On some level, this is all as predictable as a Russian election.
Both the NHL and the players association knew they were looking at a 48-game schedule. Both sides knew an agreement had to be reached by early January. That was the real pressure point and that gave both sides the freedom to indulge in the petty intrigues we’ve been forced to endure for six months.
And give both sides their due. They haven’t squandered that opportunity.
But now, the spit is getting real and, suddenly, proposals are flying back and forth between the two sides like a shuttlecock in a backyard badminton game. As of this writing, the NHL is studying the union’s latest proposal, which was delivered Wednesday afternoon. This is the fourth proposal to be considered since the two sides decided to get serious last Thursday. This is also what hockey fans have been waiting for, a concerted, sincere effort from both sides complete with compromise and real give-and-take.
The question is, did it really have to come to this?
Through their actions, the NHL has sent the not-too-subtle message that the fans will forgive and forget; that they’ll return to the game as they always have and the damage from this work stoppage will be minimal.
How else do you explain the league’s, for wont of a better term, strategy? Their original offer, tabled back in July, was so ridiculous, so nonsensical, it was barely credible. An 11 per cent reduction in the players’ share of hockey-related revenues. Massive upgrades for the owners on contracting issues, including an extension of free-agency qualification from seven years to 10.
It was as if the board of governors were sitting around a bong, trying to top each other with the absurdity of their demands.
“I know. Let’s ask for 15-year entry level deals on all left-handed Swedish defencemen.”
“Good one, Jeremy. Now, pass that thing over.”
That first offer, unfortunately, also set the tone for what was to come. Long after the players began making significant concessions, the NHL continued to negotiate off its July offer as if it was a legitimate document. When the players showed resistance on some fronts, the league then began delivering a series of ultimatums, which, when you think of it, kind of defeats the purpose of an ultimatum.
I mean, when you present an offer as a take-it-or-leave-it proposition, then come back with a new take-it-or-leave-it four days later, the threat isn’t very effective. I’ve honestly lost track of how many take-it-or-leave-its the NHL has issued. At least that farce has stopped but, again, the damage to the process and the league’s withering credibility has been very real.
You sense, in fact, fans might be a little more patient if both sides hadn’t wasted so much time posturing and preening. Pensions and escrows are two of the most contentious issues now and, in theory, every working person can relate to both.
But after watching six months of Gary and Don, it’s now framed as players and their average annual salary of $2.4 million holding up the game over their pensions. Given everything else that’s taken place, working stiffs have a hard relating to that. There is little sympathy for either side as this process draws to a close and when we say little, we mean none.