True enough, both the NBA and NFL lockouts were settled soon after the sports’ respective player associations opted to either decertify or dissolve.
But as the NHLPA contemplates its legal alternatives, it is instructive to recall big market owners such as the Knicks’ Jim Dolan pushed David Stern toward a basketball settlement last November while Patriots owner Robert Kraft was one of the central figures in urging Roger Goodell to end the football stalemate four months earlier.
The NHL needs such a hero or two (or four or five) to emerge from the ranks of the Board of Governors in order to put a stop to the madness in which hockey is enmeshed. When the board meets in New York on Dec. 5, the NHL’s survival as we know it will depend on practical men flexing their vocal cords in opposition to the cabal of militants who have seized the agenda and seem intent on committing what the Sabres’ Ryan Miller referred to on Friday as “brand suicide.”
It’s hard to believe the owners of the Maple Leafs, who stand to lose at least $100 million if the season is flushed, will stand by silently as the league seeks nothing less than unconditional surrender from the players. It is impossible to believe the owners of the Canadiens, Canucks, Flyers, Red Wings, Penguins and Blackhawks will continue to cede authority.
Perhaps no one will listen to Dolan of the Rangers — who stands to lose at least $60 million if the puck isn’t dropped just as his team would be denied its shot at the Cup — just as no one listened to him a few years ago when he petitioned the board to dismiss Gary Bettman, but silence from the Blueshirts’ CEO simply would be unacceptable.
Wouldn’t it be grand, by the way, if Jeremy Jacobs, the militant owner of the Bruins who holds inexplicable sway over the board and Bettman, would explain to the fans and season subscribers in Boston why he is arguing against his team’s own self-interests?
Understand this: Big market owners who continue to support the hardline as espoused by Bettman, Jacobs and Proskauer Rose counsel Bob Batterman are placing their own narrow interests ahead of their team’s and their fans’. Big market owners who allow themselves to be gagged are betraying the customers who foot the bills.
A word: No one is suggesting the players are underpaid. No one is suggesting the players couldn’t live quite well indeed taking up to a 20-percent pay cut going forward while yielding on all the contractual issues that somehow have become as central to this dispute as 50/50.
But the argument that the players should capitulate so the owners can put a few million more in their pockets every year is outrageous. The idea that the players should willingly take so much less so ownership of big-market, revenue-engines can make more, well, that’s an insult.
The brightest anti-trust minds on the continent will argue in court if the players do indeed decertify and file suit against the league, so it is absurd to think the outcome of such a move could be predicted with any certainty.
It seems equally absurd to suggest the decision to decertify is a no-brainer guaranteeing untold riches for the PA. If so, why wouldn’t Don Fehr, who most certainly knew what he was up against by the middle of August, have urged decertification on Sept. 16?
Among the problems confronting the union — and those owners who want to see the league on the ice rather than in court — is Bettman’s inability to negotiate a deal.
Think of it: Twice before, he has presided over lockouts. Each time he agreed to collective bargaining agreements that a few years later he himself called bad deals for the owners. Maybe he doesn’t trust himself. Maybe the owners don’t trust him. Certainly no one trusts the general managers.
How much, I wonder, would the league save by agreeing on make-whole immediately rather than paying the legal fees that will accompany fighting decertification and defending anti-trust lawsuits?
In fact, that’s a question Dolan or Flyers chairman Ed Snider might want to pose on Dec. 5.
The common-sense path to a negotiated settlement is clear: The union agrees to pro-rate on this season’s make-whole, a concession (another concession) of approximately $45 million while the league relents on its demands to impose contractual restrictions that would damage every player’s negotiating ability for the entirety of their careers and would be to the detriment of big market franchises.
It’s time for common sense from the board, isn’t it? Once Dec. 5 passes, it will be past time. The NHL needs a hero or two in the boardroom. (source Larry Brooks -- New York Post)