SBD/January 7, 2013/Leagues and Governing Bodies

NHL Open For Business: Winners And Losers Of Tentative CBA Agreement

Former NHLPA Exec Dir Paul Kelly expects "a bit of a drop off" in fan enthusiasm
Several analysts are weighing in on the NHL and NHLPA’s tentative agreement to end the lockout, and in L.A., Helene Elliott writes the “urge to designate a winner has already gone viral, with early returns favoring Commissioner Gary Bettman and the NHL as the victors over Donald Fehr and the NHLPA. … But before we start crunching numbers, it's worth noting the many reasons to say there's really no winner here” (L.A. TIMES, 1/7). Former NHLPA Exec Dir Paul Kelly said, "Hockey's been off the radar and out of the news and off the sports page for a while, and you're in the NFL playoffs. I do think we're going to see a bit of a drop off. The deal that we ended up with is probably the deal that we should've ended up with in August" (WALL STREET JOURNAL, 1/7). Former MSG President & CEO Robert Gutkowski said, "This one went longer than the fans would have hoped for, so there will be some difficult feelings between fans and teams. But, like everything else, people will get over it. Once they start to play, fans can get over the rancor and ownership can move on" (Bergen RECORD, 1/7). N.Y. Daily News columnist Mike Lupica asked of the NHL, “How do these people stay in business operating like this?” (“The Sports Reporters,” ESPN2, 1/6).

WHO WON? In St. Louis, Jeff Gordon writes the NHL “sought to ‘idiot proof’ franchise management with new player contract restrictions.” The new agreement will “make it somewhat more difficult for owners and general managers to mismanage their operation until they figure out the loopholes.” The length of this accord -- 10 years, with an opt-out after eight years -- is “positive for every NHL team” (ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH, 1/7). The GLOBE & MAIL’s David Shoalts writes neither side is “going to rush in to claim victory,” as the damage to the game “is too great.” There was “more anger from the fans and sponsors in this lockout because it was so unnecessary” (GLOBE & MAIL, 1/7). YAHOO SPORTS’ Greg Wyshynski wrote the deal is “a win for the NHL: The cap number won’t mean teams must dismantle their rosters, but there will be some player movement to get teams under that new cap.” In addition, there are “two compliance buyouts -- a.k.a. buyouts per team for next season” (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 1/6). YAHOO SPORTS’ Nicholas Cotsonika reported both sides can “declare victory in relative terms.” But the owners “can say they won because they used their leverage to mine the crown jewels of this negotiation: more money and a more restrictive system.” The players “can say they won because they mitigated their losses, and given their position, that was their goal all along.” The players also “became a real union again” (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 1/6). SI.com’s Stu Hackel wrote it seems that “on many of the final issues, both sides gave in on previously intractable stances.” The players “agreed to the owners’ desire for a 10-year deal, with an opt-out after eight, and the owners agreed to move off their $60 million salary cap for 2013-14.” The deal was reached because of “a few factors,” including the work of Federal Mediation & Conciliation Service Deputy Dir Scot Beckenbaugh, the “threat by the players of disclaiming interest in their union” and the “removal of owners from the process.” In addition, the calendar played a role in reaching a deal (SI.com, 1/6). In Boston, Eric Wilbur writes the players “are at fault here too, but nowhere near the realm of the inept owners.” The NHL is a league “far too big for its britches, with franchises in cities better suited for indoor lacrosse than what hockey delivers” (BOSTON GLOBE, 1/7). Sportsnet’s John Shannon said, "The players are going to feel that they won big and the owners are going to feel they might have given up a little more than they expected” (“NESN Daily,” NESN, 1/6).

