There’s no anger left to give. Last night’s events were just hilariously bizarre.
Four press conferences later, a deal had been all but agreed to and then fully removed from the table.
The reality is that, if the deal was as close as Donald Fehr originally depicted, he wouldn’t have been holding a press conference about it. There would be silence in the media and intense chatter in the board room late into the night.
What it was, was more posturing and power plays from both sides as the core issue moves from make-whole transition costs to contract and CBA length.
It was fascinating to see the the gag order on the owners side suddenly lift as the league released the hounds on Fehr, who had just candidly pulled off a PR masterstroke on Bettman, Daly and co. Fehr excited hockey fans everywhere with phrases like “agreed to” and “complete agreement” on the financials, then returned to the podium to publicly out the flippant voicemail left on his phone. Bettman quickly called another press conference of his own in a childish game of last word.
But we probably shouldn’t dismiss these quotes as just any old partisan-owner talk. These are owners who have at least shown an interest in crossing the aisle. Ron Burkle was expected to be the NHL’s Robert Kraft in this latest set of negotiations; known for being Crosby’s buddy and one of the most player-friendly owners in the league, with a history of winning labour awards. Then there’s Tanenbaum, probably the owner least interested in balking over a few million dollars instead of having the billion dollar hockey team he part-owns resume its normal course of business. Both clearly feel Fehr went too far yesterday.
On the owners end, it isn’t the first time Bettman, Daly and co. pulled the “take it or it’s off the table,” absolutist approach to these negotiations, and evidently Fehr called them on another of their bullying bluffs. The Players don’t broker CBA deals for a living and Donald Fehr, loathe him or hate him, is paid to represent them; to yank the deal once Fehr was brought back into the proceedings is ridiculous. It’s the same attempt to undermine NHLPA leadership that we’ve seen in the past lockouts Bettman has presided over.
Yes, it’s long past the point of being silly. They met in the middle on the transition costs. And it’s hard to imagine the players, with a tiny percentage their constituency seriously affected by the contract limit, risking a lost season for it; unless they’re wrapped around Fehr’s finger and serving the interest of a handful of big-contract players. After many of them handed out long-term deals like candy in the past 5 years, it’s similarly hard to imagine the owners putting up a major quibble over a year or two. It seems absurd to start talking canceled season with the two sides a small footbridge apart, or as Fehr put it, “right on top of each other.” But what should be obvious from last night, if it wasn’t already, is that it’s not common sense calling the shots here.
Was this a final stand off or one big step closer to a season gone kaput?
Your guess is as good as mine.