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Opinion: Bettman Calls for “Time Out”

Nearly nine weeks into the lockout, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman is calling for a two week moratorium on the collective bargaining agreement talks. This came after the boss received a call from NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr stating that there was really nowhere else to go and little movement expected from the current stalemate.

After hearing Bettman’s suggestion of the two week break from talks, Fehr said that he would run the idea by the players. The NHLPA has repeatedly stated its intentions of keeping the meetings going, even if they appear to be going nowhere, and there’s little to suggest that they plan to back down from that.

“We believe that it is more likely that we will make progress if we meet than if we don’t,” NHLPA special counsel Steve Fehr said. “So we are ready to meet. If indeed they do not want to meet, it will be at least the third time in the last three months that they have shut down the dialogue, saying they will not meet unless the players meet their preconditions. What does that tell you about their interest in resolving this?”

There is a lot of distrust and ugliness floating around the proceedings, to say the least, and the NHL has been doing their best to drive a wedge between the players’ union executive director and the players. This is par for the course, as anyone who’s followed these sorts of labour negotiations knows, and the league is playing their cards well enough.

The hiring of Luntz Global, outlined previously, also speaks to their tenor of their tactics. They’ve been trying to play the PR game more than they’ve been trying to play the negotiation game – and it’s worked out alright for them, in part because they know they’ll get the player concessions anyway. If they can come out with the fanbase largely thinking of the players as greedy, so much the better.

As NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly has frequently stated, the NHLPA “simply hasn’t done anything substantive” in moving this process along. That’s a pretty good way to suggest that the “other side” is a lame duck, even when the facts don’t line up.

Witness Daly’s remarks from Thursday night (emphasis added): “We are extremely disappointed in where we and the players find ourselves. And from our perspective, we have made repeated moves in the players’ direction with absolutely no reciprocation.  Unfortunately, we have determined we are involved with union leadership that has no genuine interest in reaching an agreement. Regardless of what we propose, or how we suggest to compromise the answer is ‘no.’ At some point you just have to say ‘enough is enough.’”

To live in Daly’s universe is apparently to believe that the only way “union leadership” would have a “genuine interest” in reaching agreement would be to just take a bloody deal and move on. The league is using the blunt instrument of rhetoric to try to paint Fehr and Co. like they are doing a disservice. The reality is that the union negotiators are doing their jobs. Period.

So maybe a break will do the two sides some good. Bettman will have time to cool his Transylvanian head, for one thing, and that’s a big plus. Everyone else will have the opportunity to get back to a little place called reality.

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