Sunday, May 22, 2005

 

An Optimist's Theory of How We Got Here

Barring an always possible meltdown, the general feeling out there among hockey's insiders is that we are in the end game. The major stumbling blocks are falling, leaving us soon to be writing about how the lock-out ended. So let me be first to at least speak on how we got to this point of this fascinating roller coaster ride.

The turning point came as a result of a brilliant move by the NHL at the latest Board of Governors Meetings. With the entire hockey world expecting the Governors to announce they would be using replacement players to play in October if no deal was completed, Gary Bettman made the announcement they wouldn't. This following Bettman's statement weeks prior that there would be a season starting on time "no matter what." The league even held meetings in Dallas on how to market replacement player one week before the Governors met.

Why the change of heart? The NHL spin was that the fans deserved the best product possible. The fans of course admired that move. The media reported the GMs overwhelmingly were against the concept. Certain media members went so far to say that this was a huge victory for the NHLPA and shifted the all important leverage back to NHLPA.

I reported the opposite that morning after talking to several key people and players. The NHL cancelled replacement players for one simple reason. They figured out that Bob Goodenow's entire strategy hinged on the NHL fielding replacement players He was telling his players replacements would fail so terribly that the PA would be able to name their price.

What many in the media were ignoring was the NHL players themselves, many of whom I was in communication with at the time. They were all in Bob's corner, but they weren't sheep. After Bob had failed to get a deal, costing them a billion dollars, logic would tell you the NHL players were starting to think in terms of "what-if's." If Goodenow was right and replacement players failed great, but if he was wrong and they didn't fail the players figured this would be another NFL. In that scenario they would all eventually cross. Either way they would be getting their paychecks in November. Paychecks matter.

When Gary took away the replacement player option he woke up a sleeping monster. Long viewed as apathetic and sheepish, a few key players (whose names will go down as the heroes of the lockout) began organizing and energizing the rest of them into four large groups of players who would not accept another season off. One of those groups is now rumored to be over one hundred strong. One of them organized over in Austria at the World Championships when guys finally face to face...talked about the situation.

These groups were gearing themselves towards the players meeting originally scheduled for May 24-26 in Toronto. They wanted answers. They wanted the strategy spelled out this time. They wanted assurances that they wouldn't miss another paycheck. When the players meeting was suddenly cancelled, these players were appeased when the PA promised them the meeting would be rescheduled in June. However, make no mistake about it, these groups have a presence at the current negotiations. They have the ear of Trevor Linden for sure, who as the president of the players, feels allegiance to his peers above all else.

There is still much work to do but rumor is they are over the hump and down to the give and take game. The rumored June 15th deadline to cancel the first half of the season is fast approaching. Although I disagree with Bob Goodenow and his way of waiting to negotiate, I respect him and believe that he is at his best when it looks like everyone is against him. I think Bob projects further ahead then anyone, and I know he will even plant rumors of his own demise to get an edge. That being said the leash is short and the players are serious about getting this done and not waisting time.

As one player put it, under the mask of anonymity, "I hired him to get the best deal possible. Him not getting a deal is no longer acceptable."

This is the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the stories behind the scenes of this lockout. There is a great book here.



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