SBD/October 8, 2012/Leagues and Governing Bodies

NHL Lockout, Day 23: League, Union Met Friday, Expect To Continue Talks This Week

NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly wrote in an e-mail that the league and NHLPA "met Friday at the union offices in Toronto," according to Pierre LeBrun of ESPN.com. Daly "was joined by" Commissioner Gary Bettman in the meeting with NHLPA Exec Dir Donald Fehr and Special Counsel Steve Fehr. Daly said that there was "nothing more to report." Sources said that during Friday's meeting, the NHL "strongly urged the NHLPA to come up with a new proposal." The sources added that the NHLPA "also asked the league to come up with a new proposal." The meeting came a day after the NHL canceled the opening two weeks of the regular season and "was not announced to the media" (ESPN.com, 10/6). The CP's Chris Johnston noted a union spokesperson said that the two sides "met in both the morning and afternoon in an effort 'to move this process forward' ... and they are expected to keep in touch by phone over the coming days." Johnston noted both sides "seemed optimistic that another negotiating session would be scheduled" for this week (CP, 10/5). In N.Y., Pat Leonard wrote in a "refreshing shift, both sides released nearly identical statements after Friday’s meeting that displayed no emotion or rancor, containing the simple but consistent message that they had resumed meetings and planned to continue talking" (NYDAILYNEWS.com, 10/5). The AP reports a union spokesperson said that the sides are "likely to meet Wednesday and Thursday in New York" (AP, 10/8).

WHO WILL MAKE THE NEXT MOVE? In Ottawa, Bruce Garrioch writes as the lockout "enters its fourth week with no solution on the horizon, a question is quietly being whispered: When are we going to see cracks in the armour?" The belief is "not everybody on the NHL's board of governors is happy the league is in the midst of its third lockout in 20 years -- all with Bettman at the helm -- and he's getting some heat to try to find a solution." A league source said, "My guess is you've got about 10 teams that are pretty nervous right now. But (Bettman) has the power of the executive committee behind him." The source added, "The dissenters are being quiet and waiting to see how far (Bettman) can (make) Fehr go" (OTTAWA SUN, 10/8). Sharks D Dan Boyle said, "It's a certain group of teams that are controlling 30 others. It doesn't make any sense to me that eight teams can control the fate of 22 other ones." He added, "But the eight guys ... what if there are 22 teams out there that want to play right now? How do eight teams control their fate? That bothers me the most" (QMI AGENCY, 10/5). Player agent Neil Abbott said, "It's a miscalculation by the owners if they think we're going to fold quickly. I just don't see it." In Boston, Kevin Paul Dupont wrote Bettman has "perfected the art of closing ranks and buttoning mouths among his billionaire employers." But it will be "nearly impossible" for Fehr to "keep his side as focused or as tightlipped." The players are "far more informed than they were under Bob Goodenow 7-8 years ago, but they are still individual contractors, many with families, all with bills to pay, and all with expiration dates on their careers." The owners are "hoping that Thursday's action is the first step in making the players feel the pain, then acquiesce to their demands." Abbott said, "At some point, you have to wonder about ownership's good-faith bargaining" (BOSTON GLOBE, 10/7).

TOUGH TALK
: Capitals D Karl Alzner said, "We know we're going to have to take a hit. It's just how big of a hit we need to take." He added, "No one wants to lose the negotiation. We understand we're definitely not going to win it" (CSNWASHINGTON.com, 10/5).  In Toronto, Dave Feschuk wrote under the header, "Going For Broke In Standoff With Owners Likely To Cost Players" (TORONTO STAR, 10/6). The GLOBE & MAIL's Roy MacGregor wrote the players "have to 'win' this time." They have "a score to even and ... are not budging from their initial stance." The league is saying the players are "not even counter-offering in the usual spirit of difficult labour negotiations" (GLOBE & MAIL, 10/6).

THINGS ARE DIFFERENT THIS TIME AROUND: QMI AGENCY's Chris Stevenson wrote there is a "sense this time is way different and it would seem to be a presumptuous assumption the fans will be there the way they were in 2005." The longer the lockout "drags on, the better the chances fans will stay away this time" (QMI AGENCY, 10/5). The GLOBE & MAIL's Bruce Dowbiggin writes the NHL "knows its approval ratings with sponsors, TV networks and fans are more vulnerable this lockout than in 2004-05." Sources said that the NHL "did tracking on whom fans supported in the last lockout, and the result was 60 per cent for owners, 25 per cent for players and 15 for neither side." Dowbiggin: "Safe to say, however, that the league has had greater problems selling its message on changing revenue models this time out." But the players "remain as unpopular as ever in many quarters" (GLOBE & MAIL, 10/8). SPORTING NEWS' Jesse Spector wrote under the header, "If Owners Are Thinking Big Picture, Where Does TV Contract Fit?" Even if there is no NHL season, NBC "still will pay the league $200 million -- and then get a free season on the back end of the deal, in 2021-22." Spector: "Shouldn't that free season be a concern if the owners are thinking about the big picture? Conventional wisdom would say absolutely, but don't be so sure" (SPORTINGNEWS.com, 10/5).

