SBD/November 2, 2012/Leagues and Governing Bodies

NHL Lockout, Day 48: League, Union Talk As Decision Day For Winter Classic Arrives

The NHL is "leaning towards canceling" the Winter Classic Friday, however, Day 47 of the lockout passed Thursday with NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly and NHLPA Special Counsel Steve Fehr "continuing their renewed dialogue," according to Rob Rossi of the PITTSBURGH TRIBUNE-REVIEW. Neither the NHL nor the NHLPA provided details of the discussions. But Daly "described talks Wednesday as 'substantive' and union officials expressed guarded optimism about a possible return to the negotiation table." A "shrewd negotiation" of the $3M contract with the Univ. of Michigan will "limit the NHL’s financial responsibility if the Winter Classic is canceled Friday." The contract for the Classic was signed Feb. 8, and it calls for "an NHL payment of $250,000 Friday." However, the contract was "worded so that the NHL will owe only $100,000 if the outdoor game is canceled before or by Friday" (PITTSBURGH TRIBUNE-REVIEW, 11/2). In Buffalo, John Vogl notes the "main factors in a Winter Classic cancellation could be logistical as opposed to financial." There are "tens of thousands of fans to think of, including those with airplane and hotel reservations during a holiday weekend." The NHL treats the game "as a first-class event," so the league "might not want to compromise the brand by hastily throwing it together if a collective bargaining agreement is reached" (BUFFALO NEWS, 11/2).

STEP IN THE WRONG DIRECTION: USA TODAY's Kevin Allen writes the pending cancellation of the Winter Classic "should be a reminder that the NHL is much closer to the season blowing up than anticipated during the summer." Both sides "need to pause the blame game long enough to give thought to how to resolve this mess before the button gets pushed." Maybe it is "time for owners and players to reflect sincerely on the damage being done to the game and the financial pain being inflicted on those in no position to tolerate it" (USA TODAY, 11/2). THE HOCKEY NEWS' Adam Proteau wrote if the NHL "chooses to cancel its Winter Classic event this week, it will mark a new low for a league that has become an expert in public relations excavations." All the momentum the NHL "has built with this product will be balled up and pitched into the trash the moment they mothball it." The Winter Classic "would have drawn more than 100,000 people to Michigan Stadium." Proteau: "We're talking about a significant financial infusion to a Detroit-area economy that has been battered as badly as any American city. We're talking about two Original Six teams that have so many devoted followers, there was scheduled to be an unprecedented two NHL alumni games" (THEHOCKEYNEWS.com, 11/1).

HOW TO SAVE FACE: In St. Louis, Jeff Gordon writes NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman "missed a glorious opportunity to rewrite his legacy." Bettman "blew his chance to shed his label as the Architect of Doom." By avoiding a "prolonged and destructive labor standoff, he could have propelled the league forward toward great relevance in the U.S. sports marketplace." By guiding the owners "through more peaceful negotiations for a new collective bargaining agreement, he could have built upon his many successes in recent years." Instead, hockey lovers are "lamenting the latest NHL shutdown and the looming cancellation of the season’s Winter Classic." This opportunity lost "would add another black mark on Bettman's permanent record and remind everybody he is still running a Garage League" (ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH, 11/2). In Detroit, Gregg Krupa writes among the "first orders of business in burnishing the NHL brand ought to be a 2014 Winter Classic exactly as planned for 2013." The "lure of the events planned is so strong in two countries that anything less in 2014 will be recalled as a betrayal of hockey fans from Detroit to Toronto." There may be "little alternative" to canceling the '13 event as soon as Friday, even though the cancellation "also serves Bettman and the owners as a bargaining chip." But to cancel it "without the simultaneous announcement that NHL officials will extend every effort to bring the same events to Detroit and Ann Arbor for the 2014 Winter Classic would be a grave error" (DETROIT NEWS, 11/2).

