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Opinion: With Full Season Gone, Time To Make A Deal

Posted on October 27, 2012 by Chris Ostrander

C_NHL_LockoutThe NHL and NHLPA have spent more time on the PR battlefield rather than the board room after a fresh set of offers were rolled out a week ago in hopes of ending the most recent NHL lockout. While the NHL came all the way down to a 50/50 revenue split, there were wrinkles in their offer that still irked the players. That led to the inevitable counteroffer(s) from the PA which basically revolved around their desire to have pre-existing contracts paid for in full.

The NHL will withdraw their most recent offer but only to accommodate for a regular season that will have far fewer than 82 games.  Elliotte Friedman of CBC reported early Friday that the November slate of games are now cancelled.  For Buffalo directly, that’s 11 more contests wiped away.

For most fans, the offers introduced last week probably seem pretty black and white. The league is striving for a 50/50 split, while players still want to be paid the money they were promised when they signed their contracts. It is fairly basic when the big picture is considered. However, for the two sides remain far apart in a battle over a $3.3 billion pie and the 2012-13 season hangs in the balance.

Since the 82-game season is now on the shelf, understand that this doesn’t mean that the season is completely out of the question. All this means is that fans are likely looking at something closer to a 60 or 50-game season. Of course, the two sides need to actually sit down and have a real conversation. If they could suck up their pride, start with the 50/50 split and work from there, perhaps there would actually be room for a deal to be made.

To this point those words have been as empty as an Islanders home game. Now the only mission between the league and PA should be to ensure that hockey is played this year.

One thing that seems apparent is that both sides aren’t taking the other at their full word. The NHLPA has come forward with their proposals and rigid stance thinking that the owners will buckle at the thought of losing regular season games or worse, the Winter Classic. On the same token the owners are expecting the players to fold as their salaries remain in limbo thanks to the work stoppage. The fact of the matter is that both sides need to wise up, sit down and iron out an agreement.

The owners did indeed take a significant step forward by agreeing to come down to 50% from their previous requests that were as high as 57%. But the players are certainly justified in demanding to have their previous contracts honored. This is America (or Canada), after all. Yet, both sides remain staunchly opposed to having constructive conversations and they will both continue to suffer as a result.

Fan opinions on the league are certainly souring by the minute. Not that the public opinion on Gary Bettman has ever been good, but his approval rating must be in negative figures at this point – despite him serving as little more than a spokesperson for the owners. Plenty of fans (and some media members) are also of the opinion that the players are acting like greedy punks who are attempting to dictate terms of compensation to their employers. As a frame of reference, most regular people would be out on the street if they tried the same act.

Yet again, both sides share some blame and, in the long run, are only serving to weaken the game with their actions. At this point in the process the PR battle has become more important to either side than any other portion of the negotiations. The NHL refused to meet at the player’s request this week, citing the lack of foundation for a meeting since the NHLPA won’t come off their sticking points. However the PA turned and went public with their opinion that the owners won’t meet because they won’t come off their sticking points that are in place to take advantage of the players.

Isn’t this fun?

The end result is that your NHL team will not be playing 82 games this season. However, don’t lose faith that a season won’t actually occur. At the end of the day a vast majority of the members of the NHLPA aren’t getting a paycheck. This is an issue that touched nearly every corner of the PA (even the richest corners) when the 04-05 season was cancelled, it seems very doubtful that the same history would be allowed to repeat itself.

Hockey players are a perishable item and they can’t afford to sit on the shelf long. A number of comments from some and the actions of others (going to Europe) show exactly how badly they need to play. It also shows that they aren’t necessarily loyal to playing for a specific team so long as they’re getting a paycheck.

The owners will be just as desperate to start putting asses in the seats to ensure that they have some form of income generated by their investment. While many have taken measures to ensure less of a loss (shorter work hours or layoffs), they still need to take steps to make some money from their shuttered buildings.

Whenever the two sides finally come to an agreement there should be hockey played almost immediately after. When the league’s proposal came out a number of players had put the brakes on their plans for international play. That says to me that there is more urgency on the side of the players than their fearless leader may be showing.

Keep New Year’s Day open for now. I have a pretty good feeling that the puck will still drop on the Winter Classic. As of now, the only question that should be asked about that game is if it will be the first of the season?

(Chris Ostrander is the publisher of “Two In the Box”—a well written blog covering the Buffalo Bills, Sabres, Bandits, UB as well as other sports teams and items locally. He’s also a contributor for Buffalo Sports Daily and other blogs that cover Buffalo sports.  You can check out all his articles by clicking the logo below.)


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