Donald Fehr and the NHL lockout standoff

03 Oct

After two hours of meetings with the NHLPA, Bill Daly stepped before microphones with a now-familiar lament following a day he didn't feel was encouraging:

"Until we hear from them and they make some movement or show some willingness to compromise, I'm not sure how we get this done."

Donald Fehr didn't attend that meeting, but struck a different tone in his comments to the media on Tuesday:

"From our standpoint you ought to be continually talking, even if you are disagreeing and not making progress, because you never know when somebody is going to say something that's going to spark an idea that will allow you to make progress."

Just because one message is pessimistic while the other is progressive doesn't mean they aren't saying the same thing: It's a standoff.

And Donald Fehr is as culpable for this stalemate as Gary Bettman is.

The NHLPA hired Don Fehr for a great many reasons — organizing the union, draining it of internal political squabbles, pissing off Bettman — but it didn't hire him to get a deal done before the regular season. That's like hiring Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney to hammer out a peace accord.

No, they hired him to wage labor war while preparing them for the long haul. (Hello, Europe.)

One of the players' go-to talking points was the notion that the lockout was always in the cards for the NHL. Well, yeah, of course it was: First, because that's how NHL labor talks roll, and second because the players were too fat and happy under the terms of the last CBA to strike. A work stoppage was inevitable, because only then do we begin to reach pressure points and deadlines and fractures on the warring sides of the table.

It was also inevitable that Fehr and Bettman would go to overtime to settle this, as Jonathan Gatehouse predicted in his new book "The Instigator" on Bettman:

It is hard to believe that the mix of personalities could fail to shape the negotiations. The dynamic between the commissioner and Bob Goodenow, which went from hostile to poisonous, certainly helped write the script for the two previous lockouts. And this time it will again come down to a competition between the two smartest boys in the room. The fact that Bettman and Fehr are more alike than they are different is the wild card. It could give rise to common ground, or just as easily descend into folie à deux.

For the worried fans, the idea of a baseball guy squaring off against a former basketball executive to decide the future of hockey isn't a comforting one. The best they can hope for is that it will be a short chapter in an already troubled history.

It's not looking like a short chapter, despite unfettered optimism in some circles that this deal gets done in the next two months (raises hand). From Michael Grange of Sportsnet:

It's a theme Daly and the owners have been hammering at lately; that they're ready and willing to work toward a deal, except that the players won't talk about the important stuff, like how to split the money.

And he may have a point.

The players have stuck with the bones of their initial proposal — raises of two, four and six per cent over the first three years of any agreement — since Aug 14. They've offered concessions by offering the owners the opportunity to grow their share of hockey related revenue as league income grows.

But if the owners, or Daly or Bettman, want to better understand why the players won't come to the table with a new proposal even as the first two weeks of the regular season or more are poised to be cancelled, they can only look to history and blame themselves.

Grange goes on to chronicle a history of distrust between the owners and players on these matters, and he's right. Hence, if the NHL is looking for the NHLPA to budge, then the only that's happening is if enough players demand it, fracturing the union.

The problem is, this time, Fehr has created an base of support that won't easily crack.

From the Globe & Mail in September:

There are factions in any organization, but the NHLPA has a particular propensity for dissent and disharmony in high-pressure moments. It's a past that hasn't escaped Fehr's notice. Indeed, he said of all the aspects an executive director needs to master, "internal politics is the one indispensable thing."

So he has made a point of visiting teams, holding dinners, appointing divisional player representatives, and doing things like creating a software application that allows NHLPA members to receive real-time information and messages from Fehr on their phones. He has also courted player agents, the wild cards in any contract dispute.

All of this had led to solidarity far and beyond what Bob Goodenow appeared to have in 2004. As Damien Cox writes today:

The fact players in increasing numbers are fleeing the fight and heading to Europe every day tells you all you need to know about NHLPA unity. But this fact is also true; there won't be a mutiny this time.

