The more the NHL tries to show theyre not reaching a level of desperation, the more they awkwardly reveal just how desperate theyre actually becoming.
In a move that reeked of weakness and last resort mode in their Bob Batterman-approved lockout playbook, reports surfaced on Thursday night that the NHL approached the NHLPA about taking a two-week moratorium in the negotiating process. Apparently its time to give up and take a knee for a few plays with both sides locked in a stalemate and Thanksgiving right around the corner.
Its easy to point at the salary pay checks lost by the players as the biggest weapon in the two-month old lockout, and maybe the NHL thinks the players will get weak in the knees after missing another one, but it also appears the NHL owners are starting to feel the financial pain of empty arenas as well, and getting a little punchy as a result.
Former Bruins defenseman Aaron Ward was the first to report on the moratorium for TSN, and it was later confirmed by Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly in a series of hard-edged statements about the proposed hiatus.
We have made repeated moves in the Players direction with absolutely no reciprocation, said Daly, in a statement to TSN reacting to the moratorium news coming to light. Unfortunately we have determined we are involved with Union leadership that has no genuine interest in reaching an agreement. Regardless of what we propose or how we suggest to compromise the answer is no. At some point you have to say enough is enough.
Interesting the NHL wants to put a stop to talks they're accusing others of "having no genuine interest in reaching an agreement", and they're doing it while refusing to go the route of a federal mediator that's willing to provide his services for free. As in "interesting" is code for "makes no freakin' sense."
Actually, Mr. Daly, NHL fans dont want to hear the leagues leadership throwing their hands up in the air and waving em like they just dont care. Thats about the last thing loyal, hardcore hockey fans want to hear after 61 days of a lockout has already steamrolled over a quarter of the regular season along with the Winter Classic.
Furthermore there isnt a single gain, win or victory that the NHLPA can hang their hat on in any of the offers made by the league: theyll be drawing money from a much smaller piece of the revenue pie, enjoying fewer rights as players and losing salary from a locked out season that theyll never again earn back in their short careers.
It seems the players are prepared to lose the fight, but theyre just not going to let the NHL give them a trademarked Arron Asham nighty night wave on their way to the penalty box.
The NHL has proven amazingly inept during this whole lockout process: theyre blasting away at their own feet during CBA negotiations with self-inflicted gunshots. The proposed moratorium is the latest major gaffe with frustration already running high on both sides. The NHL has stumbled over land mine after land mine starting with the Grinch-esque first offer back in July, and its been more embarrassment with each turn. All of the million dollar consultants and lockout lawyers in the world havent done a damn thing for them, and everybody knows it.
Instead, the NHL is already turning away the casual fans that have helped pump their revenues up to a record 3.3 billion last season, and theyve done the unthinkable: theyve begun pushing their hardcore fans to vow theyll spend their hard-earned money somewhere a little more worthy than the lockout-happy NHL.
Both sides appeared to make progress in revenue sharing and the make whole provision last week during more than 20 hours of meetings, but the NHL is refusing to budge on player contract rights. Its hard to imagine that tweaks to free agency, arbitration and year-to-year salary variation on contracts could submarine an entire NHL season, but thats one of the places where the league has stretched out a line in the sand.
Its expected the NHL will cancel games through Dec. 15 if a deal isnt reached next week shortly after Thanksgiving, and there have been rumblings the league would consider cancelling the entire season if no deal is in place by early December. But that would be an awfully difficult sell from the NHL to the hockey-loving and ticket-purchasing public when the 2004-05 season wasnt officially cancelled until February. There hasnt been a single legitimate reason given as to why the NHL would need to whack the entire season in December with more than two months remaining to haggle over a new CBA.
You know why? Because there isnt one aside from the NHL trying to create a cliff the NHLPA will be afraid to peer over. The NHL has already shot one of the hostages by cancelling the Winter Classic, and they want the players to think Gary Bettman will be itching to do it again next month.
But that shouldnt happen, and it wont happen.
So heres some free advice to the NHL that comes a lot cheaper than Frank Luntz: quit this brinksmanship baloney that nobody is buying, get back to the negotiating table and give the players something that will truly allow them to believe theyre in a true partnership with the league. Allow Jeremy Jacobs to step up and take some level of credit for brokering a deal with the players that ended the lockout rather than his current role as JJ the lockout bus driver.
The players have already conceded theyre going to a 5050 split of hockey revenues, and the league knows they have to come back to earth on revenue sharing, making whole and player contract rights before they can drop the puck. Theres a deal just waiting to be made.
End the gong show. Quit the two-bit charade about two-week moratoriums that insult anyone in love with hockey or those unfortunately drawing a paycheck from the business of the NHL.
More fear, embarrassment and loathing waits for the NHL if they cant figure it out quickly, and the moratorium will end up being a lot more than two weeks.