NHL LABOUR WOES
Adversarial relationship in NHL cannot be partnership
NHL rinks like the Bell Centre in Montreal will remain empty until a new CBA is signed between the NHL and players. (Christinne Muschi/Reuters/Files)
There were no substantive talks Sunday between NHL owners and players and no formal talks scheduled.
The gulf between the owners and the players remains wide on the core economic issues. We seem to be in a spot where the league is waiting for the players association to make the next move with some kind of counterproposal to move the process forward before the current deal officially expires Saturday.
We're also in a situation where both sides are saying they want a deal, but there hasn't been enough heat yet apparently to get the sides moving from their trenches towards no man's land, where the inevitable deal lies buried.
Everybody who loves or has has a stake in the game sits and waits for some daring soul to stick his head up and continue the trek to the middle ground.
It's going to happen, but not for a while yet and it looks like the collateral damage inflicted on arena workers and others who depend on the NHL to help make car, tuition and mortgage payments while be greater than on either of the combatants.
There's still a chance that damage will be minimal.
In the meantime, we wait and see what the game is going to look like once the smoke clears.
One of the things to be decided is who really has ownership of the game. There was a lot of pap about a partnership coming out of the last CBA, but given the nature of the relationship, it's hard to believe there could ever be a relationship between the owners and the players that is a true partnership.
Let's not kid ourselves: there never is going to be when one side pays the other.
Isn't that human nature? If one side is dependent on the other for wages, is there ever going to realistically be equality when it comes to determining how the business should be run? A pro sports league is unique because you have owners and you have employees, who are also the product.
I don't think owners always have the best interests of the game uppermost in their minds (the Stanley Cup handed out in mid-June?). You would hope they would be motivated to do what is best for the game, assuming if they make the product better, they'll also take care of the bottom line.
The priority of the players, given the shortness of their careers, is probably maximizing their earning potential. Can't blame them for that.
But when you leave the hope for progress in the hands of two groups whose relationship, at its heart, it adversarial, you risk never getting anything done.
One of the potential pitfalls of the cooperative, "partnership" model is one side or the other can be motivated to withhold its authorization of a worthy initiative as a bargaining ploy.
There was some speculation that was the case last December when the owners came up with a new alignment, moving from two conferences to six divisions and a new playoff scenario. The players ultimately scuttled the plan, citing concerns with inequities in qualifying for the playoffs (four teams would advance from each division despite the fact two divisions had eight teams and the other two seven) and increased travel for some teams.
Why give a rubber stamp to something and let it pass when, on the eve of talks for a new collective bargaining agreement, it could be rejected and put in the cupboard, ready to be brought out to gain a concession on some other point?
This isn't a criticism of the players because of that specific incident. It made sense, given the impending negotiation in which they are currently involved, to keep some bullets in the gun.
The competition committee is a good idea, but it needs an independent presence, maybe an arbiter agreed upon by both sides (I know, maybe even that is asking a lot), to break potential deadlocks.
Economics are always going to be the key piece of the CBA, but who owns how the game looks and plays isn't going to be far behind.