Nothing to Fehr? Glimmers of hope despite NHL lockout setback

Photo from Flickr/xtopalopaquetl

In the end it all turned out exactly the way we feared: more posturing, no negotiating, and more lost games.

It took Gary Bettman and Bill Daly only ten minutes to consider and dismiss Donald Fehr’s three NHLPA counter-proposals yesterday—then they were out the door and slamming the players offers on their way past the media gathered outside.

“It’s clear we’re not even speaking the same language,” said Bettman of the NHLPA. “Thoroughly disappointing.”

Less than 24 hours later the NHL did the predictable, cancelling games scheduled through to November 1.

So much for getting the ball rolling on negotiation.  

But it’s not all bad news. If you’re an eternal optimist, there’s hope in the shadows.

The NHLPA counter-proposals on Thursday centered around two core issues: lowering the players share of ‘hockey related revenue’ to a 50/50 split with owners, and ensuring that the full value of current contracts are honored going forward.

And in their initial offer on Tuesday, the NHL included provisions to “make whole” the value of current player contracts through a convoluted system of reimbursement in future seasons.

There are wolves in sheep’s clothing on both sides of the fence here, as neither the NHLs' “make whole” provision nor the NHLPAs' 50/50 revenue sharing proposals were entirely genuine: In both instances, one side is packaging their own interests in the guise of other sides language.

But such is negotiation. This isn’t a bloodless sport. It’s dirty and painful and mean.

And so the mere fact that the core, line-in-the-sand interests for each side have been publicly acknowledged and ‘addressed’ by the other at some point—so early on in the larger dispute—is an encouraging sign for hockey fans. Maybe.

But we can certainly say that it’s no longer a question of one side accepting the other sides premise, that it’s now about two sides negotiating a solution to contradictory but mutually recognized interests.

No easy feat, but a far cry from where the two parties stood two weeks ago: nowhere, contesting everything straight into the ground.

The cancellation of games through to November 1 instantly drew the ire of many, yet the cancellations are likely an encouraging sign, at least in the sense that they mean next to nothing at all.

Had the NHLPA accepted the NHL offer on Tuesday, a salvaged season wouldn’t have started until November 2 anyways, and so the games leading up to that point where, by this point, always lost.

The league could have responded today by cancelling a stretch of games beyond that November 1 or 2 deadline, as a way exerting pressure on the players. That they didn’t has to be read as a sign of cooler heads prevailing, or that the bad blood has yet to take control and pull this all in a truly ugly direction. 

It seems unlikely that an agreement is anywhere in sight, and there’s virtually no chance for the salvation of a full 82-game season starting in the first week of November. But it would seem that there's ground for a deal here, now, and it should only be a matter of time before all interested parties conclude that sharing a 3.3 billion-dollar pie is better than letting it rot and turn to maggot-laden mush instead. 

At the end of the day, no matter how this plays out, both the owners and the players are going to end up eating that same pie whether it’s edible or not, and it’s entirely up to them what it tastes like when they do. 

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