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Should the players accept a Fehr-less meeting with the owners?

Nov 30, 2012, 12:43 PM EST

Donald Fehr: Sidney Crosby AP

Yesterday, after two days of failed mediation, news broke that NHL commissioner Gary Bettman had proposed to NHLPA chief Donald Fehr that the players and owners get together without Bettman and Fehr in the room.

The idea was that the removal of the two leaders, each of which has drawn the ire of the other side (and that’s putting it lightly), would reduce the animosity at the bargaining table.

At least, that’s how the league sold it.

“We want to find a way to get to a deal,” NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly said. “Nothing else has worked. The commissioner felt that we might as well propose something different. We will see how they respond.”

For fans, the proposal was a welcome one. If that’s the way a deal gets done, do it. (And if that doesn’t work, flip a coin or have an arm wrestle. Anything to end this ridiculous lockout.)

But is it the right move for the players? After all, these are not sophisticated deal-makers; they play hockey for a living. Without Fehr, who’s going to look out for them?

Yahoo!’s Nick Cotsonikas thinks it’s a risk the players have to take.

This smells like a trap. After two sessions with U.S. federal mediators went nowhere, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman made a suggestion Thursday – a meeting between owners and players only.

It seems like a PR move. It seems like another negotiating tactic designed to go around NHL Players’ Association leadership, like when the league gave executives a secret window to explain a proposal to players. It seems like a mismatch – seasoned businessmen vs. hockey players.

But they’ve got to try, at least under certain conditions. Joining the nobles is the only hope for the season. You know what happens if they don’t take this chance?

Nothing.

Ken Campbell of The Hockey News disagrees:

Look for player-friendly owner representatives such as Mario Lemieux and John Davidson to be very prominent in these meetings if they take place. They have an enormous amount of credibility with the players and Lemieux, the NHL likely believes, has an enormous amount of sway over Sidney Crosby. And if a star such as Crosby begins to cave, then perhaps others will follow.

Which is why, from this corner, it makes very little sense for the players to allow this to happen. They hired Fehr precisely to do what he has done so far to the owners and it has been a brilliant tactic. And as far as the players have been concerned, Fehr has been the equivalent of the Pied Piper of Hamelin, constantly being flanked by grim looking superstars at every photo opportunity.

Dealing directly with owners has always represented an enormous disadvantage for the players. That’s why they have agents to negotiate their contracts for them. And that’s why they have Fehr to do their dirty work for them.

The NHLPA has yet to accept or decline the league’s offer.

If it does accept, the next step would be determining the format of the meeting, as well as who’s invited.

“It might be helpful if we can get some other owners in the room,” Pittsburgh forward Craig Adams told the Post-Gazette.

(Translation: Owners besides Jeremy Jacobs, Ted Leonsis, Murray Edwards and Craig Leipold.)

If it declines, the next step may be decertification.

  1. hitem396 - Nov 30, 2012 at 12:52 PM

    Bettman and Fehr, please leave Hockey…

  2. travishenryskid - Nov 30, 2012 at 1:00 PM

    Is Ken Campbell an idiot? The players hired Fehr to do exactly what he’s done? It’s been a brilliant tactic? Really? The only thing that they are doing brilliantly is killing the sport.

    • travishenryskid - Nov 30, 2012 at 1:07 PM

      Maybe he’s been trapped inside the negotiation bubble for too long because he’s missing the big picture. If you write about the negotiations as if they are the big picture, and fail to consider the real big picture, you miss the mark. Campbell’s comments are out of focus because of his proximity to the story. Step back, Ken, step back.

    • davebabychreturns - Nov 30, 2012 at 1:57 PM

      Ken Campbell is an idiot but I don’t think you can say that Fehr hasn’t represented the players fairly well. He’s maneuvered the owners into come miles away from their original position before even making a serious offer, and while obviously things are hostile now and the rhetoric is that a season may be lost, a lot of players seem pretty frickin’ angry with the league so perhaps a fight like this is exactly what many of them want.

      • travishenryskid - Nov 30, 2012 at 2:30 PM

        Fehr has represented himself extremely well. He’s managed to brainwash the players into believing they are “treated like animals” by the owners, which is exactly what he had to do in order get them on board with a fight in which nobody wins except for he and Bettman in feeding their own inflated egos. As of right now, no matter what deal is eventually struck, the players lose, the owners lose, the sport loses and the fans lose. Big picture. Fehr’s representation has been a complete disaster.