Not because the players are any more dedicated to each other or the cause. There's just no way to make it happen, or no easy way, at least.

Why? Well, because in attempting to establish a democracy within the NHLPA, an iron-fisted dictatorship has been created. They toppled Bob Goodenow last time, tore down his statue in city square. Don Fehr, who knows Goodenow well, won't be letting that happen to him.

None of this is breaking news. Fehr's insulated power structure and his deft decision to involve a cross-section of players in negotiations are well documented.

But it's a reminder that when Gary Bettman locked out the players, he handed the keys to Donald Fehr. It's a standoff between two sides that knew it would reach the cancellation of regular-season games for months. Just because the NHL sounds a grim tone and the NHLPA sounds a constructive tone doesn't mean we're not watching two gunslingers, neither wanting to fire the shot.

Calling this a "negotiation" is inaccurate at this point. It's a staring contest.

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Tags: Don Fehr, Donald Fehr, , , , NHLPA, , standoff, table
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NHL CBA talks: No progress, but no postponement of regular-season games yet

02 Oct

The NHL and NHLPA met on Tuesday. To the surprise of no one, little progress was made. Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly said that no further talks are planned, but that the sides will remain in contact.

So now the hockey world continues to wait for the formal postponement or cancellation of regular-season games.

Daly said he didn't expect it would come today, according to Tom Gulitti, saying, "we'll make the appropriate decision at the appropriate time."

But Chris Botta of Sports Business Journal sounded an ominous note about game cancellations:

"I expect NHL to cancel games in the next 24 hours. Contrary to some reports, league might not go easy."


[Nicholas J. Cotsonika: Last chance for NHL, NHLPA to strike best deal for both sides]

The regular-season schedule was set to begin on Oct. 11, with 125 games scheduled for the month. The League cancelled its preseason schedule, something Daly said cost the NHL $100 million.

Daly continues to say the NHLPA needs to move closer to what the NHL is asking for in the next CBA. The NHLPA continues to say it's already made concessions.

It's a stalemate that needs a resolution.

Yahoo! Sports' Nick Cotsonika recently offered one potential meeting in the middle:

There is no reason the NHLPA cannot make the next proposal, though. While the players' proposal projects they would receive much less than 57 percent of HRR going forward, that assumes the business will keep growing — and at a healthy rate. Once regular-season games are canceled, no matter whom you blame, the business will start shrinking, at least in the short term. The players made $1.87 billion in salary last season and want raises of 2 percent, 4 percent and 6 percent the next three seasons, compounded, guaranteed. How will they be able to get that next week, let alone next month, let alone next year? Why has that become a sacred line in the sand?

One last time: No immediate pay cut for the players, but no raise, either. Freeze their $1.87-billion salary from last season. Pay the contracts that have already been signed as they were supposedly intended, by capping escrow, by deferring some payments, whatever. Scale the players' percentage of HRR to about 50 percent over time. Outlaw front-loaded contracts that circumvent the salary cap, maybe make some other minor adjustments, but otherwise leave the contracting rules alone. Increase revenue sharing more than the owners want, but not as much as the players want. Drop the puck.

Could that get it done?

We've heard from a few sources that opening year under last year's salary levels might be a part of the next NHL offer. In which case things get really interesting for the NHLPA, which has been selling a "we'd play under last year's CBA" line since the start of talks.

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Tags: , , HRR, , NHLPA, Nicholas J. Cotsonika, ,
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Beltran homers twice as Cardinals beat Nats 10-4 (Yahoo! Sports)

30 Sep

St. Louis Cardinals' Carlos Beltran hits his second home run of a baseball game during the fourth against the Washington Nationals Sunday, Sept. 30, 2012, in St. Louis. (AP Photo/Bill Boyce)

ST. LOUIS (AP) -- The Cardinals closed in on the NL's second wild-card berth while the Washington Nationals failed to make progress toward the NL East title.

