In case you were worried you hadn't seen everything in this preposterous lockout, worry no more: Philadelphia Flyers owner Ed Snider could be the hero that helps end the work-stoppage.
Frank Seravalli of the Philadelphia Daily News reported on Saturday that Snider has soured on the lockout as it's dragged on through what he hoped would be a Dec. 1 start to a truncated season. With labor talks at a stalemate and NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman offering a two-week moratorium on talks, that target date is looking mighty bleak.
Put simply: Snider and the rest of the NHL's owners were promised a big win by Bettman, with player concessions on revenue division and contracting rights. The best they'll get now is a small win in revenue split - coupled with a demoralized fan base and all-important corporate sponsors that are ready to quit.
The sponsorship issue is becoming more prominent for the NHL the longer the lockout goes.
COO John Collins had been tasked with keeping the League's benefactors in line early in the process, and it was a significant task: The number of high-profile sponsors paying large sums to partner with the NHL has dramatically changed since the 2004-05 work stoppage. The stakes are higher now among sponsors, as they are for a League that has an American television deal it didn't have seven years ago.
When the CEO of Molson Coors is openly talking about reparations from the NHL after beer sales plummeted in Canada during the lockout, it echoes through ownership.
So can Ed Snider be the driving force to end the lockout?
From Seravalli, here's what is at stake:
While some of the smaller-market teams have been interested in a greater percentage of "hockey related revenue" to help get back in the black, there is a growing sentiment that any lingering effects from this lockout could wipe out a franchise in Columbus, Florida, Nashville or Tampa Bay entirely.
According to a source, the Flyers' top-level executives presented their own proposal for the collective-bargaining agreement nearly 3 weeks ago. It remains unclear whether their proposal was the engine behind the league's progress last week, when they strung together lengthy bargaining sessions in 7 out of 9 days.
Snider's always been a odd one to pin down in these talks. He's been seen as a Bettman loyalist, but he's also one of the primary violators of the spirit of the previous CBA with some of the Flyers' contracts. He's been viewed as part of the NHL's hawkish owners, but Mark Spector of Sportsnet recently explained why he's a dove:
Snider (79), like Ilitch, wants to play, but insiders say he won't buck the large group. As chairman of Comcast Spectacor, this lockout will adversely affect Comcast Sportsnet (which has a handful of regional NHL deals) as well as NBC Sports Network (formerly Versus), which also falls under the Comcast umbrella. NBC Sports Network must still pay the NHL $200 in rights fees this year, but will get an extra year tacked on to the back end of its 10-year contract (it was to start this season) for free. On the ice, the Flyers are well over $100 million in revenues, with relatively little debt servicing. They're a money machine that won't churn until Bettman and Donald Fehr reach an agreement.
As Seravalli explained, the Flyers are keen on teaming up with "the midmarket but high-revenue Pittsburgh Penguins" in an attempt to end the lockout, and that makes sense: There are teams that are thriving right now that don't want to spend months on the sidelines watching a CBA war that isn't producing their desired results.
What this comes back to is something we've discussed on the Marek Vs. Wyshynski podcast on several occasions: Can Gary Bettman survive this lockout as commissioner?
There's already a sense that he'll have to be sacrificed in order to soothe relations with the players, who are now simply calling the man an idiot during media scrums. But if a loyal owner like Snider sees Bettman as having failed at the primary function of his job — maximizing the earnings for the owners and diminishing those for the players — would they opt for someone else after this CBA negotiation is over? Or is Snider always, in the end, going to back Bettman regardless of the lockout's conclusion?
Of course, that's getting ahead of ourselves. The CBA negotiation has to end first.
Help us Ed Snider … you're our only hope!
(Up is down, left is right, hamburgers eat people, dogs and cats living together … mass hysteria.)