SBD/September 24, 2012/Leagues and Governing Bodies

NHL Lockout, Day 9: Winter Classic Could Be Early Casualty Of Work Stoppage

The Maple Leafs-Red Wings Winter Classic "is on the chopping block, a potential early victim of the lockout," according to Kevin McGran of the TORONTO STAR. A source said that, barring a settlement, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman "plans to cancel it in November -- to take away any advantage the players may have at the bargaining table because of the game’s popularity." The source said Bettman told the BOG he was "going to cancel the Winter Classic in November because he didn’t want the players to use the game as leverage." Another source said, "It’s a scare tactic. It just proves the NHL has no intention of negotiating any time soon" (TORONTO STAR, 9/21). In N.Y., Pat Leonard wrote, "If true, it is also an absurd, empty threat, considering the New Year's Day game never was a stop-gap to force a deal to begin with." But "let's not pretend only one side is holding up negotiations here." Leonard: "Kudos to the union for standing its ground against a league that not only set the ugly tone of these negotiations ... but does not apologize for it" (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 9/23). SPORTING NEWS' Jesse Spector wrote this "means two things." One is that the NHL "is preparing for a long lockout, which everyone pretty much could have guessed already." The other, "far more disheartening thing, is that Bettman’s strategy for negotiations is to be as ruthless as he can be." From the "standpoint of getting the best deal for the owners he represents, canceling the Winter Classic would be a masterstroke for Bettman." He is "correct to recognize that the NHLPA could use the Winter Classic as leverage, and in fact, it is the union’s only real potential leverage." Removing it from the equation "would strip the union of everything but its resolve, and the owners figure that missed paychecks ought to take care of that" (SPORTINGNEWS.com, 9/21).

LEAGUE LOOKING FOR COMPROMISE: NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly said it will take "some sense of compromise on the players association side" to break the current impasse. He added, "What I'm trying to say is we have made compromise already." Daly was "making the league's case as part of a public relations contest that the players seem to be winning." He said, "Of course we care what our fans think, and we are cognizant of that. That's why they need to hear our message as well as the players association's" (TAMPA BAY TIMES, 9/23). The N.Y. DAILY NEWS' Leonard in a separate piece noted Daly on Friday was unavailable for negotiations because he "had to fly to western Canada to attend an Alberta Labour Board hearing at which players on" the Oilers and Flames "challenged the NHL's attempt to lock them out as unlawful." Leonard wrote, "The union may believe these tactics are useful in jamming up owners plans for a long lockout, but the short-term consequence -- on Friday, at least -- was to remove a key player from the NHL's side of the negotiating table in Daly, thereby pushing back any scheduling of meetings over the weekend or beyond" (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 9/22). QMI AGENCY's Chris Stevenson notes yesterday in an "informal poll of parties on both sides of the divide ... there was nothing but pessimism and dire predictions." A "feeling in the players' camp is that it is a foregone conclusion this season will be lost to the lockout." One respondent on the players' side wrote in a text message, "Question now is what happens the following year" (QMI AGENCY, 9/24).

DEVELLANO FINED: In Detroit, Ted Kulfan reported the NHL fined the Red Wings an "undisclosed amount for comments made by" Senior VP & Alternate Governor Jimmy Devellano, who last week "talked about the NHL lockout candidly" in an interview. The fine reportedly was estimated to be around $250,000 (DETROIT NEWS, 9/22). Also in Detroit, Helene St. James wrote the fine could be "possibly as much as $1 million" (DETROIT FREE PRESS, 9/23). Devellano in the interview said, "The owners can basically be viewed as the Ranch, and the players, and me included, are the cattle. The owners own the Ranch and allow the players to eat there." He added, "Let the players take 43% and let the owners take 57%. Just reverse it from where it is now and let the owners run the rest of their business and manage their expenses" (ISLANDSPORTSNEWS.net, 9/20). YAHOO SPORTS' Nicholas Cotsonika wrote the "problem is that when the league muzzles the owners and executives ... if one person speaks to one news outlet, it blows up into a much bigger deal than it should be." The owners are "smart enough to know that it is easier to keep up a united front and stay on message if they let only two people do the talking." Cotsonika: "But if the owners are really united, what are they afraid of? That we'll see them for what they are?" (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 9/22).

MORE THAN JUST MONEY: YAHOO SPORTS' Cotsonika in a separate piece wrote the NHL lockout "is about more than money." One team exec said, "This lockout is a bit about philosophy." Cotsonika: "In other words, this is also about power and pride -- the owners showing who's boss, the players standing up for themselves." Agent Ian Pulver, a lawyer for the NHLPA during the '04-05 lockout, said that it "comes down to this: Do the owners really need the concessions they are demanding, or do they just want them?" Pulver said, "If wants trump needs, then this is going to take a long time. What's in it for the players by waiting? Well, fairness." Cotsonika wrote, "Publicly and privately, league and team executives say they definitely need these concession. Seven years of record revenues did not translate into seven years of record profits." The players "know they have already lost -- that it is just a matter of how much they will lose at this point" (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 9/21). In Toronto, Steve Simmons wrote should the lockout extend "into the early months of the season and possibly longer than that, with each missed paycheque the question becomes: What are the players fighting for?" If the players "miss four cheques, for example -- they are paid 13 over the course of most regular seasons -- that's a loss of 30.7% of their season's salary." Simmons: "I'd rather accept a 10% rollback than lose 30.7% now and who knows what else later." The "tapdance" for NHLPA Exec Dir Donald Fehr "is balancing toughness with pragmatism." At what point "does accepting a rollback become less painful financially than continuing the lockout?" The players "have no leverage" (TORONTO SUN, 9/23). In N.Y., Larry Brooks wrote it is "time for the moderate and progressive wings of the NHL Board of Governors to reclaim their league from the extremists who have managed to set the collective bargaining agenda." What seemed "unthinkable over the summer and even up to a week ago, appears not only possible, but probable: The season -- another season -- is going to be canceled." There is "a deal to be had here." A source said that Bettman "has told people he believes the NBA and [Commissioner David] Stern caved in to save the 2011-12 season by giving the players between 49 and 51 percent of basketball revenue." The source added that Bettman "is resolute in his stance against giving more than 48 percent to the union over the life of the next NHL agreement" (N.Y. POST, 9/23).
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