SBD/November 19, 2012/Leagues and Governing Bodies

NHL Lockout, Day 65: CBA Talks To Resume Amid Rumors Owners' Stances May Be Shifting

Negotiations between the NHL and NHLPA "are scheduled to resume" today in N.Y. "amid indications that ownership's solid front may be cracking," according to Jeff Klein of the N.Y. TIMES. On the league side, the talks "are expected to include" Commissioner Gary Bettman and Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly, "as well as some owners," including the Bruins’ Jeremy Jacobs. Expected on the union side are Exec Dir Donald Fehr and Special Counsel Steve Fehr, "as well as some players" (N.Y. TIMES, 11/19). A union spokesperson "declined to say if anything new will be brought to the table" (GLOBE & MAIL, 11/19). In Winnipeg, Gary Lawless spoke one-on-one with Bettman and asked what changed his mind from wanting a two-week break from negotiations to agreeing to meet today. Bettman said, "Don called me on Tuesday to have a conversation. It wasn't a negotiation. It was nothing more than a simple conversation. In the course of that conversation he said he didn't know what to do or how to proceed. I said maybe we should take a little downtime, a couple of weeks, especially since we just had five sessions in six days and nothing was produced. In light of that fact he didn't know how to proceed, I said that as a suggestion. He gave it a long pause and then said, 'I don't think so.' I said OK. So this notion that we proposed a moratorium is nothing more than union rhetoric" (WINNIPEG FREE PRESS, 11/19).

SNIDER ISSUES IMMEDIATE DENIAL: Flyers Chair Ed Snider released a statement late Saturday that refuted a report that he had grown concerned with the league's negotiating strategy, saying, "An article appearing in today's Philadelphia Daily News is absolutely erroneous." Daily News Exec Sports Editor Chuck Bausman in response said, "We stand by our story" (PHILLY.com, 11/19). Bettman yesterday said of the report, "It was a fabrication. Ed Snider is the one who told me about the article when he found out about it and he was terribly upset. He's in Europe and it was his idea to put out a statement. Anyone who doubts the resolve of ownership is either uninformed or (being) intentionally misleading" (WINNIPEG FREE PRESS, 11/19). The N.Y. TIMES' Klein notes, "Long known as a hard-liner, Snider said he remained 'a solid supporter' of Bettman" (N.Y. TIMES, 11/19).

CHANGING TIDES IN OWNERSHIP?
Snider's statement was in response to Frank Seravalli's original report that stated behind the scenes, there "seems be a seismic shift going on among the NHL's Board of Governors," the group that Bettman answers to collectively, and Snider "may be the big mover-and-shaker behind it all." Sources on Friday said that Snider, once seen "as a supporter of Bettman's push to rein in the players' share of revenue, has soured on the process after it became apparent that a deal would not be brokered in time for a Dec. 1 puck drop." Snider and the rest of the NHL's owners "were promised a big win by Bettman, with player concessions on revenue division and contracting rights." The best they will "get now is a small win in revenue split -- coupled with a demoralized fan base and all-important corporate sponsors that are ready to quit." A source familiar with Snider's thinking characterized it as, "If this is the deal we are going to get, what's the point of dragging this out?" Sources on Friday "indicated Snider's 'strong discontent'" for Jacobs, a "big-market owner who has been one of the lockout's ringleaders." There seems to be "some thinking that the Flyers are interested in teaming up with the midmarket but high-revenue Pittsburgh Penguins to sway more governors toward a swift resolution." The Rangers also are "viewed as anti-lockout." A source said that the Flyers' top-level execs "presented their own proposal for the collective-bargaining agreement nearly 3 weeks ago." It remains "unclear whether their proposal was the engine behind the league's progress last week." The Flyers also have "proposed the use of a high-profile mediator to help smooth things out" (PHILADELPHIA DAILY NEWS, 11/17).

