This is no (just another manic) Monday in the NHL/NHLPA labor dispute.
• Players were to collect their first pay checks on Monday. They won’t, of course, because of the lockout that began Sept. 15, exactly one month ago. However, any hockey fan hoping for quick resolution because of missed checks for players – or, missed revenue for teams from games that should have been played last week – should not hold his or her breath.
Players are paid twice each month from the start until the end of the regular season. That is approximately 14 payments. Though the NHL has cancelled only two weeks of regular-season games, there is no reason to expect players to really feel the pinch until another round of cancellations. Their escrow payments will cover the first and most of the second missed pay periods.
• As for owners that may not want to miss more games than have already been cancelled – well, unless 23 of them decide to lead a push against NHL commissioner Gary Bettman’s lockout plan, any dissent doesn’t really matter. When the NHL bylaws were changed many years ago Bettman gained a firm grip on controlling the owners for whom he works. He needs only eight to back him. That means even if half of the league’s 30 clubs don’t like this lockout – and nothing I’ve heard leads me to suspect dissenting voices reach into the double digits – there is nothing to prevent Bettman from holding firm during the lockout. Even if 15 clubs grow tired of this, another eight would need to join a potential chorus of disapproval.
If you are a fan who believes the numbers never lie then you should probably consider the number of clubs Bettman needs to control – again, only eight – when hoping for cracks to show on the owners side.
• There are no firm plans yet for meetings this week, though both sides are cautiously optimistic details (place, time or agenda) can be worked out Monday. Unless a meeting produces a new proposal from either the NHL or its union or some significant progress on the core economic issues (money, money, money, money!), there is a far greater likelihood that more games will be cancelled by the league later this week.
The consensus among hockey operations folks with whom I’ve spoken since right before and during this lockout is that at least a seven-day training camp will be required to start the season. That would mean for no additional games to be at risk the NHL and union must reach terms on a new collective bargaining agreement early this week. (Actually, late last week would have been idea, given the challenges of ratifying an agreement and working out all the so-called smaller details.)
• Also, worth noting, is that the missed revenue from games is likely to be money the owners want to make up on the new CBA. This dynamic is fascinating because of the potential for players to again be galvanized by any future NHL offer that would be viewed as even a greater money grab. Players already do not trust Bettman and feel as though the last CBA did them dirty. Owners, being business men, are unlikely not to push for recouping lost revenue from the lockout they approved on a new CBA.
Translation: Guessing where this is going might be as good a rationale as any for disgruntled hockey fans and local workers/business owners feeling the pinch of this dispute.
• Nobody from the NHL or NHLPA seems terribly optimistic, other than the small group of folks who just cannot wrap their minds around the potential for a lengthy lockout after the 2004-05 NHL season was completely bagged because of lockout.
The precedent for union executive director Don Fehr is not to succumb to artificial deadlines. That is a big part of how he has done well by the baseball union in years past. So, even if the NHL cancelled two more weeks of games – or, say, the next month of games – there is likely no amount of cancellations that Fehr will allow to pressure the process. Also, as is notable, neither Fehr nor Bettman have a history for succumbing once they’ve started holding ground.
Either the NHL (unlikely) or the NHLPA (also unlikely) seem willing to make the next move by presenting a new offer. Somebody has to blink and be comfortable doing so without considering it a sign of weakness. If that does not happen this week there is even more reason for hockey fans to be concerned this season could be getting away from everybody involved in this labor dispute.
PS I cannot recommend this read from TSN’s Bob McKenzie enough: http://www.tsn.ca/nhl/story/?id=407263