Friday, November 30, 2012

The lockout drags on and owner fracturing, but first, Bettman has an idea

NHL Commish, Gary Bettman came up with an idea that may or may not be better than taking two weeks off from negotiating.

It's been 75 days since the lockout started. The two sides agreed to federal mediation in an effort to get the process moving again. After only two days, it was all for naught as, "the presiding mediators," said Deputy Commish, Bill Daly, "concluded that the parties remained far apart, and that no progress toward a resolution could be made through further mediation at this point in time."

Not that anyone really believed that it would/could work. But it was a shot.

About the only thing to come out of it, as first tweeted by ESPNNewYork's Katie Strang, was Bettman suggesting that the owners and players, without league or union representatives present, get together in an effort to get negotiations going.

It's a very interesting scenario with a multitude of possibilities, like:  Roman Hamrlik and Michal Neuvirth facing off against Ted Leonis and Craig Leipold only to have Hamrlik and Neuvirth capitulaing on the next contract saying, "OK, not only will we give you what you want this contract, but to set up the next one for you; in the final year the NHLPA will go to 45% HRR and accept free agency at age 30. So can we please play now?"

--Or Sidney Crosby and Mario Lemieux getting together. "Hey Sid," says Mario, "do you believe this?" "Yeah, dad. What the hell? You think mom would mind if I borrowed the family jet?"

--Or Dave Bolland and Jeremy Jacobs in a winner-take-all, UCF-style cage match.

Now that would be entertainment.

The NHLPA would be wise to say, "Thanks, but, ah, no thanks." The players, all 700-plus are still unified, except for a few. Why would they want to risk further fractioning, however minimal?

On the owners side, however, some cracks may be starting to form.

About two weeks ago there was a report that Philadelphia Flyers Chariman Ed Snider, once considered one of the "hardliners" for the owners, was characterized as saying, "If this is the deal we are going to get, what's the point of dragging this out?"

Of course the owners are under a strict gag order from the commish with up to a $1M fine for speaking their mind concerning the lockout. Jimmy Develano of Detroit was  fined $250K for "neither constructive nor helpful" comments early in the lockout.

But other owners are speaking out. Ottawa owner Eugene Melynk said "We should be playing hockey by now." No word on whether or not Melnyk has been fined for that comment.

Interesting to note that those three are on teams that, according to Forbes (minus the slideshow,) all turned a profit last season:  Detroit--$20.8M; Ottawa--$14.5M; and Philadelphia--$10.9M.

Frank Servalli who wrote the piece about Snider for, said it's unsure where the Flyers Chariman stood amongst hardliners/moderates, but he does mention that initially, Snider was behind Bettman and his offer. He continues by saying that, 'Bettman and Snider have worked well together over the years - and Bettman is well aware of Snider's power, sensing a need to keep the Flyers' owner in his pocket in times like these. For Bettman, the Flyers are a linchpin.'

But Snider and the Flyers are losing profits, And not only that, if the league insists that there are severe limitations on player contracts, it goes directly against what they have done business the past seven capped years.

Having said that, it wouldn't be surprising if Snider is all in for the 50/50 revenue split but against status quo concerning player contracts. And, with the amount of money that they make every season, despite their extravagant expenditures, it wouldn't be surprising if he's willing to chip in a tad more in revenue sharing.

And if Melnyk and Snider becoming disenchanted wasn't enough, it would seem as if another ownership group, one of the "moderates" in this process, may be fracturing as well.

Comcast SportsNet Northeast Bruins Insider, Joe Haggarty, comes out and places the blame for the lockout squarely at the feet Bruins owner Jeremy Jacobs,.

He outlines a 'self-interested, tyrannical leadership at play on the NHL’s side--the kind of hawkish, dismissive, bully mentality that's driving the bus for the NHL lockout .'

The story, according to the Haggarty piece, goes like this:  Winnipeg Jets representation at a recent NHL Board of Governors meeting piped up to say it was opposed to engaging in a long, bloody lockout sure to stymie their franchise’s momentum and hurt the game of hockey.

It wasn’t Winnipeg owner Mark Chipman, but rather one of the alternate governors representing the Jets.
Bruins Principal Owner and Chairman of the Board of Governors Jeremy Jacobs answered by reprimanding the Winnipeg representative as one of the “new kids on the block” and informed him that he would know when he was allowed to speak in the NHL board room.

Players have been saying all along that the owners have had a "take it or leave it" mentality when it comes to the CBA. Apparently the "new kids on the block" owners, which includes the Sabres' own Terry Pegula, are on the same level with the players.

So Bettman and Jacobs, the same two who were said to have walked out on the NHLPA triple-proposal a month ago after fifteen minutes, have managed to alienate the NHLPA, a good owner in Eugene Melnyk, an owner "linchpin" in Ed Snider and the "new kids on the block" ownership in Winnipeg.

Would love to be a fly on the wall when the Board of Governors meeting convenes on December 5. If there's no agreement by then, sparks will be flying.

As for the players?

They've shown a willingness to bend, somewhat, and have given the "moderates" their day with the last offer they made. But almost to a man, they reject strong-armed, bullying, which is what they should be doing.

They should let the owners fight amongst themselves, sit tight and get ready for the fireworks to come.

Addendum:  From Josh Yohe, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review via
   'When I ask about Bettman, players kind of shrug. When I ask about Jeremy Jacobs, players get rage in their eyes.'

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