So it seems as though we're back to all-around pessimism about the chances for a new collective bargaining agreement being signed, oh, sometime in 2012, which I guess is something we should have basically all seen coming.
And yet here we are, Nov. 16, everyone looking disconsolately at their shoetops once again. Bill Daly sighing heavily like a heartbroken teenager who hopes someone will notice how sad he is to the Canadian Press that he's never been so dejected at any point in these negotiations.
(Quick side note on this: If that's the point we're actually at now -- and I'm not saying Daly is above this kind of posturing -- then this has to be really, really bad, right? Daly's already said the league is done making proposals to the Fehr brothers because… I don't know why? The league seems to be holding pretty fast to whatever dumb demands it's foisting upon the PA this time, once again wrapping them up in neat packages with pretty writing on them — "We'll fund make-whole!" and "We're not that worried about contracting rights!" — without any instructions for how they're actually going to do that and in fact not actually doing the things they've said. But then, truth in advertising laws never applied to CBA negotiations, so why start now?)
Meanwhile, Pierre LeBrun is going off about how this might very well rock bottom for everyone and the damage being done to the game can never be repaired because of how much of a pretty big jerk everyone has been throughout the entire process.
But isn't it interesting that all this dirt-kicking, quiet sobbing came just days after the NHL realized Don Fehr was actually playing hardball and wasn't going to acquiesce to whatever offers they slid across the table? It attempted last Friday to drive a wedge between the top executives of the NHLPA and the players themselves by mentioning in as casual a manner possible for the maladroit and robotic communicator such as Gary Bettman -- who often comes across as being less of a real person with actual feelings as Mitt Romney ever did -- that oh, by the way, Donald Fehr isn't telling his constituents everything about the negotiations.
This was, of course, based on nothing but the fact that Fehr was taking too long coming back from the bathroom or whatever other slights that didn't follow Robert's Rules of Order, and, as hilariously transparent as it was, it was woefully unsuccessful in achieving its ends.
Let's not forget, the people on Fehr's side of the table, throughout pretty much this entire process, and certainly on the day in which the league chose to level these charges — but they'd worked so well against Ted Saskin (largely because they were true)! — included a number of NHL players. Maybe not the Sid Crosbys of the world, and not that most hockey fans could pick Ron Hainsey out of a lineup, but doesn't it seem like if these guys heard the NHL brass say one thing, and Fehr another, they'd speak up about it? The players, who must be getting pretty antsy when it comes to making a deal, considering they just missed their third paycheck, haven't exactly been shy about running NHLPA executives out of town on the first rail they can find, have they? Why would they just start letting Fehr lie to their fellow players this late in the process.
It all just seems very convenient. The NHL's done making offers of its own because the PA won't be bent to the absurd asks it has routinely put forward in this process, and so instead we are left to suffer through Steve Fehr press releases about how they're willing to negotiate anywhere and any time the league does. Which is a very retro way to go about things, harkening back to the days of early October. Ah, for those simpler times. But no, says the league, no more offers from us. Never ever ever.
The thing about all of this stuff is that it just rings so hollow. The NHL has repeatedly shown that when things go on a little too long, they're the ones that will start making concessions — even discussing the idea of the owners footing the bill for make-whole, for example, is something that, two months ago, would have been so outside the wildest imaginations of even the very gullible that it wouldn't have been worth laughing about — and the PA is decidedly not. Reports, and who knows the extent to which they were completely true, were that Fehr is now digging in his heels about players getting 100 percent of their salaries for this season, even though at least part of it (and, let's be honest, in about a month, all of it) has already been put to the torch. Not a very good way to get a deal done, but then his position is that we shouldn't be in a lockout in the first place, so maybe that's understandable on some level, even if it's not conducive to harmonious negotiations.
One has to wonder, though, just how long the NHL's good cop/bad cop act can last given that Bettman and Daly can't seem to figure out which one will play which role for longer than a few days. Here's how this is probably going to play out, assuming the NHL is serious in its threat to make no further offers (a big assumption): The PA will say, "Here's what we want." The league will say, "Please, don't waste our time with this stuff," but then slowly and quietly come a little closer the PA's position. Daly made a big deal last week about how the league gave a little on 14 of the 17 points of contention the PA brought up. Expect the next round to be more like 15 of 17.
The weird thing is that we were told all along that contracting rights weren't nearly the hurdle they were in 2004-05, and indeed, that wasn't going to be anyone's last stand. Yet here we are, not that long after, with Don Fehr spinning that it was apparently now a big deal to the league. One supposes when you're very publicly getting your ass kicked in by a total pro, the likes of which Bettman has never gone up against, your strategies will change somewhat, perhaps in an effort to save face.
All the while, though, it's weird to say Fehr's winning anything here, since the players are already getting hurt pretty badly, and his job is to make sure the scarring isn't too severe. Which is what makes it even more confusing, frustrating, upsetting (take your pick) that the league is still dragging its feet on stuff it claimed not to have cared that much about.
The hope, obviously, is that the two sides get back to negotiating soon. Which they probably will because the NHL's latest gambit failed like the others, and now it's just waiting an appropriate amount of time to prop up its latest threats. But when it comes to something actually getting done in those negotiations, I wouldn't advise holding your breath.
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