Fehr Hopes To Find "Common Ground" With NHL As Talks Resume This Week
NHLPA Exec Dir Don Fehr told reporters on a conference call Friday that he hopes to find “common ground” with the NHL owners in bargaining sessions this week, but indicated that NHL players do not intend to use the agreements that ended the NBA or NFL lockouts last year as a basis for a new CBA. Fehr said, “Players made a proposal last week that we believed was designed to be both forthcoming and to allow us to bridge any gap we may have. ... And I still remain hopeful that that proposal will remain the basis for any discussion as we go forward." Owners and players are scheduled to resume formal bargaining on Wednesday in Toronto. The NHL CBA expires on Sept. 15. As far as comparisons to the NFL and NBA deals, Fehr said, “I think merely because another sport does something doesn’t mean we should do it in hockey any more than we think because baseball does something we should necessarily do it in hockey.” NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly in an e-mail yesterday declined to comment on Fehr’s statements during the conference call, writing, “To the extent we have anything specific to say in response to Don's comments, we will say across the table.” He said the NHL and the NHLPA were in contact over the weekend, but wrote, “The communications this weekend were focused on schedule and meetings for next week” (Liz Mullen, SportsBusiness Journal).
PLAYERS KNOW WHAT THEY'RE GETTING INTO: Fehr on Friday said that the union "remains opposed to the league's proposal that players make significant financial givebacks to promote economic stability among wealthy and have-not franchises in the next collective bargaining agreement." Fehr: "All I can tell you and all I can tell the fans is that nobody on the players' side is talking about stopping the season. Nobody on the players' side is talking about saying we have negotiations up to a date and then that's all" (L.A. TIMES, 8/18). Fehr said that the players "are prepared for the eventuality of an owner's lockout if a new collective bargaining agreement can't be reached." Fehr said, "Players understand what is going on, understand what the issues are and understand how the owners’ proposal will affect them, understand how this compares to what happened seven years ago ... understand that this will affect their lives if we can’t find a way through this in the immediate future." He added, "One of the things the players asked me is, 'Why did we give them what we did the last time if this was going to be the result this time?' One of the things which appears to happen in the capped sports, is no matter what the economic circumstances are claimed to be, whether they are claimed to be losses as we had in basketball this last time, or whether there’s an acknowledgment there are no financial problems, as we had in the NFL this last time, it doesn’t matter. The position is, we have a cap and the cap has to be lowered. That seems to be the case" (AP, 8/17).
STAYING UNIFIED: ESPN.com's Jesse Rogers noted after two days of meeting with players last week, Fehr "declared them as unified as ever." The players "might be winning the public relations battle with the owners, but it's not getting them any closer to a deal." Rogers asked, "Does it really matter to the owners if they lose in that arena but win in the negotiating room?" (ESPN.com, 8/17). CBSSPORTS.com's Adam Gretz noted, "There wasn't much new to come out of the 40-plus minute call, but Fehr continued to point out that the owners are the only ones talking about a work stoppage." Fehr made a point that "just because the other leagues do something doesn't mean that the NHL has to follow in their footsteps." He also pointed out that "with the way hockey related revenue is calculated the NHL deal is (in their view) already close to a 50/50 split." Fehr said, "Let me caution you when you start talking about 50/50 splits. If you start talking about all revenue as opposed to just hockey related revenue the way we calculate it, the players are already at just about 50/50" (CBSSPORTS.com, 8/17).
DEFINING PARTNERSHIP: In Toronto, Terry Koshan wrote fans should not consider the relationship between the NHL and union "as a partnership." Fehr said, "If we are partners, do we have joint control? Do we get to have an equal say on how the marketing is done, how the promotion is done, where the money is invested, where the franchises are located? Do we have an equal say when on teams are sold where the money goes? Do we get part of that? Do we have an equal say on how the television arrangements are done? Do we have an equal say on anything? That’s what a partnership normally implies" (TORONTO SUN, 8/18). YAHOO SPORTS' Harrison Mooney wrote, "Anyone hoping the two sides are on their way towards bridging the gap had best be concerned, because it should be clear by now that, as it stands, they're building two separate bridges." The two sides "can't move on to Step 2 until they can agree on step 1, and Fehr made it clear Friday that the players won't have it be a reduction in player salaries and contract negotiating power" (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 8/17). The CBC's Don Cherry said that he "expects that a lockout will last two months." Cherry: "I'm afraid it looks like two months. Everybody's talking that they're going to be out two months" (QMI AGENCY, 8/18).
