"The owners made it clear that there is no give with respect to any of their proposals." — Donald Fehr, Nov. 11
"They are not issues that can be traded off. They are all important issues to us. That doesn't mean you can't talk about them and shake them. There is flexibility around the issues we need to achieve but they are not issues that we can walk away from." — Bill Daly, Nov. 11
Who says the NHLPA and the NHL aren't on the same page!
[The Hockey News: Nothing to fear but Don Fehr himself]
The latest round of CBA talks ended on Sunday with the expected doom, gloom, posturing and posing by the players and owners. All of this spilled out from the negotiations, where according to Larry Brooks's sources Gary Bettman did his best Capt. Jean-Luc Picard "THE LINE MUST BE DRAWN HERE!" impression:
"Near the end of the meeting, Don [Fehr] said to Gary [Bettman]: 'Let me get this straight. Even if the players agree to every single component of the league's economic plan, we still don't have a deal unless we also agree to every one of your proposed changes to player contract rights?' "
To which, both of our sources reported, "Gary said: 'Yes.'"
Either we've misread the NHL's position in these talks or the CBA negotiations have acquired some kind of multiple personality disorder.
The notion that the NHL's owners would demand acceptance of all of their contractual demands flies in the face of fairness and logic.
There are some demands we know the NHL isn't going to budge from: The increase in free agency by a year, the changes to rookie contract lengths. The 5-percent variance on annual salaries would seem to be another, given Gary Bettman's desire to end cap-cheating, front-loaded contracts. It also wouldn't seem like a poison pill for players, given that those contracts adversely affect escrow anyway.
[What We Learned: 30 NHL team updates]
The contract term issue — the NHL currently seeks a 5-year limit on them — has been discussed off the record as the one issue open for negotiation. Yet it's currently non-negotiable in the eyes of Bettman and the owners, which is maddening: It's so clearly something a good number of the owners aren't in favor of anyway, given the contracts they've handed out. It would seem to be the slam-dunk concession and/or compromise that could get the rest of the talks rolling.
And yet … nothing.
Even though the contracting issues don't affect how much money the players receive from the league in aggregate, they have a significant impact on who within the union gets what slice of the pie and when.
Removing the opportunity to forge their own financial destiny within the league by placing them under increased control by their teams for longer stretches of their career drives them bonkers.
Giving nothing in that area after already extracting some major concessions on what player's get paid is a labour negotiation's version of a face wash with a gloved hand.
Why would you do that?
It would seem that if you're trying to get your way in a labour negotiation you'd be better served if you could get the players to do the rational work of calculating what the lockout is costing them compared with what they might stand to gain by settling.
Encouraging a bunch of hockey players to believe they're getting bullied and chances are you're going to have a fight on your hands.
It's an excellent point: The CBA talks began in a place of aggressive angst from the players, who saw this lockout as nothing more than a calculated cash grab from owners how already rolled back their salaries seven years ago. Over time, it appeared that some progress was made on key issues for the players — like honoring preexisting contracts — but holding the line on contractual issues runs the risk of galvanizing the players for a prolonged fight.
As Sidney Crosby of the Pittsburgh Penguins noted in an interview with Shelley Anderson of the Post-Gazette on Monday, frustration is growing:
"It's pretty one-sided. I don't really know what (the owners) have given up to this point. They're trying to take away all the contracting rights.
"The question I'd ask is why would we change that? I think we all think it's the most competitive league in the world so why would you go and change that -- the way contracts go and the way teams can operate? If it's not broke, don't fix it. I understand their point. At the end of the day it's dollars, but at the end of the day you want to get a deal done. I don't think they're going to get a deal done if they're trying to take away guys' contracting rights.
"It's just frustrating. You kind of hear the same things coming out of the meetings all the time. Just waiting to hear something new from their side. It's almost to the point where you don't want to ask because you know you're going to get the same answer you got a week before. There's no reason we can't figure something out."
Jeff Klein of the NY Times sees silver linings all over the current talks, which is encouraging: Progress made on revenue sharing, the make whole provision and other aspects of the talks but feels that "big obstacles remain on the issue of contract rights."
There are, and they remain. Hopefully this is just part of the endgame — the last firewall for the NHL, which will fight for some issues and concede others in order to squeeze every last dollar from the players' share.
Otherwise, are we really going to see a season pissed away over contractual regulations and restrictions for which the owners are likely already mapping out loopholes to circumvent?