It was probably too good to be true when the NHL and NHLPA quietly hunkered down for three long days of negotiating this week.
That was clear when Boston Bruins owner Jeremy Jacobs and the lockout squad of NHL owners arrived armed with briefcases on Friday. Their presence and the downward spiral of progress turned things from bloodless business negotiations into a barb-throwing episode of Jerry Springer.
Okay, were exaggerating here but you get the point.
Leaked memos, divide-and-conquer strategies and hurt feelings are all side issues and a simple part of the sound and fury around the negotiations. None of that should really matter when it comes to hammering out a deal both sides can live with, and only detracts from the process. Hopefully thats the message put forth by the league and the players association as they piece things back together during a relaxed Saturday afternoon lunch in New York City.
Both sides clearly think they smell the stink of weakness in their opponent. There are some among the 700 plus NHLPA members that want a deal done that will get them back to playing hockey. Thats a message thats been very clearly passed along to Exec Director Donald Fehr during the myriad NHLPA conference calls over the last few weeks, and part of what prompted the PA to re-engage with the NHL for this weeks marathon sessions.
There are also a growing number of NHL owners that are discontent with the lack of progress toward the 5050 Hockey Related Revenue (HRR) split theyve been promised by their commissioner. Side note to the Board of Governors: continuing to allow Jacobs to be the face of the NHL ownership group isnt really doing them many favors in the eyes of hockey fans. Its bad enough that Jacobs is quickly erasing any of the goodwill hed built up after the 2011 Stanley Cup championship. But hes also taking down plenty of good NHL owners with him that still do have the NHLs best interests at heart.
Jacobs lost the last NHL lockout in a huge way when he didnt foresee the 24 percent salary rollback coming, and his front office allowed Mike Knuble, Michael Nylander, Brian Rolston and Sergei Gonchar to walk away via free agency.
A Bruins team that finished as the No. 2 seed in the East prior to the 2004-05 lockout was basically reduced to expansion rubble while forecasting a dream buyers market in the new CBA. As weve all learned in hindsight, Jacobs, Harry Sinden and Mike OConnell royally botched the Bruins during the last lockout.
So Jacobs is bent on winning in this CBA, and thats not the proper mentality for either side. Not when it comes to collective bargaining with the good name of a sport on the line, and not when it comes to league sponsors squawking about lost revenue stemming from their failing partnership with the NHL.
The league can try to paint Fehr as a despot, a tyrant or a union overlord thats leading his flock of NHL sheep by the hand, but hes simply too savvy and experienced to fall victim to those smear tactics. It didnt work a month ago and its not going to work now.
So they should quit trying to play that game, and end all game-playing for that matter. Theres a reason the players dont think the owners are taking these negotiations very seriously, and its got to do with the complete lack of concessions going toward the players. After all the discussions over the last two months, the players are still looking at a unilateral reduction of player contract rights and no guarantee theyll ever get paid the amount written on their signed contracts.
The NHL is sending out messages through their media envoys theyre willing to negotiate player contract rights, but at the same time telling the NHLPA theres no flexibility until the players have approved the make whole concept. That needs to change as both sides continue to watch the Hockey Related Revenue pie for this season shrink while cancelling hundreds of games and special events.
The whacking of the NHL All-Star game in Columbus is an automatic at this point in a shortened NHL regular season, and should be fitted for a nice tombstone alongside the 2013 Winter Classic.
Meanwhile there are also murmurs the players want their full pay for this season despite the NHL being forced to scale back to 64-70 games starting Dec. 1 due to the lockout. The latest NHLPA offer also asked that the league make good on the 1.87 billion paid out to players last year plus a 1.75 percent pay raise for this season.
Thats not going to happen and it shouldnt happen if the NHLPA truly wants the partnership theyve lamented about during the entire two-month lockout process. The pain and blame should be shared on both sides, and both should probably walk away from the new CBA muttering exasperatedly under their breath.
Lets be honest here: the season isnt anywhere close to being in danger yet. During the last lockout it wasnt entirely cancelled until the month of February had hit on the hockey calendar. But the most livable solution for sides is to exchange their best offers right now and allow for the season to begin on Dec. 1. Otherwise the deals get worse, the animosity gets stronger and they might have to start employing Jerry Springers security crew for CBA negotiation sessions in case they go bad.
Agree to a 5050 split. Agree to make whole the entirety of NHL player contracts already agreed to even if the final number is closer to 600 million than 211 million. Agree to a return to the previous CBA for player contract rights aside from the 5 percent variation limit from year-to-year on long term deals.
Agree to a 10-year contract so something like this doesnt happen again to the NHL for a long, long time in a hockey rink far, far away. Then sit back and watch the NHL flourish as it should be doing if the games leadership wouldnt keep shooting itself in the foot.