A fan at a Boston Celtics-Utah Jazz game holds up a sign calling for an end to the NHL lockout. (Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)
Unless everyone in the hockey world is reading the tea leaves completely inaccurately, hockey fans should expect a whole lot of nothing to come out of the talks between the NHL and the NHL Players’ Association Monday night.
Other than that, how’s your week going so far?
These two sides have made it abundantly clear that they haven’t been able to find any common ground. In fact, they can’t even figure out how far apart they are. By all accounts, the players seem to think the core economic issues are pretty much resolved and the two sides are close to a deal. The league, meanwhile, believes the chasm between them and the players to still be enormous.
And the league is growing increasingly frustrated by all of this. Whenever the league tries to pin the players’ association down to specifics, it feels as though it is running around in circles trying to chase its own tail.
“I don’t want to get into the specifics of the negotiation,” said NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly. “We haven’t been successful in finding common ground. Hopefully, that will change.”
Let’s get one thing clear. This corner has no dog in this race. As I have stated a number of times, the one thing I want to see come from this negotiation is an agreement with which both sides can function and enjoy labor peace, preferably for the next decade. If that happens 10 minutes ago, that’s wonderful. If it takes another sacrificed season to accomplish that goal, then so be it. The worst thing for this entire process would be one or both sides capitulating in order to save one season, then spending the next six or seven complaining about the system and vowing to change it the next time.
Both sides have a considerable amount of stink on them through this process. The league has been about as conciliatory and flexible as the dictator of a developing country. And the players, from the start, have been very difficult to pin down. NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr spent the better part of a year putting off negotiations, all the while saying that it was because he didn’t have a firm grasp of the issues. That delayed the entire process and it has been an endless series of stonewalling tactics since then.
But the fact is this. The current CBA has expired, so that means the owners have the right to try to change it to their liking and the players have the right to fight them on it every step of the way. There is nothing necessarily wrong with the players’ approach. They have every right to bargain whichever way they see fit, particularly when they’ve been placed in a concessionary bargaining position from the very beginning. You can question the wisdom of them doing so all you want, and feel free to do just that, but it’s the NHLPA’s unalienable right to conduct these talks in whatever way it thinks will achieve the least-worst deal for its members.
But it’s time for both sides to start coming clean here, don’t you think? The posturing has gotten both sides absolutely nowhere to this point and has done nothing but polarize the two sides even more.
Which is why NHL commissioner Gary Bettman’s proposal to take a two-week break made a lot of sense. It’s time for both sides to stop playing games and do one of two things – get down to some serious negotiating with both sides being more realistic or simply agreeing to disagree and taking a period of time off until one or both sides has something constructive to add to the discussion.
Until then, it would be really, really wise for them to stop wasting each other’s time with meaningless, directionless meetings that they think will somehow produce some sort of magical solution out of nothing.
Neither side appears to be on the verge of experiencing any kind of epiphany at the moment. If that’s the case, put an end to the meetings and stop making a mockery of the process.
Do everyone a favor and stop jerking us around. Meeting for the sake of meeting is getting us absolutely nowhere.
Ken Campbell is the senior writer for The Hockey News and a regular contributor to THN.com with his column. To read more from Ken and THN's other stable of experts, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.