DAVID VERSUS GOLIATH: In Columbus, Aaron Portzline wrote, "Small-market owners could find themselves siding with players against the large-market owners, the power-brokers in the league." An NHL player agent said, "I think as many as eight NHL owners would accept the NHLPA's initial proposal. And there's probably four to six others who would find the proposal acceptable enough that they could tweak a couple of things and live with it." However, Portzline noted Bruins Owner Jeremy Jacobs and Flyers Chair & Founder Ed Snider "hold considerable sway with [NHL Commissioner Gary] Bettman and are strongly opposed to revenue-sharing." Those clubs -- along with the Blackhawks, Red Wings, Canadiens, Rangers, Maple Leafs and Canucks -- "would stand to lose the most revenue" (COLUMBUS DISPATCH, 8/19). The NATIONAL POST's Scott Stinson wrote, "The question of what will break the impasse, most likely, will come down to resolve." Stinson: "How much patience will the owners of the high-value franchises have for missing games when the only teams suffering under the current system are a smattering of franchises in lousy markets? On the player side, will they stick to their counter-proposal or be cowed if they start missing paycheques?" The NHL "is trying to lean on them," attempting to "grind concessions out of them, especially once the missed games begin." In other leagues, "the tactic has produced a win." It is "right there in the playbook" (NATIONAL POST, 8/18).
NOT COMPARABLE: In N.Y., Larry Brooks noted it is "true pro basketball and pro football players ultimately agreed to take a smaller piece of their pies, yet the cap remained unchanged in the NBA following that league’s lockout while the cap in the NFL was initially reduced by less than six percent." Neither the NBA nor NFL "demanded its athletes submit to rollbacks of existing contracts, a tactic embraced by NHL owners who apparently regard currency in long-term contracts as equivalent to confederate money." The football and basketball negotiations "have as much or as little relevancy to hockey’s bargaining as does Major League Baseball’s current CBA." But if Bettman "insists on citing the NFL and NBA in an attempt to bolster his own league’s position, he might at least want to do so in a more comprehensive, and I dare say, more honest manner" (N.Y. POST, 8/19). In Ft. Worth, Mac Engel wrote, "You may not be sympathetic to the players, but unlike in 2004-05, no one should believe the league any more." This is "another money grab, which as owners is their right." To "suggest otherwise is preposterous" (STAR-TELEGRAM.com, 8/17). In Raleigh, Luke DeCock wrote, “If the last lockout was a necessary alteration in the game’s basic financial structure … the lockout that’s a month away from kicking off is about pure greed.” There is an “agreement to be made, one that addresses the problems facing the game and helps franchises like the Hurricanes.” At this point, the NHL “has made it clear it isn’t interested in making that agreement” (Raliegh NEWS & OBSERVER, 8/18).
WILL FANS FORGIVE AND FORGET? In Montreal, Stu Cowan wrote, “To me it looks like Bettman is banking on two things: 1. That the players, who already lost a year’s salary in the last lockout, will cave after missing a few paycheques this time; 2. That fans in hockey markets like Montreal will be willing to forgive and forget again after a lockout” (Montreal GAZETTE, 8/17). Also in Montreal, Jack Todd wrote, "You get the feeling that Bettman loves his lockouts.” Bettman has presented “an entire irrational plan, one the NHL players’ association would be mad to accept.” There is “no rationale whatsoever for the coming lockout.” But Fehr “has a hammer: Jan. 1. New Year’s Day, 2013.” Young: “Bettman wants that game. NBC wants that game. The owners want that game. How much do they want it? That’s what Fehr has to find out” (Montreal Gazette, 8/19). In New Jersey, Tom Gulitti wrote Fehr is "doing a pretty good job … of distancing himself from the negatives of his baseball past.” Instead of seeing it “as Bettman vs. Fehr, fans saw the game’s biggest stars” making it “Bettman vs. the players” (NORTHJERSEY.com, 8/18).