The National Hockey League and the players’ union met for “an extended run of collective bargaining agreement” talks this week, but did anything productive come out of it? After a fourth straight day of bargaining, the two sides appeared in public frustrated. Apparently they had hit a roadblock, one of seemingly many at this point, after trading proposals back and forth throughout the week.
The word is that the two sides are about $380 million apart at this point with respect to splitting up revenue, which means that they’re very far apart indeed.
“We looked at some of the numbers on the various proposals and we thought we were much closer together on the structure of a deal than the suggestions were,” said NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr. “They [the league] came back to us and said, ‘No, we’re very, very far apart on the structure of a deal.”‘
Once again, the thrust of the issues that divide is pretty elementary: the players’ union wants all existing contracts to be honoured while giving in to the owners’ demands on a reduced share of league revenue. That is the expected concession, but the players will probably not move off of the existing contracts – also known as the “make whole” provision – in the immediate future. They may have to at some point and time, which would essentially mean giving up on contracts that they’d already signed in order to get owners off the hook – again.
“If the notion is that they are honouring all of the contracts and everybody’s going to get paid everything they were supposed to be paid according to the letter of the contracts, it’s of course not true and never has been,” said Fehr. “I don’t quite know where that notion came from.”
The league has been trying to pepper the deal with some of the “make whole” provision, which, in the latest offer, added up to about $221 million in deferred payments.
Of course, the waters have been muddied at this point with the league attempting to paint Fehr as someone who not only doesn’t present the proposals to the players properly but someone who doesn’t want to. Accusations have ranged from Fehr taking forever to get a glass of water to Fehr not properly informing his players, which has “forced the league’s hand” to drag the proposals out before the media.
“Understand that their proposal is made in front of players, in the room, who hear it,” Fehr said in response to allegations that the players weren’t adequately informed. “Owners can’t come to meetings when they want to if they want to hear stuff directly but a player can, at the union’s expense, come here for himself and all the rest of it. That pretty much speaks for itself, I think.”
So where to next?
For one thing, Fehr won’t give up the fight – nor should he, despite some “fans'” claims to the contrary. He’s been hired to do a job and he’s doing it. That’s how this stuff works. And Gary Bettman, love him or loathe him, has also been hired to do his job and he’s doing it. If he can somehow get the owners out of their mess of overspending and hobby farm overindulgence, the owners will love him for it and grant him even more time in his post. Count on it.
The dance will continue and it will perhaps cost the entire season, once again briefly alienating fans whose bark is far worse than their bite. People will return to the game and the hockey community will pick things up and start again, no matter when that is. And when the next lockout happens in a few years – and it will happen – the games will begin again.