Haggerty: Two sides remain so close, so far away

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Haggerty: Two sides remain so close, so far away

The NHL lockout isnt going to get done until two things happen: the NHL players swallow their petty hatred of NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman and the NHL owners stop trying to exterminate NHLPA Executive Director Donald Fehr.

Both Bettman and Fehr have spacious egos, of course, and those have become obstacles. But they also both hold the innate ability to negotiate the best deal possible for their side of the aisle. That's why they're in their respective positions. Lets not forget that NHL players didnt just ask Fehr to come represent them in these negotiations two years ago.

They begged Fehr to get involved. Therefore the Fehr Brothers are exactly the kind of intimidating, clever, sometimes off-putting bad cop negotiators the NHLPA wanted after years of having their lunch fed to them in CBA negotiations.

Its not surprising the players responded the way they did on Wednesday when it was intimated to them by the "group of six" owners that re-introducing Fehr to the playerowner discussion was a deal breaker, according to Winnipeg defenseman Ron Hainsey.

"The owners attempted to argue it. This was not a debatable decision, said Hainsey to Hockey Night in Canada Radio on Friday. We do not tell them who to bring in and obviously they can't tell us. It was told to me directly Fehr coming back in could be a deal-breaker.

St. Louis Blues forward David Backes backed up those claims a day later.

That seems much more plausible than statements from NHL owners Ron Burkle, Larry Tanenbaum, Mark Chipman and Jeff Vinik that things mysteriously fell apart at the negotiating table on Wednesday. Or the anonymous player source that claimed to the Denver Post that Fehr told over 700 NHLPA members to "keep holding out" because they could get a better deal in a few weeks or a month.

Perhaps that happened, but there hasnt been a second player on or off the record who has backed up that account of the NHLPA conference call despite an overwhelming number of players that simply want to play. Instead it seems last weeks playersowners negotiation accomplished a goal that may or may not have been its intent: to make it appear things fell apart when Fehr got involved and stir unrest within the players union.

The NHL has been trying for months to create a wedge between the players and Fehr, and thereby claim they defeated the Fehr brothers when Major League Baseball never could.

Certainly the NHLPA Exec Director didnt do himself any favors with the disingenuous, grandstanding press conference Thursday that essentially announced to hockey fans that the two sides should have a done deal. It was a dead giveaway that things werent going well when Fehr publicly released the details of the NHLPA offer. Thats all part of the oversized The Donald persona that has infuriated NHL leadership and ownership, but also allowed him to stare down billionaire owners in the past.

That abrasive adversary is also somebody the NHL is going to have to endure if they want to have an NHL season.

The truth of the matter is this: the NHL and NHLPA are way too close to let things fall apart despite Thursdays embarrassing three-ring circus. The overwhelming majority of NHL players have told CSNNE.com they have zero problems with a 10-year CBA. Its assumed that's being used by the Fehrs as a negotiating leverage point with the NHL. The five-year contract maximums and five percent variance rules are a different story, however.

Most have pointed at the relatively small number of players with contracts longer than five years (roughly 10 percent), and postulated the NHLPA is willing to die on the hill for something that serves an elite few players. But thats completely missing the point. If strict five-year contract term limits are imposed the NHL becomes a league where two or three elite players on each team get big money deals that come with 8-12 million per year cap hits.

That kind of thing will virtually eliminate the NHL middle class in a league with a strict salary cap ceiling.

Its something thats already happening in the NBA, and would, in fact, affect large numbers of NHL players in the 2-4 million salary range. Not just the 10 percent enjoying long term, back-diving contracts. The NHLPA has offered other ways to eliminate those back-diving deals, but so far Bettman and the NHL owners have been resistant to anything constructed by the NHLPA.

There has also been some outside urging for the NHLPA to suddenly usurp the process and demand that Fehr allow the membership to immediately vote on the leagues last offer.

Theres only one problem with all this: there is no more NHL offer. In a fit of pique Bettman pulled the NHLs offer from the table and said that anything the two sides agreed to last week is gone. That includes the 300 million in make whole money, the reversion of free agency and arbitration rules to the prior CBA and a key agreement on the players pension plan.

