With the recent optimism about the NHL negotiations replaced in the last day but yet another round of pessimism, the time seems right to take a good look at one of the mysteries of The NHL lockout, edition 2012 – just why have Gary “I hate hockey’ Bettman and the owners been so hardline from the get-go with the players association.
Here’s what player agent Allan Walsh – who represents a number of top NHL stars, including Marc-Andre Fleury and Martin Havlat – had to say about this hardline attitude. And keep in mind what Walsh said to me in my previous blog – he’s an advocate, so he’s not trying to be objective and balanced here.
“You’ve got the primary NHL outside counsel Proskauer Rose, which is the law firm that (NBA Commissioner) David Stern came from, the law firm that Gary Bettman came from, and they’re a very strong management-rights law firm,” said Walsh, in a phone conversation Friday. “The labour department is run by Bob Batterman, who was an advisor to the NFL and an advisor the NBA in their lockouts. He was the advisor to the NHL in (the) 2004-2005 (lockout). You’ve got Bob Batterman there and you’ve got Gary Bettman with three lockouts in a row, each time the CBA has expired on his watch.
“Then you look at the recent bargaining history. I think all sides uniformly condemned the NHL’s first offer, (giving players 43-percent of NHL revenue) and eliminating almost every player contracting right. And that was the best offer on the table up until Sept. 15. So the lockout was staged. It was pre-ordained many months ago that there was going to be a lockout. Then you have to ask yourself why.
“Well it’s clear the NHL’s strategy was the following. ‘We’re going to lock-out the players.’ How do we know that? Because there was nothing put forward before the lockout started that the players could consider. So now we go from Sept. 15 to Oct. 11, the next critical date, the date the NHL regular season was supposed to start. And in that period of time, the NHL magnanimously raised their offer from 43-percent players share to 46-percent players share (of revenue). So at 46-percent…in an environment of revenues rising 50-percent over the life of the CBA, you’re not talking about anything that can serve as any kind of basis for an agreement.”
Right now, the players are taking home 57-percent of all the League revenue.
“So what’s the NHL’s strategy? Their strategy is to lock-out. A lock-out is a form of economic warfare…to get the players to accept a particular position….to deny them pay-cheques. And ultimately have them crack. So the League, in 2004-2005, pushed it to February, 2005, and ultimately around January, February, the players cracked and they had a strong belief that the players would crack again. And that was the strategy. That the NHL would get a much better deal when the players crack than what they could negotiate back-and-forth by bargaining in good faith. There really has been no attempt by the NHL to bargain in good faith up until at least the last couple of days and we don’t really know if the NHL is bargaining in good faith right now or not.
“They’re very sensitive to the heat they’ve been taking amongst the media and amongst the fans for refusing to meet for so long.”
You think Bettman and his buddies are bargaining in good faith now? Not when you read this Toronto Star piece from Friday, with un-named NHL sources taking shots at NHLPA head Donald Fehr, claiming he wasn’t passing information on to the players. The problem with all these media reports about players being disgruntled with Fehr is they’re always based on off-the-record sources – as far as I know, not one player has come forth to publicly question the union leadership. So if the League is still stooping to trying to tarnish Fehr’s reputation in the press, it doesn’t bode well for the talks. Just saying.
So what do you make of Walsh’s take on the talks?