Friday, March 25, 2005

 

In a Nutshell

So where are we really? This is a question that needs to be asked from time to time. I usually use my blog to share insider information based around quotes from the people on the inside. I am getting more and more information “off the record” and that has hand-cuffed me as of late. It is frustrating. Today I want to give you a general overview of the situation as I see it at this critical stage. I base this on information on the countless hours of communications I have had recently with players, agents, GMs, reporters, NHL employees, and even some of the many astute fans that visit my blog.

This is my op-ed piece. I am giving those in charge the benefit of the doubt, but if no deal is in place in the next two weeks changes must be made. Both sides are to blame, maybe not equally, but what does that matter anyway?

To listen to the NHLPA and the agents talking, the company line is that the NHL never really wanted to make a deal. Bettman convinced the owners that if they were patient the pot of gold would be all theirs. The union would cave, and like the NFL, they would have a salary cap. The NHLPA believes this is Bettman’s plan and yet have done little if anything to stop him from carrying it out. Much has been made of the 24% rollback. The players say they did it realizing the NHL was in trouble, and this was “doing their part.” But why did they wait until December to do their part? That action along with the sudden change of heart on the salary cap showed the public that the PA leadership didn’t care about hockey. They cared about making the best deal they could. Two important aspects to note in what I am saying here. First I don’t blame anyone for trying to get the best deal, and second I am not referring to the players themselves. In all my communications with players I see the exact same pattern. They have been told to trust the leadership, and they are very knowledgeable in regards to the aspects of the proposals. However they have no idea what tactics are being used by Goodenow. They are being carefully kept “on message”.

For some insight I suggest reading the book, “Don’t think of an elephant” and you will see how both of these sides have taken a page out of the Republican party’s way of doing business. The Democrats are equally as guilty, so this is not meant to be political in any way...The NHL and PA are using what is called “framing:” a technique used to frame the argument so that the other side can’t win. The theory is if you control the language, you control the argument. The owners use words like “Cost Certainty and Linkage.” The players can’t say, “We are against Cost Certainty” so instead they say “We are for a free market system.” This is like Bush saying, “The Democrats voted against the “Clean Air Act’” even though the Clean Air Act sets environmental standards back several years by loosening restriction on pollutants…

So the players know the language to speak. The words to use. The way to frame their argument. The problem is the players stay so on topic that they are going down with their own ship. Based on principle they go to Europe or play elsewhere for ten times less than they would make with even the worst of CBAs. Players are fighters, and they do feel they are fighting the good fight. They are doing this for future generations, and yet their own families suffer sever consequences now. Many players will never play again. Some will retire. Some will lose their only shot of ever playing because new guys are coming up. They are throwing their own families to the wolves for this principle.

There is another book called, “What’s wrong with Kansas?” that asks the question why do people vote against their own interests? Why do the poor vote for tax cuts for the rich? The answer is simple: we all think we will be the rich someday. The same goes for the players. They all think they will be the ones signing the 10 million dollar deals. That of course is not the case…If they really looked around they would realize this fight is about only a dozen of the superstar players and whether they can demand 9 million over 5 million. That is the “real” difference between a 45 million dollar cap and a 37 million dollar one. Especially when one considers that no matter how high the cap is only 6 teams will ever be able to pay over 37. So the Executive Committee isn’t negotiating for all the player’s best interests they are negotiating for the best interest of the top superstar players. Fact.

Here’s a novel idea. Put this to a vote. A Fixed Salary. If you are really a union than you should all make the same amount of money. Twenty guys all making 1.75 Million. Yearly increases. Add bonuses for winning play-off rounds. There is your cost certainty. If you want to do what is best for all of your players and the league that is your answer. The players themselves should vote for it, since that would represent a raise for a majority. The owners could not complain about it and wouldn’t have to police themselves. The fans would love it because players would be traded and played based purely on their skill level. Players might actually stay with teams for their careers. Can you imagine a league where all the talk is about x’s and o’s and not about hold-outs and dumping salary? I know this will never happen.

Before I bash the Executive Committee any further, let’s look at the NHL. The NHLPA will tell you that the owners can’t share among themselves…and they are right. Revenue Sharing is a joke in the NHL. If the NHL wants to be another NFL it should look at revenue sharing before it looks at the cap. Why hasn’t Gary come forward with real revenue sharing yet? “What’s wrong with Kansas again!” If he was negotiating for all of his constituents he would be starting by trying to get the bottom teams money from the top ones. Yet he doesn’t do that. Instead he focuses his energy on a Salary Cap that most of the teams will never get close to. The Catch 22 about the players using revenue sharing as their rallying cry is that the very teams that will pay the 45 million dollar cap (that the players are fighting for) are the teams that can do so because they DON’T Share. How ridiculous is that? Couple it with the rumor that the NHL and the rich teams promised the expansion teams a 37 million dollar cap and we have chaos.

And yet that is not why we still don’t have hockey. The NHL’s biggest problem has not been anything in any proposal. It has been the fact that they have spent countless hours trying to win fan support while virtually ignoring the player’s ideals and emotions. Bettman uses threats to get the PA to negotiate. He did so in his infamous letter on a night where the right wording would have brought a divide PA to its knees. He has said countless times, “It will only get worse from here.” He just threatened again saying linkage will be back after the 8th of April, and he does so while the PA was meeting and fighting about what to do next. How I want to scream at him and say, “NEVER BACK A HOCKEY PLAYER INTO THE CORNER!” They are a noble group and will put their differences aside just to fight you. Then, in one of the most self-defeating feats yet, he cancels the draft. This hurts him more then them. This draft, in the great city of Ottawa, with Crosby, could have helped so much….I am convinced he did it just so the draft couldn’t be used against him as a tactic. Like someone holding your friend hostage and you shooting your friend to eliminate the threat.

I am optimistic by nature. You probably come here for optimism, and you are saying, “What the ******?” Don’t worry this will get done, we will have hockey come October, but I am concerned for my sport.

In closing, principle when it becomes suicidal is tragic…A short story….I shared this with a few players the other day. A good friend of mine recently went through a horrific divorce. Her husband is the scum of the earth. He stole from her and cheated on her endlessly. The lawyers told her that she could take the kids and the house and everything because the case was a lock. In principle she should have. We begged her to. And yet all she did was take the kids and split up the money. She didn’t go to court because she knew that the result would hurt herself, her family, and her kids. Even though the principle was there…she walked away for the good of everything. I talked to her a few nights back and she said she was so glad she did because, “there is no amount of money or principle that can take the place of beginning the healing process.”

The NHL and NHLPA, for their own good, for the good of the fans, for the good of the greatest sport on earth have to put all this aside and start the healing NOW.



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