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NHL CBA Update: December 9, 2012: What's Being Said

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Bruce Bennett

There are a lot of quotes to give you after optimism turned to frustration during negotiations last week.

From Bill Daly on Friday:

"I have no reason, nor any intention, of reaching out to the union right now," Daly said in an email to The Associated Press. "I have no new ideas. Maybe they do. We are happy to listen."

From Donald Fehr on Saturday:

"It's up to them. They're the ones who called a halt to the process.

The one thing we know for certain is that you can't make agreements if you're not talking about it."

Ugh...I swear these guys act like school children sometimes. So who's going to make the first move this week? Or will there be continued silence? The NHL presented 3 offers to the NHLPA last week and wanted a yes or no answer. As soon as the players wanted to negotiate on these 3 proposals the NHL killed the meetings dead, and Gary Bettman went on a seething rampage in front of the media soon afterward.

Part of the NHL's proposals via TSN:

The league's offer Wednesday night offered a raise in money devoted to the Make Whole provision. The number in the latest offer jumped to $300 million, up from $211 million in the league's previous offer. The players had previously asked for $389 million, making the owners' latest offer an exact middle ground between the previous offer and the players' demands. However, of that proposed $300 million only $250 million would go towards a 'make-whole' provision with the remaining $50 million going towards pension funding that would not come out of the players' share. The proposal submitted was for a 10-year term for the next CBA with an opt-out clause after eight years. The rules governing unrestricted free agency and salary arbitration would remain unchanged from last season. The league did not budge on its request for a five-year term limit on player contracts and held firm to a maximum year-to-year salary variance of five per cent. The league's offer did, however, offer an exception on contract lengths for the re-signing of free agents. Teams would be allowed to re-sign their own free agents to contracts up to seven years in duration.

I did like the League's proposals.

Donald Fehr maintains that the sides were close to a deal (which Betttman denied).

Also from Fehr:

"We are clearly very close, if not on top of one another, in connection with most of the major issues," Fehr said. "I don't know when discussions will resume."

Bettman is probably not telling the truth when he said in frustration after negotiations broke down that their offers were "off the table".

I think he's just being silly by saying that, and it was a threat only.

Former Rangers great Brian Leetch (jackass heheh) had this to say:

"I was involved in the last one, where basically the owners broke the union and were able to get a deal they believed was fair, changed the whole structure of the system. And now to be in this again, where they are basically trying to redo it again and hammer the union, it’s disappointing. "The fans gets taken for granted now," he added. "I just think they’re getting taken advantage of in this situation."

Leetch's teammate Mike Richter said this:

"If I’m an owner and I’m losing money under the present circumstances, I’m going to say, ‘look, we have to change it,’ " he said. "You’d think you could’ve come to this point before you start hurting the league, before the season started. Of course nothing really seems to get done before the 11th hour. For me, it was in August. For them, it might be last actual moment, which could be the start of the new year. Part of getting a deal is compromise. Both sides have to bite the bullet, probably accept things they normally wouldn’t want and figure it out.’’ "I think they have to and I think they will," Richter said. "There’s too much at stake. ... I don’t think the players have a lot of upside for waiting and I know the league doesn’t, either. ... The bottom line is it’s a tremendous sport, they have a tremendous product on the ice. Nobody wants to see them lose time. If there’s enough NHL teams losing money, then you have to look at the business model and figure it out. I think the players are willing to do that."

Speaking of "biting the bullet" I read a solid contribution from former NHL great Ken Dryden at the Globe and Mail. Some excerpts:

this agreement was never going to happen fast. Nothing was going to get done before the labour pact expired Sept. 15. A negotiation is about issues but it’s also about the relationship between its parties. If the issues this time didn’t seem that difficult – the 2004 negotiation about a salary cap was far more fundamental – the relationship question was going to be tricky. History matters. In 2004, the players lost. If one was to compare those negotiations to a season, the players had gone into the Stanley Cup final against the owners as the heavy favourites. Year after year the owners had chased after free agents pushing salary levels higher for every player and every team. The owners, despite NHL commissioner Gary Bettman’s exhortations and ridicule of them in NHL governors’ meetings, seemed powerless to stop themselves. The NHL Players’ Association, led by Bob Goodenow, just said no to anything the owners proposed. They knew, eventually, the owners would give in.

But this time the owners changed the NHL’s by-laws. A vote of three-quarters of the league’s governors was needed to overturn any agreement Bettman made. Bettman, stung by years of frustration, now with the power he needed, was ready.

In real life, the season was cancelled, the players broke apart and the NHLPA self-destructed. In this imaginary Cup final, the players were expected to win four straight. The series, instead, went to a seventh game. The owners blew them out, 8-0.

The players were humiliated. In recent years it’s been suggested the players didn’t lose, that the consequence of some of the new agreement’s provisions, unanticipated at the time by both the NHL and NHLPA, is that the players’ average salary increased substantially. But players, above all, are competitors. They know what a win feels like; they know what a loss feels like. They lost.

There wasn’t going to be an agreement before Sept. 15 because neither side was going to be willing to give up all that the other side needed to win before the contract expired. The money issues might be resolved. The relationship question couldn’t be. The players had to establish some equilibrium in their relationship with the owners. If they couldn’t this time, they knew, led by someone as formidable as Donald Fehr, they would have little chance in the future.

For the players to win as many of the money issues as they need to win, Fehr knows, first he has to make this about pride. Through this, Bettman and Fehr have known the last possible date for there to be enough of a season to be a season, and that date is later than it seems. The 2004-05 season wasn’t finally cancelled until Feb. 16, 2005. Until that moment, there remained hope and scenarios by which a season could be played. The 1994-95 season – 48 games – didn’t begin until Jan. 20, 1995 (and didn’t end until May 3; the playoffs finishing June 24). Once they missed the scheduled start of the season and a few artificial deadlines (the date to play a full schedule of games; the Winter Classic), once they had accepted the consequences – not good or bad – of the fans’ ultimate reaction, Bettman and Fehr knew there was only one date that matters, a final date – around mid-January, 2013. There is time. But there’s no time for mistake.

if they think the issues that divide them are worthy of another cancelled year, if the season is truly at risk – they’re wrong. The owners may own the teams. They may have the right to put on games or not. The players may have the right to play or not. But neither of them has the right to mess up what other players and other owners have created, what players and fans of all sorts, everywhere, have created over so many years.

The owners and players, after being on opposite sides all these months, on this most important point at this most important time, are finally on the same side. They are in this together. There will be a season because there can’t not be a season.

I would like to know your thoughts on Dryden's article. I think he seemingly hit the nail on the head. However, it wouldn't surprise me if we lose a season here for the reasons that Dryden pointed out: PRIDE. In that sense I disagree with him thinking there will be a season. I do think the players are willing to lose the season to maintain their stand and not get screwed over again.

However, I hope the sides can get back to the bargaining table soon and put aside their current childish antics of blame games to the media and fans.

One thing that frustrates me is that more progress was made in negotiations when Fehr and Bettman were NOT present. What am I to read into this?