Random Thoughts – CBA Negotiations fatigue



Because I do this for a living and have a heavy dose of self-interest riding on the outcome, I’ve no doubt been more invested in the CBA negotiations than your average fan. On a broad, macro level divorced from sentiment, it’s been interesting to observe the parry and thrust of each side in this labor dispute, to impute the honesty and motives of those involved, to deduce each party’s competing incentives and strategies. 

After the recent "blow-up" in talks and PA missives about lack of trust (met by Bettman’s threats of canceling the season), though, it’s grown almost impossible for me to approach this on-going miasma as a detached mental exercise. Intellectually, boredom has set in thanks to the monotonous drip-drip-drip of non-news updates, dressed up, mock outrage and PR stunts that have littered this growing fiasco. As a fan and a man whose livelihood depends on the business of NHL teams actually playing games, my dueling emotions of hope and anger have, over time, simply boiled away, leaving a kind of numb, empty apathy; like a pot of water abandoned on a burner for too long.

I will continue to follow the ebb and flow of CBA talks – I’m too invested to do otherwise – but increasingly both my curiosity as a commentator and my emotion as a fan are being displaced by a unpleasant mix of fatigue and disgust. Even as I’m aware of the complexity and ambiguity of the issues at hand and the lack of a sympathetic protagonist amongst the parties, I am nevertheless compulsively struck with an image of venal, shifty-eyed men standing over a corpse, arguing over who gets to rifle through the pockets first.

Other Stuff

– Related – Jonathan Willis shows why Bettman’s "threat" to cancel the season unless a deal is reached by next Thursday is so much sound and fury.

– Related, again – A few years ago you couldn’t swing a cat without hitting four hockey fans who would swear to you that Gary Bettman was the devil and responsible for everything that was wrong with hockey, both real and imaginary. I think that perception has sensibly shifted over time, but in some ways the pendulum has swung too far in the other direction. Now, it seems, Bettman is characterized as little more than a puppet dancing at the behest of the various owners – a scapegoat to absorb the fans ire and a mere cipher for hawkish rich men like Jeremy Jacobs.

I suspect the truth is somewhere between the two extremes. Bettman is assuredly the owners employee, but he’s also their representation, their council. He is a major voice in the room and no doubt the guy determining significant aspects of the league’s planning and strategies. He acts on behalf of the owners, and with their blessing, but that doesn’t mean he’s merely a pawn acting out the nefarious script of his betters.

I guess what I’m saying is $8 million per year is a lot of cheddar to pay for an impotent figurehead.

– I’m not one to wring my hands about Team Canada’s performance on the world stage, so the loss to the States in the semi-finals didn’t rile me that much. I’d say those who tend to get enraged or despondent when Canada doesn’t quite live up to expectations at these things should consider a couple of things: that anything can happen in one-off games and that other countries are sending some pretty damn good teams of their own these days.

– Markus Granlund scored another three points recently and now shares the tournament lead in points (12) with teammate Joel Armia. Granlund has had a tough year in the sm-liiga this season, but at least he put together a nice run against his peers in the WJC.

That said, the WJC has been dubbed "the tournament of small sample size" by stats guys for a reason: observers and scouts tend to over-weight it due to it’s perceived importance, but as always more results over a longer period are far more powerful and more predictive than less. So here’s hoping he gets back on track in Finland once this thing is over.

– Sven Baertschi is apparently ready to get back into the Heat’s line-up for their game tonight. The team could really use his offensive abilities obviously. It’s somewhat disconcerting, though, that the Flames best prospect has missed time with concussion-like issues in each of the last two years though.

– Speaking of concerning health issues, John Weisbrod was on the FAN yesterday and noted Roman Cervenka is suffering from a hematoma and is isn’t medically cleared to play. He hasn’t skated since the end of November and there’s no timetable for a return. Add in the uncertainty of the labor dispute and there’s a moderate but growing chance that Feaster’s KHL experiment won’t ever skate in Flames colors.

– Anton Babchuk has 3 points in 31 games for Donbass in the KHL and is -9 (the worst +/- on the team). I doubt the Flames ask him to fly back over the pond, even if the NHL does return. Regular readers, I hope you’ll allow this minor indulgence but…I told you so.

