Labor Log: If lockout looms, can union hold stars and vets better than Bettman holds NHL owners?


NEW YORK — Perhaps it was the old subconscious at work, but the first tune I selected on the old MP3 player – and I do mean old literally, as I’m pretty sure the company that made this device I purchased in 2004 is no longer around – was “Under Pressure” (Queen and David Bowie).

Sorry, but I’m not among those that believe what transpired Friday at the NHL offices in Manhattan was no big deal, as I’ve read elsewhere via some Tweets.

Call me crazy – as a few of my colleagues no doubt suspect – but wouldn’t the halting of talks between the NHL and NHLPA make this a pressure situation given the league’s deadline to lockout players (Sept. 15) is about two weeks away?

Since it’s been a long day and I’m writing this blog on my flight back to Pittsburgh, let me save dear readers the trouble of a rhetorical question.

The answer: Yes.

This does not mean there is time to panic, that the NHL season is doomed, that next summer will pass without a next Stanley Cup champion being crowned.

After all, there are still two weeks remaining until that deadline.

But is Sept. 15 the deadline?

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman suggested there is belief among the union – certainly he signaled out a belief among select agents – that the NHLPA stance is for Oct. 11, the start of the regular season, to be real deadline.

If that’s the case, this labor negotiation seems headed for an ugly place.

Certainly, I can see no common ground between the two sides on the big issue, which is shared revenue.

A brief step away here to ponder if there is actual need for specifics regarding what constitutes HHR (hockey-related revenue), what percentages play into players’ escrow obligations, and what about this fourth-year focus from the NHLPA’s proposal on Day 3 of meetings this week…

I think not.

Look, there are details, specific, jargon-riddled, too-complicated-to-make-sense-of details that play into the gap on economics between the owners and players. Please, though, know that here on this blog, and probably in most of my daily coverage stories, I’m going to avoid those details – partly because I cannot grasp how to accurately simplify them, and mostly because I don’t think they matter.

This is a pretty simple debate the NHL and NHLPA are waging, and forgive me if I’ve boiled it down to something that insults those from both parties, but the dear readers should know this labor dispute is about one thing and one thing only.

The owners want more money.

I’m not one to say they are right or wrong for wanting more money, no more than I am one to say the players are right or wrong to grip for dear life to their 57-percent share of revenue under this soon-to-expire CBA.

Some people, a lot of them more attuned to the philosophy of fair economics than me, can opine on who is right or wrong here.

I don’t care.

I’d rather look at the coverage of this story this way: What’s actually happening?

What is happening is that the owners want more money while preserving the structural system they have. Perhaps it is a cake-and-eat-it-too approach, but it’s the one they’re taking, the one they’re comfortable with Bettman pursing, and the one the players are going to at some point think about because the guess here is that these 30 NHL owners aren’t about to crack.

They’ve already sacrificed a season (2004-05), and that was when they lacked a TV deal. Now they have one with NBC Sports that pays them no matter if a single puck is dropped.

Now, I don’t presume these players will cave easily. They are united under executive director Don Fehr, and they certainly will have the support of the public throughout this unless something totally unforeseen happens. Also, this union was also willing to lose a season the last time labor negotiations popped up.

That said, most of the players I talk to say something along the lines of, We got smoked last time.

So, here is what I need somebody to explain: How does a potential long work stoppage not end with the players getting smoked again?

I can’t help but think about two Penguins players when considering this idea of a long work stoppage: Craig Adams and Sidney Crosby.

The former is a well-educated veteran in his mid-30s; the latter the face of his sport, in his mid-20s.

Adams, though well off by the average man’s standard, probably could stand to collect a majority of the 13-14 paychecks due NHL players on a bi-monthly basis starting in October.

Crosby, due $12 million this season, might want to collect those checks, too. More likely, though, he will want to take a stab at playing his first full season since 2009-10. (Yeah, it’s been that long.) From what I hear he is feeling well, and has spent the summer fairly routinely by his standard, which is to say working out like super-crazy competitor anticipating an opportunity to reclaim his status as the dominant player of his generation.

Oh, and he has been free of concussion worry, from what I’m told.

Think Crosby, is looking to miss the NHL action he was robbed off most of the past two years?

Crosby’s situation is unique, but he would not be alone among NHL stars not eager to miss time while in the prime of their playing careers.

Adams’ situation is less unique. He would not be alone among guys that lived through the last lockout, who witnessed guys his age, and slightly younger, never get back on their NHL track after missing an entire season.

These are the types of challenges Fehr will face while attempting to keep the union, well, united.

All Bettman needs to do is keep 30 ownership groups on the same page.

I dare suggest that only once in a blue moon does a PA end up smoking the owners in a labor dispute.

(By the way, Friday was a blue moon. And apparently these things are quite rare, which I didn’t know. I was equally unaware that blue moons weren’t actually, uh, blue – that they were really just full moons twice in the period of time between a solstice and equinox. There is only a blue moon once every 2-3 years. More surprising to me was the word that on Aug. 21, 2013, good ol’ planet earth will experience three of four full moons over one of these periods, which seems fairly significant to me – but, then again, I’m the guy on Friday was asking a girl from the Bronx about “that big part” I could spot from the window of the NHL offices; so perhaps there is a lot I really don’t know.)

This I do know: A bad moon isn’t yet rising for hockey fans that want the NHL to start playing games on time, but I’m growing less and less optimistic that the Hurricanes and Lightning of the world will be rolling out when training camps are set to open in about three weeks.

*A big thanks to the kind sir who jumped my dead car battery as I arrived to a dark car at the Pittsburgh airport around 10 p.m.; condolences to Evgeni Malkin on the passing of his pet cat; and, last but not least, to she who researched all that mad moon information, may this inside joke remind you of the one that involves a bear.