Jan 29, 2012; Ottawa, ON, CANADA; NHL commissioner Gary Bettman greets fans and VIPs before the 2012 All Star game at Scotiabank Place. Mandatory Credit: Eric Bolte-US PRESSWIRE

NHLPA Meets In Kelowna, Fehr To Speak With Bettman

The NHLPA met on Monday and one can only wonder at what alterations are to be made to their offer.  The players felt that they presented a reasonable offer last week, but were too-shayed by NHL Commissioner, Gary Bettman.  NHLPA Executive Director, Donald Fehr, is scheduled to have a conversation with Bettman on Wednesday before the two sides meet again.

“I think it’s fair to say the sides are still far apart and have different views of the world,” was Bettman’s response to the NHLPA’s offer, in regards to a new Collective Bargaining Agreement.  He went on to say, “What the issues are and how they get solved and how deep the issues go is something we’re not yet on the same page.”  Dashing the hopes of eager players who want to play hockey this fall.  Not only in the sense of being rejected of their offer, but being a distinct distance from a solution.  Especially after Bettman’s encouraging statement at the time of the proposal, where he said that the owners would take a good look at the proposal that he appeared to be impressed by.  It’s no mystery what Fehr will be so eager to vocalize to Bettman.

He will probably begin with something along the lines of everybody loses in a lockout.  League revenue would clearly plummet and further hurt the struggling markets, namely Phoenix, who already has a hard enough time luring hockey interest in the desert.  So what benefit could possibly come from a lockout?  Not much.

However, there are some concerns involving player safety this time around.  Head shots seem to be the favourite.  One of the presumed solutions being the re-implementation of the two-line pass rule, in order to slow the game down a touch.  Another issue that’s been campaigned by Hockey Night in Canada’s, Don Cherry, is the touch-icing rule.  Olympic hockey and international professional hockey both have a no-touch-icing to protect players from unnecessary injury.  Though there are various on-ice issues to address, as there were in 2005, it is the revenue sharing between players and owners that has taken center stage at these negotiations.

If the lockout does happen, we are unlikely to see a ground-breaking CBA that will change the way the game is played on the ice.  This lockout will focus on the white-collar aspect, as opposed the 2005 blue-collar type agreement that changed the game forever.  This is the agonizing part for us hockey fans, that the new CBA will hardly, if at all,  impact what we watch on the ice.

Could this just be a bluff in order to maximize the best interest of the owners?  Possibly..

As if Bettman’s popularity among fans and players could take any more of a hit, he has that to consider if he locks out the players indefinitely.  For all we know, the owners could have liked the offer presented by the players.  Expressing disinterest would be a Class A sales maneuver to squeeze every drop of value from the opposing side.  And since the owners/Bettman will be the ones locking out the players, the heat seems to be on the lap of the NHLPA to get a deal done.  Not to mention, their billions versus the players’ millions will be less effected by a lockout.  Even if it’s only a semi-bluff, the players will likely present their next offer to favour the owners more than it did in the last proposal.  So either way, the owners could have been prepared all along to take the last possible offer before the deadline.  But what if it’s not a bluff at all?

If there is a genuine “worlds apart” view from the owners’ side, then we could see a lockout.  However, I would believe it to be more similar to the 1995 lockout, versus the 2005 lockout, in terms of length.  It is my belief that the owners, too, know the consequences of a full year lockout, again, especially with struggling hockey markets.

However, locking out the players would likely add an element of desperation to the side of the players.  If the league remains locked out in December, I would expect either a more aggressive approach by the players to get a deal done, and/or the owners’ requirements becoming more reasonable.  Therefore, I do not expect a lockout to last much longer than halfway through the season.

The NHLPA and NHL are scheduled to meet again on Wednesday.  I expect Fehr’s words for Bettman will be more-less the cries of hockey fans, but I don’t expect Bettman to budge.  After all, his salary isn’t paid by the players.

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