The NHL and the NHLPA met for the fourth consecutive day on Friday in their attempt to come to a new collective bargaining agreement. By most accounts it was a lot like Thursday: they got very little done. (You can be outraged by this, but I remind you that spending an entire Friday at the office while accomplishing next to nothing is pretty much an American tradition.)
But it's not as though we didn't hear from either side today. In the morning, a memo from Donald Fehr to the players somehow magically found its way into the hands of NHL broadcast partners NBC and TSN. In it, Fehr did not seem all that enthused by the direction of the meetings, mentioning "significant gaps".
Some in the hockey world felt that Fehr was being overly pessimistic. I would argue that he was being consciously pessimistic, if not just realistic. Considering the players are, by his own admission, a little frightened, the last thing you want to do is get their hopes up and then have to tell them that there's been a setback. Managing the emotional response of the 700-plus constituents on that mailing list is a large part of the gig.
But how did the NHL feel about Fehr's memo? Not great, and it wasn't the tone they disliked so much as the content.
They felt those 700-plus constituents were misled, because Fehr misrepresented their offer.
According to Mike Russo, the league has offered an immediate 50/50 split with contracts paid in full, just as the players wanted, and yet, for whatever reason, Fehr's memo left that out. From the Star Tribune:
The league has been under the impression that the majority of players are ready to get back onto the ice if revenues are split 50/50 and all contracts are honored in full. Several players have told the Star Tribune that in recent days.
That's exactly what the owners have offered the players, the sources say, something Fehr did not spell out in his memo.
The League's plan to deal with the salary reductions created by an immediate shift to a 50/50 revenue split is simple: lump-sum payments in the second and third years of the CBA.
According to Russo's source, "the league feels 'we're there' on revenue sharing", the big issue, and yet Fehr chose not to mention that to the players.
So what gives? Has Donald Fehr gone rogue like David from Prometheus and withheld valuable information to further some alternative agenda? Did he put alien goo in Manny Malhotra's drink? Did Fehr find the star map highlighting earth?!
Yeah, probably not.
It's worth noting that this isn't the first time Fehr has been accused of dishonesty. Three weeks ago, just prior to the NHL pulling the offer that would have saved the 82-game schedule, we learned that the league felt Fehr was being dishonest. Bill Daly said the players' 50/50 offer had been misrepresented.
Then there was this paragraph from Bruce Arthur of the National Post on October 18th:
The league has reached the point where it does not believe Fehr speaks for the players, and has hijacked the negotiations to suit his own ends. They believe they are dealing with the one person in this entire negotiation with nothing to lose, and since Fehr is the one guy in this mess who could walk away afterwards and never think about hockey again, they may even be right.
In short, Fehr's not thinking in the game's best interest because he doesn't care about the game. That's what the NHL was intimating on October 18th. Now, it would appear, after a week of negotiations that didn't make the progress they wanted, the league is beginning to intimate a little harder.
To that end, Russo -- and Larry Brooks -- also let us in on a new demand from the union via these sources, which is that the players, with no regard for a lockout-shortened season, want the same dollar amount of revenue that they got last year. Plus five per cent. According to Brooks, that would likely eat up around two-thirds of revenue in a 66-game season. Now that just sounds crazy unreasonable.
Also, Fehr kept Bettman and Daly waiting for six hours today for no reason.
Why, it seems like the only reason a deal wasn't struck this week is because Donald Fehr is a complete and utter megalo-- wait.
I do believe that Donald Fehr is being character-assassinated.
It's a good tactic, really, especially considering that confidence the players have in this union head as compared to his predecessors. Fehr has been adamant about strong communication with the players since day one, and numerous players have raved about his communication, but if the league can sell the notion that Fehr is shady and withholding, just like all of the union's other bad relationships, they're one step closer to getting the players to fold.
Will it work? Fehr categorically denied that he was withholding information after the talks. Craig Adams echoed this to Rob Rossi of the Pittsburgh Tribune. "If anybody is suggesting that Don's holding information back," he said, "that's totally untrue."
Also, you feel like one of the players that's been in the meetings with Fehr all week might have said something if he was. Unless Fehr got to them.
As for the league's proposal, Fehr said it didn't do what the League said it did. "With their make whole proposal, players won't be able to receive every dollar of their deal." And as for that crazy request for, like, all of this season's revenue, John Shannon was told it was the basis of a new system, not the player's revenue share in a shortened season.
In short, even if Fehr is dabbling in the dark arts of misinformation, he's hardly the only one. Does this shock you? It shouldn't.
All that said, if there was any optimism about this week's talks (and I expressed some myself yesterday), I'd say it's time to couch it again. This is a personal attack we're witnessing. While I'm no economist, I am a married man, and if there's one thing I know about heated discussions, it's this: the moment they devolve into personal attacks, things are going very, very badly.