Decertification was the buzzword of the day with talks stalled on Friday between the NHL and the NHLPA, and the week finished off with more game cancellations (through Dec. 14) and special event implosions (this time All-Star weekend).
Instead of enjoying the annual Friday afternoon Turkey Day Showdown at TD Garden that NBC is transforming into an annual national television attraction, it was a much different scene all thanks to the lockout: disillusioned fans wandering around North Station in Bruins jerseys like hockeys version of the Walking Dead.
Thats what 69 days of ockout have done to the hockey fans of Boston, and to those around the rest of North America. But heres a positive thought: the NHLPA may just have found the leagues soft white underbelly with the growing talk of decertifying the union.
If it played out, the act of dissolving the players union could turn the NHL into the Wild West of pro sports leagues: the entry draft, the salary cap, the free agency process and pretty much everything else held together by the CBA would go out the window. But it would also allow the individual players to file antitrust lawsuits seeking triple the damage of lost wages due to unfair labor practices.
More importantly, it would take all manner of control out of the NHLs hands.
Thats the potential trump card: the NHL wont want to relinquish their fate into the hands of the U.S. court system, potentially for years, and NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr knows it.
Thats the reason the NBA ended their lockout just weeks after basketball players got serious about decertification. Thats also why NHL league media mouthpieces are now threatening that decertification will lead to the entire season being lost, along with pensions and medical benefits for players.
It appears somebody is trying to make the players so afraid of decertification that they wont consider it, doesnt it? Either way, its the mere threat of sinking the NHL into court rooms that might ultimately sway the Board of Governors toward compromising with the union as the easiest way out.
After all, the NHL and NHLPA stand 182 million apart in the make whole provision, or transitional payments as the union has begun referring to them. Its still mystifying that the league hasnt yet tried to bridge that gap.
The decertification chatter was strong enough that it smoked both Bill Daly and Steve Fehr out of their respective negotiating lairs for radio appearances on SportsNet 590 in Toronto on Friday afternoon. Daly fired back with a No answer when asked if the NHL was afraid of decertification, and proceeded to publicly wonder if the NHLPA leadership is aiming to miss the season.
Decertification is a time-consuming process that would likely lead to the end of the season, said Daly. Ive had my doubts and concerns along the way about the players willingness to have a season.
"I would hope that the players want to play and want to have a season. Im not sure that unless its under certain terms that the NHLPA leadership feels the same.
So the NHL continues to paint the players union leadership as zealots who dont care whether or not there is a hockey season, and the players as unknowing sheep willingly following them off the cliff. The words are a pretty transparent attempt to get the players riled up against their leadership: thats something thats clearly sidetracked the progress of negotiations over the last three months.
Its also something that has galvanized the players against the league rather than fracturing them as in past CBA negotiations. Sure, Roman Hamrlik and Michael Neuvirth have voiced their dissenting opinions on Fehr from faraway locales in Europe, but there havent been any others within the 700-plus NHLPA membership that have broken ranks. So the Fehr bashing hasnt quite worked out, and its perplexing as to why the league continues down that road.
The players also have their own missteps to answer for when it comes to lockout decorum. Ian White rightfully apologized for calling Gary Bettman an idiot and Kris Versteeg was flat wrong to call Bettman and Daly cancers that needed to be removed from the NHL. Blue collar forward Dave Bolland retweeted somebody threatening to do Bettman bodily harm before also apologizing. NHLPA special counsel Steve Fehr denounced the name-calling during his radio hit with SportsNet 590, but also understood why its happening as frustration mounts.
"This is the players' careers that they NHL are messing with, said Fehr. They'll never get these games back. So while its not something that were condoning, its also hard to keep them under wraps.
Instead the NHLPA continues to scratch their collective heads over the NHLs non-reaction to their Wednesday afternoon proposal that the league admitted was progress with the players moving toward them. The NHLPA proposal was rejected without any counteroffer from the league, and the Fehr brothers -- along with the players involved -- left that board room steaming.
Fehr confirmed the players wont be making any new offers anytime soon, and were instead waiting for the NHL to meet them halfway. No, not halfway across the sky. Rather just halfway toward the union in negotiations.
"If it was a Thanksgiving dinner the NHL gave us the relish tray instead of a turkey, said Fehr. Were not going to make any more offers anytime soon, but were prepared to meet at any time. We moved miles, they moved inches.
With just about no room for error as Dec. 15 and Jan. 1 seem like the last two reasonable starting points for a shortened NHL season, lets hope the two sides are done taking shots at each other like the Hatfields and the McCoys. The name-calling and public undermining is simply muddying up the negotiation process, and has served as a distraction to getting a deal done.
It also betrays two sides that dont yet seem genuine about saving the 2012-13 season. Lets hope for hockeys sake the NHL owners decide theyre ready to start the season now that theyve slashed 24 percent of the players pay checks while lopping off the two least profitable months of the season. The business of the NHL starts getting good around Christmas-time, and everybody hopes thats the topic of discussion when the Board of Governors meet on Dec. 5.
A little more deal-making and a lot less saber-rattling could go a long way.