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Watch hockey hero Jack Jablonski throw out first pitch before Twins-Yankees game (VIDEO)

25 Sep

Nine months ago, Minnesota high schooler Jack Jablonski was checked into the boards during a hockey game for Benilde-St. Margaret's and paralyzed. Since then, he's become an inspirational story and been shown support from all over the sports world as he continues rehabilitation.

On Monday, Jablonski was at Target Field in Minnesota to throw out the first pitch before the Twins hosted the New York Yankees. First baseman and hockey fan Justin Morneau played catcher and was part of a pregame ceremony that saw the organization donate $10,000 to the Jack Jablonski Fund.

September has been a huge month for Jablonski and his family. He returned to Benilde-St. Margaret's to attend classes and also managed to stand with assistance for 22 minutes as the ABLE program continues to help Jablonski make huge strides. His story has reached so many people that he was named a finalist for the America's Choice Honoree Courage in Sports award.

From the Caring Bridge online journal kept by Jablonski's mother:

It was only months ago that he was lying in a hospital bed with a halo on. My hopes were dim and at times, the days seemed long and dark. Practically hopeless. But Jack's determination has propelled him to a level of progress that we only hoped and dreamed of. He truly is an inspiration and the reason that we continue to smile and BEL13VE that he will walk again.To think that he's still a contender in "Courage In Sports" (remember to vote every day!) is huge.

To think that he's going to throw out the first pitch during the Twins vs. Yankees game next Monday (9/24) is exciting. To see him open a drawer on his own is thrilling. To watch him text on his iPhone is beyond impressive. It's progress and it's all unexpected, yet it's the result of Jack's determination to be independent. Wondering when he'll master the art of doing laundry ; )

He's spent some time with the Stanley Cup thanks to Davis Drewiske, now thrown out the first pitch before a baseball game. Everything's coming up Jack Jablonski lately. Now if only the NHL can hear his Twitter plea to end the lockout...

Follow Sean Leahy on Twitter at @Sean_Leahy

Tags: courage, hero, , Jablonski, Jack Jablonski, , , , schooler, , , Twins-Yankees
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Reds’ Baker to stay in hospital for monitoring (Yahoo! Sports)

20 Sep
CHICAGO (AP) -- Cincinnati Reds manager Dusty Baker underwent another test Thursday and will remain hospitalized at least one more day so doctors can monitor his progress after he was diagnosed with an irregular heartbeat.
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Tiger Woods of the U.S. hits his tee shot on the second tee during the final round of the PGA Championship golf tournament in Carmel, Indiana September 9, 2012. REUTERS/Brent Smith

ATLANTA (Reuters) - Tiger Woods has not won a major title in more than four years but he is delighted with his progress this season, highlighted by three victories on the PGA Tour, after a frustrating 2011 campaign cut short by injury. The American former world number one missed three months, and two of the four majors, last year after injuring his Achilles during the Masters in April. ...

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ATLANTA, Sept 19 (Reuters) - Tiger Woods has not won a major title in more than four years but he is delighted with his progress this season, highlighted by three victories on the PGA Tour, after a frustrating 2011 campaign cut short by injury. The American former world number one missed three months, and two of the four majors, last year after injuring his Achilles during the Masters in April. ...
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Corey Hart reported no progress Tuesday with his ailing left foot.
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Day 2 comes, goes with no progress in NHL lockout (Yahoo! Sports)

17 Sep
NEW YORK (AP) -- Day 2 of the NHL lockout saw no changes from either side Monday, as talks between the league and the NHLPA remain unscheduled.
Tags: , , , NHLPA, , side, ,
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No progress as Day 1 of NHL lockout comes, goes (Yahoo! Sports)

16 Sep

NHL Players' Association executive director Donald Fehr, center, is joined by Winnipeg Jets' Ron Hainsey as he speaks to reporters, Wednesday, Sept. 12, 2012, in New York. The NHL and the players' association swapped proposals Wednesday in an effort to head off a lockout scheduled to start this weekend. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)

Die-hard hockey fans might need to invest in some classic NHL games on DVD.

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