CALLING SIDES: In Tampa, Tom Jones names the owners the winners in the deal and writes, “We're talking perhaps a $3 billion swing over the next 10 years. Yeah, that makes the owners the huge winner.” Jones names the players “loser” and writes, “Not only are the players giving back 7 percent of the revenue, they lost about 40 percent of their salaries for this season for not playing.” But it “was not a total whitewash,” as the players “now have a decent pension plan.” Jones names Bettman a “loser” as his “already shaky reputation among players and fans took a serious hit, so serious that it's time for the owners to start searching for a new commissioner.” There is “just too much animosity for him to be an effective leader” (TAMPA BAY TIMES, 1/7). In Illinois, Barry Rozner writes Bettman “got a lot back from the players, but he didn't get anywhere near what he thought when this began.” Bettman “cost the NHL nearly half a season to get a deal he could have had in place six months ago.” If the owners “want to give something back to the fans … they can fire Gary Bettman.” Rozner: “And they can do it today” (Illinois DAILY HERALD, 1/7). CSNNE.com’s Joe Haggerty writes the “only victories the players ended hanging their collective hats on were a pension plan funded by the owners and individual hotel rooms for all NHL veterans that have graduated past their entry-level contract.” Everything else in the deal was “either holding steady or giving back to the league.” Even the “bulk of players still felt they got the best CBA they possibly could without doing irreparable harm to the NHL.” Bruins D Andrew Ference said, “We did the best we could without destroying the sport entirely and without selling out the kids that haven’t even been drafted yet but will play under this CBA. Nobody is going to deny that it’s awful. The negativity directed at our sport is disheartening” (CSNNE.com, 1/7). The GLOBE & MAIL’s Allan Maki writes the players “made gains on pensions, moving from a defined contribution plan to a defined benefits plan” (GLOBE & MAIL, 1/7). In Pittsburgh, Rob Rossi writes under the header, “Players Score Pension Win But Little Else; Owners Gain Financial Relief.” Penguins LW Matt Cooke said, “Our win was the pension plan.” Penguins RW Craig Adams said, “Everything is relative, so you can‘t say there were gains other than pension. But we got (owners) to move off some of their positions” (PITTSBURGH TRIBUNE-REVIEW, 1/7). TSN’s Mike Johnson said although the players won "some of the late battles" on issues related to contracts, the year two salary cap and a pension, "they lost the big war" in the end. Johnson: "There's only one number that really counts and that's the 50/50 because regardless of how you shuffle it around and what contract rights you keep or do not keep, you're only going to get 50 percent of the revenue" (TSN.ca, 1/6). USA TODAY’s Kevin Allen writes the players “gave up plenty, but if revenues continue to grow, their salaries will grow” (USA TODAY, 1/7).

NO FEHR: Webster Univ. sports economics professor Dr. Patrick Rishe said, “The owners won this tussle. That said, Mr. Fehr showed his mettle as a tough negotiator in that the players ended up retaining far more perks than I ever believed they would" (L.A. TIMES, 1/7). Sabres G Ryan Miller said of Don Fehr, “I think Don was great. I know a lot of people were judging him based on baseball but in this situation he did what was right for us.” He added, “He listened and considered our opinion and gave the players all the information available. Part of business at a multi-billion dollar level is to take every advantage you can. There is a lot of misinformation out there about Don but from my side he was honest and professional and he cared” (BUFFALO NEWS, 1/7). HNIC Radio’s Gord Stellick said, “I’ve got to give the players’ association credit that they had the resolve and at the end, Gary Bettman finally gave in the last 16 hours." Stellick: "So Don Fehr’s resolve proved to be good fortune for the players. I also think he got back some respect for the players’ association that was in tatters in 2005 when the last one was over” (CBC.ca, 1/6). CSNNE.com’s Haggerty writes Fehr’s “logical, even-keeled style got under the NHL’s skin and confounded league operatives as they tried to break the union’s will.” Ference said, “Without a shred of a doubt, (Fehr) was a difference-maker. These things might seem simple from the outside, but when you’re in that room going over the details in negotiations his experience was invaluable.” He added, “Without Don I think that a lot of guys would have been sold out for sure. We might have already been playing, but the cost to future (NHL) players would have been astronomical” (CSNNE.com, 1/7). The GLOBE & MAIL’s Jeff Blair writes it was Fehr’s “status as the ultimate hockey outsider, as well as his tactical knowledge, that determined the course of negotiations on a new collective agreement.” Fehr’s reputation was “more than enough to stand up to a ham-handed attempt by ownership’s negotiators to orchestrate a rebellion” (GLOBE & MAIL, 1/7).  Also in Toronto, Rosie DiManno writes the players “gave far more than they got, owners got far less than they sought, but there was nothing noble for either side in the enterprise.” If Fehr can “claim kudos for anything, it was keeping the players together in solidarity, with only a handful of disgruntled bleeps emerging.” DiManno: “Nevertheless, it was a huge price to pay” (TORONTO STAR, 1/7).

