For the first time since the lock-out began, there is some genuine hope that the bitter stand-off can be solved and the season at least semi-salvaged. The NHL made a counter proposal on Tuesday to the Players Association, with union chief Donald Fehr saying his team will take a good look at the League proposal and likely sit down once again with Gary Bettman and the owners on Wednesday.
There could be hockey by mid-January.
So why did it take until late December for Count Bettman and the owners to finally start negotiating for real rather than doing what they’ve been doing for the past three months – making take-it-or-leave-it offers, trashing the union counter proposals before the ink was barely dry on the documents and storming out of the sandbox with all their toys at least once a week.
A few of us figure maybe Mr. Bettman received a phone call from the poobahs at NBC, the official U.S. broadcaster of NHL games, who not so gently suggested the network wasn’t exactly getting its money’s worth from this pricey deal with the NHL. A couple of days back Chad Finn had a story in The Boston Globe making it clear that NBC Sports Network president of programming Jon Miller was very unhappy with this neverending lockout that has deprived his network of some key programming this fall.
“It’s been very challenging and very frustrating,” Miller said in the Globe article. “We never had any indication that this situation with the NHL was going to last until January. It was always our understanding that this was going to be a tweak and a fix.”
Oops! You know what this sounds like? That Bettman went to the NBC honchos in the summer and quoted Stevie Wonder – ‘Don’t you worry bout a thing’. ‘Cause we know Bettman was oh-so-sure that he could once again crush the Association, like he’s done in the past. He thought the players would blink – and quickly sign after a couple of weeks without a pay-cheque. But he seriously underestimated Fehr – big mistake – and seriously underestimated the players solidarity.
The good news? It really looks like hockey is coming back. The better news? Bettman has so bungled this negotiation that this just might be his Waterloo. That the short-sighted owners will finally wake up and realize this suit they’re paying millions a year just risked destroying their League because he didn’t do his homework.