COME TO THE TABLE: In N.Y., Larry Brooks notes the NHLPA's conference call on Thursday that "included up to 100 participants was less a campaign rally than an informational exercise in which the athletes implored union leadership to continue to request face-to-face meetings with the NHL in an effort to end the lockout that has reached 48 days without an end in sight." Rangers G Martin Biron after the call said, "It’s critical that we have open lines of communication with the league. We need to meet and be able to discuss all of the issues that stand between us" (N.Y. POST, 11/2). Lightning RW B.J. Crombeen said, "We want to get a deal done, but it's very, very frustrating. What's just as frustrating as that is them telling the fans they want the game back, they're working as hard as they can, but they won't even meet with us. They won't even talk with us on anything." He added, "I personally don't think it's a major gap. It's not like that last time when there was a salary cap coming. There's obviously differences, there's some things, but I'm fairly certain if they were willing to negotiate something could get done fairly quickly" (TAMPABAY.com, 11/1). 

DEJA VU? Coyotes G Mike Smith said, "The way the NHL is working right now is they're following everything by what the NBA did, and that's no surprise to us. If they really wanted an 82-game schedule and they cared about the fans like the players do, I think they would have came with that proposal before they went so far away from the players that it took them a month to get back to the point they're at now." He added, "Gary, obviously, he says he cares about the fans but in reality, if he cared about the fans that much he wouldn't keep taking away from the players to try to put more money in the owners' pockets" (AZCENTRAL.com, 11/1). 

SOLUTION ORIENTED: ESPN.com's Pierre LeBrun noted Federal Mediation & Conciliation Service Dir George Cohen mentioned in an e-mail that he "had been in contact with both parties in the NHL-NHLPA negotiations." Daly in an e-mail responded, "We have both separately been in touch with the FMCS at various points during this process. So far, I think we all have been in agreement that we didn't think that the introduction of a mediator into the process was timely or that it would necessarily further the process. That may change at some point, but it hasn't yet." A union spokesperson said that the NHLPA has "had 'occasional' contact with the FMCS since July" (ESPN.com, 11/1). In Toronto, Kevin McGran writes, "The path to NHL labour peace -- and a chance to save the season -- is an idea that only number crunchers could love: a cap on escrow." NHLPA Special Assistant to the Exec Dir Mathieu Schneider on Thursday said, "If they’re willing to cap escrow, there’s something to talk about. That would definitely be a step toward our direction, but that hasn’t been discussed.” Daly said, "The comment (from Schneider) is news to me, but the concept isn’t. The subject has never been raised across the table to us, either in the form of a proposal or otherwise. It’s just another way of addressing the ‘make-whole’ issue" (TORONTO STAR, 11/2). 

FROM PARLIAMENT HILL: Senators Owner Eugene Melnyk said that corporate sponsorship "has not deserted his Ottawa team" during the lockout, and "neither have the fans." Melnyk: "Our season fan base, I could probably count on a couple of hands, of how many people asked for their money back. (The rest) said leave it there. All around, everybody's just being very, very supportive and are sticking with us, other than a few choice people. We've done extremely well on the corporate sponsorship side, in most areas" (OTTAWA SUN, 11/2). Meanwhile, in Ottawa, Warren & Gordon note Melnyk "broke the NHL’s internal policy against individual team personnel speaking about the on-going NHL lockout and collective bargaining agreement negotiations during a Wednesday interview" on Toronto's CJCL-AM. Melnyk, among other comments, said, “We should be playing hockey by now. Everybody knows it, and we’re not.” Daly in an e-mail wrote, "The league has a long-standing policy against club personnel speaking on collective bargaining matters.” However, Daly said that the league "employs 'discretion' and 'common sense' in determining whether specific comments cross the line." He said that the league will "remind Melynk of the policy, but so far, the Senators owner has not been fined or disciplined." Warren & Gordon note if Melnyk "is fined or even slapped on the wrist, it won’t be made public" (OTTAWA CITIZEN, 11/2).
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