OWNERS STARTING TO SPLIT? The GLOBE & MAIL's David Shoalts notes more than one NHL governor "pointed out it is almost impossible for the moderates to gain control." While Bettman needs "only eight of 30 votes to turn down a proposal for a collective agreement from the NHLPA, it would take 23 to force him to accept one." The governors said that the "opinions in their ranks are so split neither the hardliners nor the moderates could rally 23 votes" (GLOBE & MAIL, 11/19). ESPN BOSTON's James Murphy wrote there are "increasing whispers that moderates on both sides would much rather come to an agreement than see another NHL season go down the drain." However, the "problem is, these moderates are not at the negotiating table and their opinions don't seem to be driving the talks." It is time for "the voices of reason to step forward now and add some substance" to the bargaining process (ESPNBOSTON.com, 11/17). In N.Y., Larry Brooks wrote the league’s "agenda is being plotted all but exclusively" by Bettman and Jacobs. Flames Owner Murray Edwards was "at one point silenced by Bettman just a moment after Jacobs leaned over and whispered into the commissioner’s ear" (N.Y. POST, 11/18).

STILL SORTING OUT THE ECONOMICS: The GLOBE & MAIL's Shoalts in a separate piece cited one NHL owner as saying that he is "willing to risk cancelling the season rather than sign what he considers a bad collective agreement." The owner added that he is "well aware he is losing fans every day ... but simply cannot agree to a deal he thinks would make it impossible for him to turn a profit" (GLOBE & MAIL, 11/17). In Ottawa, Bruce Garrioch cites sources as saying that Bettman has "been instructed by the owners not to go any further in negotiations with the players." He "doesn't have any wiggle room after putting a 50-50 deal on the table last month." A source said, "(Bettman) is done. Pointless to pretend (he's going to go any further) and give false hope" (OTTAWA SUN, 11/17). In Minneapolis, Michael Russo cites a series of charts that the NHL presented the NHLPA "based off the union's most recent economic proposal." Russo wrote, "If you look at the NHL's numbers, you can see why the league says the NHL and NHLPA aren't as close on a core economic model" as Fehr indicated last Friday night. What all these numbers "prove at the very least is that the longer this lockout goes, the harder the math equation will be to solve" (STARTRIBUNE.com, 11/16). Bettman yesterday said of the gulf between the two sides, "There seems to be a fundamental disagreement on many of the core issues. We have proposed a 50-50 split of HRR which has not been agreed to." He added, "What's in this deal for the players? Give or take $14 billion over the next seven years" (WINNIPEG FREE PRESS, 11/19).

UNION STANDS BEHIND FEHR: CSNNE.com's Joe Haggerty wrote those "demonizing Fehr as some kind of NHLPA pied piper with a bunch of unwitting followers is pretty far from reality." Bruins LW Shawn Thornton said, "I've heard (Fehr) say to people 'that's not good enough, we have to move these numbers if we want to get a deal done.' At the end of the day (Fehr) wants to get a deal done" (CSNNE.com, 11/16). In Newark, Charles Curtis noted the players "seem pleased with the job being done" by Fehr. Rangers RW Marion Gaborik on Friday said, "Our union is much stronger. We have a great leader, we believe in him and believe the deal is going to be done and that it's a fair deal" (NJ.com, 11/17). In Toronto, Steve Simmons wrote, "If I'm an NHL player about to lose my fourth cheque -- that's four of 13 they get -- my question for Donald Fehr remains the same: What is Plan B?" (TORONTO SUN, 11/18). The N.Y. POST's Brooks reported the option of "decertifying as a union was presented to the players in at least a quasi-formal fashion for the first time on Wednesday during a conference call that was open to the full membership of the NHLPA." Don and Steve Fehr "outlined three options for the players in the face of the NHL’s ongoing militancy as follows, and in no particular order: 1) Decertification; 2) Capitulation; 3) Continued negotiations in an attempt to end the owners’ lockout." Sources said that few players "expressed interest in opening Doors 1 or 2." Rather, an "overwhelming number of players on the call directed union leadership to continue on the path through Door No. 3" (N.Y. POST, 11/18).

POWER STRUGGLES: The GLOBE & MAIL's Eric Duhatschek wrote when the office of the NHLPA president "disappeared in the restructuring, the dynamic of the negotiations also changed." Fehr hired his brother Steve "as his No. 2 and suddenly, there are no opportunities for any back channel talks." It is a "development that is frustrating the league to no end, one of the many changes the NHL didn't give enough weight to when the process started back in July, when it fired its first CBA volley." The players have "decided just to trust Fehr for guidance on when they might make their best possible deal, without sacrificing a full season." Duhatschek: "When will that moment come? Will it ever come?" (GLOBE & MAIL, 11/17). The PHILADELPHIA DAILY NEWS' Seravalli in a separate piece writes Fehr and Bettman "are so used to winning that they have never really ever met an equal on such a big stage." They have "kept each other guessing." It is a "perplexing situation to watch them continuously dig deeper into their playbooks." These "headstrong personalities at the top have both sides struggling for progress." Players are "rallying around Bettman's actions and not Fehr's leadership." It is a "full-on power struggle" (PHILADELPHIA DAILY NEWS, 11/19).