THE ROLE OF BETTMAN: The CBC’s Don Cherry tweeted, “For all you people that are going to watch NHL hockey this year, make no mistake about it, you’re watching it because of Gary Bettman…Bettman was the guy that had to pull the trigger whether this was done or not. He saved the season” (EDMONTONJOURNAL.com, 1/6). In Montreal, Jack Todd writes there “has to be a better way.” There is a “better way, if only Bettman and a handful of union-hating owners could have put their egos aside long enough to see it.” Don Fehr “tried to show them, as he demonstrated in baseball, that a partnership between owners and players [is] the way to go.” Todd: “Not for Bettman. This is his way. … Above all, Bettman had set out to mop the floor with Fehr -- and flopped” (Montreal GAZETTE, 1/7). In St. Louis, Jeff Gordon writes perhaps Bettman will retire before the next CBA and "the sport will have real leadership in place.” Gordon: “Maybe, just maybe, the NHL’s cycle of self-destruction will end” (ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH, 1/7). The GLOBE & MAIL’s Bruce Dowbiggin writes the deal “should mark the end" of the Bettman era in the NHL. If there is a “singular failure of his 20-years-plus as commissioner it has been his failure to create a mature relationship with the league’s most valuable asset, its players.” Instead, he and the “hawks in ownership have relied on a sledgehammer approach that finally got them the adversary they deserved: Don Fehr” (GLOBE & MAIL, 1/7). The GLOBE & MAIL’s Jeff Blair wrote the “best thing the NHL owners could do for their fans, frankly, is get rid of Bettman.” It will be Bettman and “his wrong-hand man Daly who are the personification of this lockout, and that’s how it should be.” They were the “public face of a brutish, negotiating strategy” (THEGLOBEANDMAIL.com, 1/6). In N.Y., Larry Brooks writes Bettman “never understood the folly of trying to break Don Fehr the way they and a confluence of events had broken Bob Goodenow as leader of the PA the last time around.” They “refused to recognize that every one of their personal, petty and, more to the point, inaccurate attacks on Fehr’s character served only to energize the players in their commitment to rebuilding their association into a union.” The league’s plan of attack was “fatally flawed.” Brooks: “Owners’ Lockout III was a sports folly of historic proportions” (N.Y. POST, 1/7)

TIME FOR A PARTNERSHIP: USA TODAY’s Allen writes having a 10-year agreement “doesn’t change the basic underlying problem.” The relationship "between the NHL and its players isn’t as friendly as it should be.” The two sides “have to stop talking about a partnership and actually form one,” and it “needs to start with realignment and NHL participation in the 2014 Olympics” (USA TODAY, 1/7). In Boston, Kevin Paul Dupont writes in the "end, the league’s 30 owners got most of what they wanted most -- a far more significant share of the revenue." Of equal "importance now to the game, the industry and the fans, however, is for the two sides for the first time in their history to construct a true, meaningful partnership." For "too long ... players and owners have co-existed in a rancid relationship" (BOSTON GLOBE, 1/7). In Boston, Stephen Harris writes, “Partners don’t do what Bettman & Co. opted to do last July 13 when they made their demands for a new CBA, insisting that the players’ share of hockey revenue drop from 57 percent to 43, along with various other highly damaging changes.” If those with an interest in the NHL “want to know why this work stoppage turned ugly right from the start and lasted so long, look no further than that idiotic initial position taken by the league” (BOSTON HERALD, 1/7). Octagon Hockey agent Allan Walsh said, “Upon review of the key terms of the NHL-NHLPA tentative agreement on a new CBA, one is left to wonder why we lost half a season for this deal." In L.A., Helene Elliott writes, “What's most important now isn't who won or lost but how well they can coexist” (L.A. TIMES, 1/7). CSNBAYAREA.com’s Ray Ratto wrote there is “a lot of collateral damage for what was ultimately a fight about personalities instead of asset division.” Ratto: “In other words, what was largely a waste of everyone’s time.” A power shift “has to happen within the ownership hierarchy, and that the hardliners have to see that being a hardliner costs more money than is saved.” Where this truth leaves Bettman is “an open question,” but Fehr seems “infinitely more stable than any of his predecessors” (CSNBAYAREA.com, 1/6).

WHY AGAIN? In N.Y., Filip Bondy writes it “seems ridiculous in retrospect that this CBA required more than 100 days and cost more than one-third of another NHL season.” There are franchises that have “suffered greatly by this delay, just as they will gain from the concessions made by players.” Bettman and Fehr have “not earned anybody’s trust or respect from this process” (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 1/7). In Detroit, Gregg Krupa writes the owners “prevailed,” but not without a “lot of delay, obstinacy, fractured relationships and tactics galore” (DETROIT NEWS, 1/7). In Toronto, Steve Simmons writes the deal made was “not that far from one Gary Bettman snubbed his nose at months ago,” and the deal “should have been made months ago.” There “didn't have to be a lockout,” and there “didn't have to be a season interrupted.” Simmons: “Instead, we got a fight that everybody lost. The players had to give back. The owners will see league revenues reduced” (TORONTO SUN , 1/7). In Winnipeg, Paul Friesen writes, “They killed almost half the hockey season for this?” (WINNIPEG SUN, 1/7).
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