North American spelling but thanks for trying.

You must be joking if you think there could be a mass exodus to the KHL. Do you really think these guys want to go live and play in Russia? They will take these minor screwings by the owners time after time to stay and play in North America.

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#22 Kevin R
December 13 2012, 10:56PM
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Burger wrote:

"reali[z]e" Sorry mate, not everyone in the world uses North American spelling but thanks for trying.

You must be joking if you think there could be a mass exodus to the KHL. Do you really think these guys want to go live and play in Russia? They will take these minor screwings by the owners time after time to stay and play in North America.

Agree. If KHL is where they want to play, dont let the door hit your a$$$ on the way out. There is no league in the world that offers the first class travel, accomodation, medical & physio support & facilities to ply their trade & make millions. If there was, the NHL would have been dropping the puck already.

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#23 Gef
December 14 2012, 11:11AM
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A total pipe dream but the NHL owners should come together and bring all the teams into a single corporate structure. All players and personnel are then employees to a single entity and salaries are a simple matter of budgeting. No more issues with anti-trust, collusion and labour laws, slim chance of future lock-outs, no more issues with "have" and "have not" teams and the GM's and agents would no longer be able to screw up the league with creative (ridiculous) signings... just to name a few of the problems it would solve.

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#24 Captain Ron
December 15 2012, 08:40PM
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Kevin R wrote:

Agree. If KHL is where they want to play, dont let the door hit your a$$$ on the way out. There is no league in the world that offers the first class travel, accomodation, medical & physio support & facilities to ply their trade & make millions. If there was, the NHL would have been dropping the puck already.

As long as there is only one Stanley Cup to play for and the NHL has it there will only ever really be one league for these guys to play in. Any threat of them going elsewhere to play is laughable.

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#25 Captain Ron
December 15 2012, 09:01PM
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@Kevin R

Agree with your take on Fehr. He strikes me as one of those guys who keeps moving the goal posts just when you think you have a deal done. I always hated negotiating with guys like that. I think his plan all along has been to dissolve the NHLPA if they don't get what they want. Then take their chances that way.

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#26 Spider Man Beats
December 24 2012, 09:50PM
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Some definitely excellent posts on this web site , thankyou for contribution.

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