Haggerty: Perhaps it's time for Bettman and Fehr to step away

Haggerty: Perhaps it's time for Bettman and Fehr to step away
October 28, 2012, 11:39 pm
Share This Post

So now the NHL and NHLPA sit and wait to see who lost more pints of blood after the entire month of November was wiped clean from the hockey slate.

Or erased from existence as Doc Brown once said.

Its pretty clear at least one side of the negotiating table wanted things to play out this way, and that the tenor of negotiations have gotten a little well personal. Thats the only explanation for the fervent, uncomfortable staring contest going on between NHLPA Executive Director Donald Fehr and NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman one that might just rival the unblinking stare-down between Will Ferrells Robert Goulet and a mountain ram in a hilariously unforgettable SNL skit.

Unfortunately its not nearly as funny.

The New York Posts Larry Brooks relayed a story second-hand of an exchange between Boston Bruins owner Jeremy Jacobs and Fehr that is pretty revealing.

According to Brooks, Jacobs said in front of 19 NHL players, Fehr and three of his fellow owners along with Bettman and Bill Daly that Gary Bettman has the hardest job because he represents both the players and the owners.

Without missing a beat Fehr fired back Does that mean we can fire him?

That kind of board room bravado will win Fehr major points with the players, but both sides havent met face-to-face since with the league essentially refusing to sit down with the NHLPA.

Thats probably not a coincidence.

Several sources within the CBA negotiations with varying degrees of involvement have basically said the same thing to CSNNE.com in recent weeks: the players want Bettmans head in these negotiations.

One hockey source uttered that exact sentence last week in describing the current tenor of negotiations, and there are few players ready to hop on the railroad tracks to save the commissioner given how things have gone.

The problem with all this: Bettmans head is going to stay attached to the rest of his governing body and he still has the ear of the most powerful, influential owners on the Board of Governors. The hostility and antipathy from each side isnt doing any good, and the big personalities at the top of the NHL and NHLPA food chain dont seem to be meshing very well even as they move closer to agreement on a 5050 split of revenues and some kind ofcontract guarantee for the players.

If the players really want to take Bettman down then the work stoppage is going to last for a long, long, long time, and some of these players could be surrendering millions of dollars and perhaps enough missed time that it could adversely affect their careers -- to make it happen. If that is Fehr and the players end game then the 2012-13 season truly is in peril.

But the expectation is that much of it is lockout tough talk and the kind of vitriol that can spill out when a lockout turns costly for both sides.

Heres one suggestion that might just work, however: remove both Bettman and Fehr from the process and leave everything to the No. 2 men in each organization at this point in the negotiations. Bill Daly has been doing much of the heavy lifting for the NHL during these CBA discussions, and showed with the make whole provision that the league is willing to extend toward the middle ground.

Steve Fehr clearly has the trust of his brother, and some have said he is the heir apparent as the Exec Director of the NHLPA once this current CBA has been put to bed.

So why not have Daly and Fehr meet to hammer out the middle ground and find some amenable solution that meets the leagues 5050 requirement and satisfies the players call for the owners to live up the contracts theyve already signed? It certainly cant get any worse than the current state of CBA talks.

Some in the past few months have already called for Bettman to step back from these negotiations given the blood thats already on his hands from the 2004-05 missed season, and the three NHL work stoppages on his resume as commissioner. From a players point of view, hes looked at as the Darth Vader of CBA negotiations.

Fehr was brought in as the perfect combatant against Bettman in the conference room given his experience leading the Major League Baseball players union, and hes proven to be that while standing up to the NHL without flinching. That hes been able to do that while keeping the disparate factions of the NHLPA together in a ring of solidarity has been nothing short of remarkable.

For a group that has always splintered and fractured in the past when things got tough, the players arent budging this time around while feeling full well they are in the right.

So both men clearly have plenty invested and healthy egos at play as well. Maybe its time for both Bettman and Fehr to take a knee and sit out a few plays while seeing what might be possible to save a 65-game hockey season that could start in early December along with the Winter Classic and NHL All-Star game.

The alternative would be disastrous for all parties involved, and might mean that none of them escape with unscathed reputations if the NHL once again falls into the dumpster due to its own greed and hubris. If that happens then NHL and the players will both get exactly what they deserve, and the puck-loving fans will once again be the equations biggest losers.