Steve Burton should have been right. He was right about Phil Kessel having testicular cancer. He was right about Tim Thomas skipping his final season to hunker down at NORAD in preparation for the Mayan apocalypse.
And he should have been right about the NHL lockout being over. Its too bad that Steve Burton didnt take into account the fact that Donald Fehr is still very much involved in this negotiation process.
Donald Fehr clearly doesnt realize hes no longer toying with Bumbling Uncle Bud Selig, a commissioner so inept he couldnt negotiate his way out of an All Star Game tie, let alone a labor impasse.
Fehr, a players executive who has lead his charges into work stoppages in six of the eight labor disputes hes been involved in, is now trying put his mutually assured destruction negotiation tactics into a labor dispute with a league that just eight years ago used a scorched earth bargaining strategy to bring the NHL Players Union to its knees.
The National Hockey League is a niche sport that has over expanded into areas that are clearly not capable or wiling to consistently support the game. NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman is more than aware of this and has built support among the teams in those fringe markets that simply cannot afford to make a bad deal and are more than willing to sacrifice a season to get what they want.
Unlike wannabe tough guy NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, or the marginally competent Selig, Bettman wields real tangible power in these talks. All Bettman needs is the support of 8 teams to veto any proposed CBA agreement. It also means over three quarters of the league has to be in agreement to override Bettmans authority. And since the deal to sell the Phoenix Coyotes to Greg Jamison is still pending approval, NHL itself is the current owner of that team giving Bettman his own vote in any CBA matter. With the support of ownership hawks like Bruins owner Jeremy Jacobs, that care nothing about the game itself and are more than willing to subsist on other revenue while they crush the players, and teams like Florida and Columbus, whoare more willing tomiss the season to make the deal they want, Bettman has all the power he needs.And as long as Bettman has the support of what amounts to a doomsday cult of hard line owners, the best the players can hope for is to get the best deal they can manage as quickly as possible.
Now before anyone accuses me of being for the owners or looking at this from a fans perspective let me make the following clear: I blame Bettman and the owners completely and totally for this. They were the ones who were more than willing to line their pockets with expansion fees as teams cropped up in places that only see ice in their cocktails. They were the ones who began this negotiating process with an offer so draconian and lopsided you knew they had no intention of ever playing a full season. The owners are the ones that locked the players out and are more than willing to put the entire sport of hockey at risk to line their coffers just a bit more.
And even with the deck clearly stacked against the players, after eighty plus days of seemingly fruitless back and forth Fehr had a chance to get the players making money again, with a 5050 split and the make whole provision. All they needed was a yes or no answer. The time to negotiate was over and someone as experienced as Fehr should have known this.
But Fehr countered, and as Fred Toucher on 98.5 the Sports Hubs Toucher and Rich Show said, he thought Donald Fehrs biggest failing was not being able to read the room during the negotiating process and he was exactly right. There was a deal to be made yesterday. Yes the players would have had to acquiesce to more of the owners demands, but an option for getting the people he represented working again was there for the taking. Not making that deal was risking a repeat of 2004 where the players ended up with a salary cap AND losing a year's salary AND getting their paychecks cut by 24. Fehr should have understood he was not going to win this negotiation when this process started. He needed to make the best deal he could while getting the players back to work to keep their actual losses this season to a minimum and that chance came and went yesterday.
Unfortunately, the owners will win any long protracted battle and by dragging this process out, all Donald Fehris doing is costing the players more and more money while he represents the only thing he really cares about: Donald Fehr.