PLAYERS PERPLEXED BY BETTMAN: Jets D Mark Stuart on Friday said, "A break right now sounds ridiculous to me. ... There are probably tactics to everything. I'm sure it's part of some kind of strategy" (WINNIPEG SUN, 11/17). Rangers C Brad Richards on Friday said, "We've been going for a while and then for Gary to come up with a comment about another two weeks off, is mind-boggling, to be honest with you." Rangers RW Ryan Callahan said, "It doesn't make sense to me" (ESPNNY.com, 11/17). Red Wings D Ian White on Friday said, "I gotta be honest: I personally think [Bettman's] an idiot. Since he's come in, I think he's done nothing but damage the game." He added, "There's just absolutely no need to be missing games and doing this kind of damage" (USATODAY.com, 11/17). YAHOO SPORTS' Nicholas Cotsonika reported Bettman suggested the two-week moratorium after the league "heard Fehr had told players in a conference call that the owners' 'date' was Dec. 1." Cotsonika wrote, "Even if Bettman wanted to show the players that the owners have no 'date' -- let alone a date of Dec. 1 -- this came off as a desperate attempt not to look desperate." This was a "transparent attempt to put pressure on the players" (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 11/16). Bettman yesterday said, "By the way, I love the players. Nobody should think for a moment that I don't. If I didn't I wouldn't do this job. I couldn't do this job" (WINNIPEG FREE PRESS, 11/19).

COSTLY DO-OVER: GRANTLAND’s Bill Simmons wrote Bettman “should have lost his job years and years ago.” Bettman's “supernatural ability to keep ruining hockey is almost unparalleled.” Simmons: “The case against Bettman in one sentence: The NHL sacrificed an entire season so they could reimagine their entire salary structure … and only seven years later, that ‘reimagining’ went so poorly that they might have to sacrifice a second season because they need a mulligan” (GRANTLAND.com, 11/16).

SCHEDULING NIGHTMARE: In Boston, Fluto Shinzawa noted during the lockout, "a person with one of the most challenging tasks" is NHL Senior VP/Scheduling & Broadcasting Steve Hatze Petros. Each team "regularly updates him with arena schedules, which change during the lockout as events such as concerts, rodeos and speaking engagements fill in dark dates." If a shortened season is "possible, the NHL's priorities are to maintain intraconference play to promote playoff races and give its national broadcast partners (CBC, NBC, TSN, RDS) their preferred games" (BOSTON GLOBE, 11/18). In Columbus, Aaron Portzline noted the NHL is "likely to axe All-Star weekend -- Jan. 26-27 in Nationwide Arena -- when the next cluster of games are canceled." Logistics "aside, there is a growing sense -- in Columbus and around the NHL -- that even if a season could be spared, it would be best for all parties if the game were canceled and promised to the Blue Jackets at a later date, most likely 2015" (DISPATCH.com, 11/18).

ALIENATING THE FANS: In Philadelphia, Sam Carchidi wrote, “I'm not so sure fans are going to flock back if the NHL returns. In fact, if I'm reading this correctly, the owners and players are going to have a lot less revenue to divide because ticket sales are going to drop significantly” (PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER, 11/18). In New Jersey, Tom Gulitti wrote “irreparable damage is being done” during the lockout. Gulitti: “What sponsor would commit long-term dollars to a business in which management and labor can’t get along well enough to avoid a lengthy work stoppage every time their CBA expires? Some fans may never come back” (Bergen RECORD, 11/17). In Boston, Bob Ryan wrote, “This is the thing about owners, you see. They don’t give a damn. By that, I mean they don’t really give a damn about the players and they certainly don’t give a damn about the fans. Are there occasional conspicuous exceptions? Well, yeah. But not many, not when it comes to any interference with the bottom line.” There is “no seeming end to the owners’ duplicity.” Ryan wrote of Fehr, “Don’t these people know whom they’re dealing with? … The owners clearly have no respect for him whatsoever, and by extension that means they have no respect for the players or the fans” (BOSTON GLOBE, 11/18).
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