VOICE FOR THE PLAYERS: The TORONTO STAR's Feschuk profiled Octagon Hockey Dir Allan Walsh, who "currently represents a long list of well-known players," from Penguins G Marc-Andre Fleury to Sharks RW Martin Havlat. But he is "perhaps best known as an irrepressible voice on Twitter, where his frequent posts are always interesting and often controversial." Walsh during the lockout "has been his usual vociferous self." Havlat said, "A lot of people like him for it and a lot of people hate him for it. He does anything to help his players. And now he’s helping the whole union and all of the players with his comments (on Twitter). He’s always honest. He speaks from his heart, and he doesn’t care what anybody thinks. Sometimes when you say the truth publicly, you’re hurting a lot of people. ... Sometimes the truth hurts.” Walsh said, "I want to make sure lines don’t get crossed and people don’t mistake the fact -- ‘Hey, if Allan Walsh is saying it, that must be the official PA position.’ Because there’s actually been very little communication between me and the PA about anything I may tweet. But at the end of the day, it’s no secret where my allegiances lie” (TORONTO STAR, 10/5).

BETTMAN'S LEADERSHIP STYLE: The GLOBE & MAIL's David Shoalts writes under the header, "Like Him Or Loathe Him, Bettman Brings Brains To Bear." Nowhere in the "frustration or in any of the other critical assessments of Bettman’s handling of the lockout is there any suggestion the commissioner doesn’t know what he is doing." As many a "hockey man or would-be hockey man from Bob Goodenow to [former RIM co-CEO] Jim Balsillie discovered, you trifle with Bettman at your peril." Maple Leafs President & GM Brian Burke said, “When I worked for the league we would say about a guy, ‘He’s smart but he’s not Bettman-smart.'" Former MLSE President & CEO Richard Peddie said, “The profile of any leader is they’re all very aggressive and assertive. And Gary would be high on that scale of assertiveness. But [NBA Commissioner] David Stern comes off a lot more aggressive than Gary Bettman, a lot more.” Shoalts notes Peddie’s "only complaint about Bettman’s leadership, aside from impatience with governors who do ask a lot of questions, is a reluctance to go into great detail about the league’s financial problems such as the Phoenix Coyotes" (GLOBE & MAIL, 10/8).

BETTMAN'S INFLUENCE: The TORONTO STAR's Feschuk writes in "most scenarios Bettman only needs the consent of eight owners to veto any agreement." It is "no wonder, then, that Bettman’s hawkish anti-union base often gets its way while the let’s-just-play moderates in Toronto and New York and Montreal get ignored." A "decent argument" can be made that Bettman "has seen his annual salary balloon to $7.8 million simply because he has figured out how to rule unchallenged at the head of a mutual admiration society" (TORONTO STAR, 10/8). In L.A., Tom Hoffarth noted author Jonathan Gatehouse has a new biography titled "The Instigator: How Gary Bettman Remade the NHL and Changed the Game Forever." Hoffarth asked if Bettman is "the right guy to 'carry on' and lead the league another 20 years." Gatehouse said, "If Gary Bettman wins this lockout -- which I'm convinced he will -- he's emperor for life. Whether he's the right guy to carry on will be immaterial. The owners respect money and he's made them plenty." He added, "I came to respect and even admire him in some ways. He's a smart guy and he has a really difficult job." Gatehouse said what he wants readers to take away most from his book is to "have a better understanding of how much influence Bettman has had on hockey -- the product on the ice, the way it's marketed and broadcast, even where it's played. It's really Gary's game now" (L.A. DAILY NEWS, 10/7).

WANING IN POPULARITY? Comcast SportsNet Chicago’s Gail Fischer said, “You can tell the popularity of a sport by how much the fans are clamoring during a lockout, which we saw with the NFL and the NBA a little bit. I’m not hearing a whole lot of grumbling right now from fans” (“Chicago Tribune Live,” Comcast SportsNet Chicago, 10/5). CBS Sports Network’s Jim Rome said of the NHL lockout, “We actually are talking more about it right now because they’re not playing it than we would be if they were playing.” SI's Andy Staples said hockey is the “best in-person spectator sport," but it is a "terrible TV sport, and all the money is in TV contracts." Staples: "Until the owners figure that out and make a CBA that they can handle and stop spending so much and save them from themselves, this is going to happen” (“Rome,” CBS Sports Network, 10/5).
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