– Almost all of the Gaudreau shirts have been mailed or delivered. I hope those who have received their shirt(s) are enjoying them. 

– You’ll notice we finally have "tweet" buttons at the bottom of articles. Yay! Next up: a facebook like button.

  • I tried it at home

    Babchuk is also logging tonnes of minutes for his KHL squad though. Apparently they haven’t figured out he’s terrible yet. They must be thinking he’s on a cold streak or something.

    I’ve been mostly apathetic towards the negotiations so far, mostly because I’ve already decided the season is lost (I decided that as soon as they cancelled the preseason).

  • I dont really buy the “Bettman is useless” mantra.

    Even with the lockout record, if you look at the growth and development of the game under his leadership (C$ reasons or not), his resume still looks pretty good.

    -6 new franchises (a couple actually profitable, but all profitable to existing owners thanks to franchise fee)
    -“saved” Canadian franchises with revenue sharing (actually went to sun belt teams after dollar rebounded)
    -imposed a salary cap in what was the most resistant league

    He also has very good reputation with the owners (he and Harley Hotchkiss were good friends).

    He wins. He just won’t lose. If I were the NHL, I keep Bettman. If I am having to negotiate and defend the game, I want a pitbull in my corner.

    Now, I hate his “image” too, he makes my skin crawl (I assume he’s perfectly pleasant and normal away from his job), but from a business standpoint, he’s the NHL’s guy, so we should just let it go, and accept the inevitable.

  • On Babchuk, I doubt any of us will lose any sleep if he doesn’t play in a Flames uniform this season. But I don’t take his KHL numbers to heart.

    We know he can put up 30-points in a season with dedicated PP and sheltered EV time. So his lack of point production isn’t concerning. What he hasn’t been able to do to this point is play defense.

    Apparently he is playing in a big minutes shut down role for Donbass HC. Outside of the underwhelming stat line I have no idea how successful he has been in that role. But that experience can’t hurt if he does make his way back over here.

    • Fair enough. In the NHL, Babchuk is what he is – a 6th defender/PP specialist at best. Thirty or so games in the KHL won’t change that.

      Im surprised anyone is playing Babchuk in a shut-down role at any level of pro hockey outside of the ECHL. Goes to show how coaches estimations of players can differ though. Brent Sutter wouldn’t even let him near a first line last season.

      If he is indeed playing big minutes in the KHL, perhaps the Flames won’t have to argue with him to stay in Russia.

  • Vintage Flame

    – Anton Babchuk has 3 points in 31 games for Donbass in the KHL and is -9 (the worst +/- on the team). I doubt the Flames ask him to fly back over the pond, even if the NHL does return. Regular readers, I hope you’ll allow this minor indulgence but…I told you so.

    Have the other teams nicknamed his team “Dumbass” yet??

  • Michael

    The real problem with Babchuk is the contract the Flames signed him to. $2.5 million per year for two years was lunacy, and the fault falls squarely on Feaster.
    Other than that, Babchuk is a bottom pair / replacement level dman with a decent shot.

    • Michael

      Agree. Correct term to take the risk, wrong $$$

      Unfortunately without NHL hockey, we can’t get a better evaluation on Jay Feaster. For every bad deal, it looks like he has an equal an offsetting good deal. Maybe we just have an exactly average GM.

      I was looking forward to the increased sample size to see Feaster’s plan unfold (good or bad). It’s easy for us to sit and be armchair quarterbacks, but we really do not know the culture in the business of hockey.

      I remember when Darryl was brought in and we were all skeptical. I remember my Dad saying “who the hell is Craig Conroy”. The we saw some sustained success. Call me an drunken optimist.

  • RKD

    Despite the players having the most to lose, the NHL seems to be negotiating in bad faith.

    While it may look like the NHL keeps giving more to the players, they seem to always take something away.
    Probably all part of negotiations, but reaching a deal means to compromise to a point where both parties can have some satisfaction.

    The fact we are learning that HRR is behind hidden, or when the NHL agrees to split 50/50 they can’t tell the players it’s one number when it’s actually completely different.

    Sure the NHL and Gary are educated business guys but that doesn’t give them the right to pull a fast one and deceive players into getting less than what the NHL offered.