Time to check the egos at the door

October, 24, 2012
10/24/12
9:57
AM ET


I should have been on a flight to New York on Wednesday.

You know, the day before the NHL’s so-called deadline to get a new CBA together in order to have an 82-game season beginning Nov. 2.

But for that to happen, you have to have two sides willing to agree on what the next step is in bargaining. And that, my friends, is not happening right now.

It could change with one phone call -- perhaps the pressure of anxious owners or nervous players can force the next move of NHL commissioner Gary Bettman or NHL Players' Association executive director Donald Fehr -- but at this point we have your classic stalemate.

Tip of the hat to the NHLPA. Tuesday was some kind of PR bonanza for it. The union basked as fans and observers carved the NHL with news emerging that it allowed a 48-hour window last week in which GMs could talk directly to players.

Then, the NHLPA announced Tuesday evening it had invited the NHL back to the negotiating table, as soon as Wednesday, as long as there were no strings attached.

The league had already told the NHLPA privately at that point that talks would not resume until the union either had a new proposal to submit or until the players were ready to negotiate off the league’s offer from last week.

Now, the perception to Joe Fan is that the players are ready to get back to negotiating, and the league is not. PR win No. 2 on the same day for the NHLPA.

But it’s a pretty hollow victory in my mind. Fact is, the PR war won’t settle this CBA. Only men with the right intentions can do that.

I honestly do not believe Fehr had any intention of trying to hammer out a deal this week in the face of Bettman’s Oct. 25 deadline. I think Fehr believes you can still have an 82-game season starting after Nov. 2, and I think his game plan this week, perhaps even next, is to make the NHL sweat it out a bit more.

On the one hand, you can see how that could be a stroke of genius given how desperately most owners want to have an 82-game season -- aka 41 home dates in their coffers -- and have a deal in place ASAP.

On the other hand, it could also lead to a nuclear war. Moderate owners who were pushing Bettman to get a deal done, pushing him to deliver that offer last week, might get so incensed with Fehr that the gloves come off and the hard-line owners will now get back in control of this ship.

The genesis of Tuesday’s clash between the two sides is an email exchange between NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly and NHLPA No. 2 man Steve Fehr in which the two men have vastly different interpretations of what was said. What the players were told on their 5 pm ET NHLPA conference call Tuesday -- according to a player who was on the call -- was that Daly’s email informed the NHLPA that a conversation on the Make Whole provision would only happen if the players more or less accepted the rest of the framework with a few tweaks or minor changes in there. The league, as per Daly’s quote in Tuesday blog, insists there is some flexibility on the rest of the framework if there’s progress on Make Whole.

I will say what I've said for more than a week: I do believe the league is willing to concede in some areas of the player-contract demands it made.

There are two ways to get out of this ridiculous logjam: either the league clarifies officially to the players that it does indeed have some flexibility when it comes to the rest of the framework of the deal; or the NHLPA drums up a new offer.

Whatever gets these two sides back in the bargaining room. To steal a slogan from the 2002 Canadian Olympic hockey team run by Wayne Gretzky: It’s time to check your egos at the door. There’s a deal to be done here.

This sport and league cannot afford another year without hockey. After Tuesday’s developments, for the first time in this entire process, I can actually see that happening. Let’s just hope this is just more posturing and a deal is still around the corner.

Let’s hope.

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