If the NHL is trying to get the players to rise up against NHLPA leadership, they once again botched things. They should have left their 10-year CBA offer on the table through the weekend and given the players an opportunity to push for a vote if the 700 plus players were truly antsy to get playing.

Instead the NHLs offer went up in a mushroom cloud on Thursday, and the players have nothing to even consider. The sides have agreed on money, theyve agreed on a pension plan and they sit just a couple of years apart on key contractual issues. But theyre also vowing not to speak this weekend while they cool off from their equally off-key media sessions last week.

Forget the vendettas toward the opposing leadership. Cram the rhetoric and keyed up emotions when neither side has shown an inkling of concern for the fans or business owners dependent on the NHL through the entire process.

Just get in the room and get the deal done, and save the hatred for the next CBA smack down 10 years from now.

Opportunity knocked in Game 3, and Celtics answered

Opportunity knocked in Game 3, and Celtics answered

CLEVELAND -- Marcus Smart sat at his locker stall late Sunday night, soaking in the moment for all it was worth. 

The Celtics were just minutes removed from one of the biggest playoff upsets ever, knocking off Cleveland, 111-108, a game in which Boston was a 16.5-point underdog.
 
Smart’s play had a lot to do with the win as he scored a career-high 27 points, which included a career-best seven made 3-pointers.
 
But this win was about more than Smart having the game of his life.
 
It was about opportunity, an unspoken rallying cry that has galvanized this Celtics team through what has been a season in which they defied the odds and naysayers time and time again.
 
Boston was supposed to be pretty good this season, but no one predicted the C's would finish with the best record in the Eastern Conference.
 
Isaiah Thomas had a breakout year in 2015-16, but few anticipated he would be even better while putting up numbers that rank among the greatest single seasons in the storied franchise’s illustrious history.
 
Then Thomas goes down with a right hip injury that will keep him out of the remainder of the playoffs, and the Celtics hit the road while trailing the defending champion Cavaliers 2-0. 
 
So what do they do? Oh, not much. 

They just come up with the most epic playoff comeback win ever against a LeBron James-led team.
 
You can dissect what happened Sunday night all you want, but in the end, it came down to one thing: Opportunity.
 
Which is why Boston’s Game 3 win was so sweet. And for those of us who have followed the ups and downs of this team this season recognized it was another example of the Celtics making the most of their opportunity to shock the world.
 
Look no further than Smart, a gritty physical defender whose shot-making isn’t exactly top-10 worthy.
 
No, I’m not talking about top 10 in the NBA. I’m talking top 10 on his team.
 
And yet there he was, delivering his usual strong play defensively while channeling his inner Isaiah Thomas to get big-time buckets in the second half, which included 11 points during a 26-10 run to close out the third and bring Boston within 87-82 going into the fourth.
 
With the surge came more opportunities for other Celtics like Kelly Olynyk, who gets the superstar treatment in Cleveland with more boos than any other Boston player. (They have not forgotten about that Olynyk-Kevin Love incident a couple years ago, apparently.)
 
Olynyk soaked in the boos while coming off the bench to splash the Cavs defense for 15 points on 5-for-8 shooting.
 
“Keep fighting, keep fighting,” Olynyk told me when I asked him about what Game 3’s win says about this team. “You can knock us down but we’ll keep getting back up. That’s what we did out there.”
 
Opportunity.
  
The Celtics had their moment on Sunday night, reminding us just how tough-minded a bunch they can be when they are boxed in a corner and left with two choices: Fight or face inevitable elimination.
 
Because had they lost Game 3, they would have been down 3-0 in the series. And no one needs reminding that no NBA team has ever come back from an 0-3 playoff deficit.
 
Fortunately for them, that’s no longer an option.
 
Instead, they have a chance to even this series up and regain home court advantage if they can win Game 4, which, much like Game 3, seems a long shot.
 
They don’t care.
 
It has never been about being the favorite or underdog. It’s about the opportunity, something the Celtics gave themselves with Sunday’s win.