Here we are in December and still no NHL hockey. Depressing. When this first happened, many were, and still are, quick to blame NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman. Sure, he is an easy target, that is his job. The truth though, you should be blaming NHLPA representative Donald Fehr.
Donald Fehr has been brought in to work a deal in the best interest of the players. That best interest though, was not a lockout, and definitely not a cancelled season. Fehr’s resume however, is not conducive to the cause of a NHL season being played.
With the NHL being locked out under Fehr’s control, he became the only Executive Director to be directly involved in work stoppages in two sports. Six of the eight contract negotiations he has been involved in have resulted in work stoppages, including five consecutive negotiations between the MLBPA and Major League Baseball. The NHL is just another notch on his belt.
The rather simply reason for this, is Fehr has no vested interest in the sport. One could argue he is working for his potential future job of negotiating the next CBA, but ultimately, he is getting paid now while the players, and the owners, are not.
Without the pressure of losing anything, Fehr has led the NHLPA into negotiations with shifting focuses. First was revenue sharing, second a make-whole provision, third contracting, and now, fourth, the player’s pension plan. Ron Burkle, Co-Owner of the Pittsburgh Penguins, recent remarks underline this.
“The idea to put players and owners together in the same room was a refreshing idea. Commissioner Bettman should be thanked for proposing it and the Fehrs should be thanked for agreeing to it.
The players came with a strong desire to get back to playing hockey. They were professional and did a good job of expressing their concerns and listening to ours. We wanted to move quickly and decisively. We have all spent too much time without any real progress at the expense of our fans, our sponsors and the communities we serve. It was time to make bold moves and get a deal. Many people think we got over our skis and they are probably right, but we wanted to do everything we could to get back to hockey now. We didn’t hold back.
We made substantial movement on our end quickly, but unfortunately that was not met with the same level of movement from the other side. The players asked us to be patient and keep working with them. It’s not what they do and they wanted us to know they were committed.
We understood and appreciate their situation. We came back with an aggressive commitment to pensions which we felt was well received. We needed a response on key items that were important to us, but we were optimistic that we were down to very few issues. I believe a deal was within reach.
We were therefore surprised when the Fehrs made a unilateral and “non-negotiable” decision – which is their right, to end the player/owner process that has moved us farther in two days than we have moved at any time in the past months.
I want to thank the players involved for their hard work as we tried to reach a deal.
I hope that going backwards does not prevent a deal.”
The truth is, as it has been since the beginning of negotiations, that the players will lose. In the last negotiation they came out on top. The players have no worries except to play hockey, while the owners, have to run the business. While many of the clubs lose money, the players still get paid. Not sure about your work, but if the company is not making money, I’m taking a pay cut. If the company is really doing bad, the doors are shutting.
The players need to sign a deal, and they need to sign soon so a season can start by January first. If not, they’ll continue to lose even more. Until the players realize this, until they distance themselves from the smoke and mirrors tactics of Donald Fehr, we will continue to be without the sport we love, without hockey. Unfortunately for the fans, until the players contracts are tied into the success of the organization, splitting profit and not revenue, we will continue to see lockouts in future negotiations to come.