      • shotzongoal - Nov 30, 2012 at 2:50 PM

        Dave you are kidding, right? Fehr has done nothing. The league is right where they wanted to be at 50/50. The player have lost about 40% of their 2012 salary they will never recover. Between both parties inability to reach a deal the credibility of the sport has been damaged. Do you honestly feel the NHL is going to absorb all of the lost good will and lost revenue alone. Fehr has cleverly maneuvered the NHLPA to the brink of a canceled season. If Fehr was representing the players best interest they would be playing hockey instead of fighting with the owners and each other.

      • travishenryskid - Nov 30, 2012 at 2:50 PM

        Judging Fehr should not be about how he managed to maneuver within the space of his own agenda, the agenda he created, it should be about how much he helped the players and helped the sport along the way.

      • davebabychreturns - Nov 30, 2012 at 5:21 PM

        @travishenryskid – you think the players weren’t fighting mad before the lockout, or that they weren’t distrustful of ownership basically since the last lockout? Why do you think they went out and hired the biggest, most notorious hawk they could get? As to whether the players aims are in line with what is truly best for the sport, it’s completely impossible to say at this point. Personally I would say that it’s likely that unless things change the league would probably lock the players out at the end of each CBA for the indefinite future, based on the roaring success they had last time around. For all we know, a knock down drag out fight or even decertification now could save future lost seasons… or it could be the end of half the teams in the league. We just don’t know right now.

        @shotzongoal – you’re assuming that the players best interest is to just take the best offer they can get without any games missed.. and you’re assuming that the economics of the next CBA will closely resemble what the owners are offering right now. Neither is even close to a given.

      • shotzongoal - Nov 30, 2012 at 5:59 PM

        @Dave, I made no assumptions whatsoever. I simply stated facts. 1) the players have lost 40% of the season, 2) that there is damage to the sport itself meaning financial and credibility damage. The owners will not be the only one to take responsibility for that damage. 3) that Fehr has done nothing to alleviate the possibility of the players losing the season. The players seemed to be of the mind that they do not want to give back anything anymore. Given the above will you please explain the players strategy again?

      • thedavesiknowiknow - Dec 1, 2012 at 12:36 AM

        “Hawk”? Ambulance chaser.

  3. fikuserectus - Nov 30, 2012 at 1:13 PM

    LOL! These numb scull players couldn’t negotiate a free lunch let alone a collective bargaining agreement with the owners. That is why they hired Fehr to do it for them. Someone how has the intelligence and expertise. Something the players are lacking in. LOL! Funniest idea yet.

    • elvispocomo - Nov 30, 2012 at 2:16 PM

      Is that anything like the owners who signed massive, front-loaded contracts right before the CBA expired despite having lost money and knowing they would ask major concessions from the players in the new proposal? You give the owners too much credit and the players too little.

      Certainly there are a number of players who aren’t involved in the process and don’t understand the details, but there are also more than a few who have a very good grasp on what is happening and understand the financials as well.

  4. millertime30 - Nov 30, 2012 at 1:16 PM

    Bob Kraft ain’t walkin’ through that door..

  5. steelhammer92 - Nov 30, 2012 at 1:22 PM

    Has anyone else gotten to the point where you are just reading the lockout news for a good laugh… To see what new things these buffoons negotiating are doing to screw up each day? I’ve come to grips with the fact that there will be no season this year. Instead of being depressed, all you can really do is laugh at how stupid these people really are.

  6. spetznaz777 - Nov 30, 2012 at 1:29 PM

    haha no one beat me to it. ITS A TRAP-Admiral Akbar

  7. chrisvegas - Nov 30, 2012 at 1:30 PM

    Why not? The season is likely over anyways.

  8. dutchman1350 - Nov 30, 2012 at 1:37 PM

    PR move? Fans think both sides are being greedy over our money. There is NO public relation.

  9. ThatGuy - Nov 30, 2012 at 1:39 PM

    If I was Fehr I would say fine, here is the list of Owner’s I want there and here is the List of players they can meet with.

    Leipold can meet with Parise and Suter and tell them they don’t deserve the contracts he just gave them and they didnt deserve the right to negotiate them.

    Taylor Hall can meet with Kratz

    Seguin can meet with Jacobs

    Samueli can meet with Perry and Getzlaf(right before they hit UFA)

    etc, etc.

    Make the owners talk to their own players and tell them what they think they are worth.

    • davebabychreturns - Nov 30, 2012 at 2:00 PM

      This is basically what I would push for as well. Cut the hard liners out of the equation and ensure big money ownership that wants to see hockey played are in the room.

      Only allow team reps in the PA (or other parties who have remained involved through this) to represent the player side, with perhaps some player agents thrown in for good measure.

      Bettman’s suggestion of this is obviously a good move for the league, as there are enough hard liners among the governors that if he can pick who he wants then he’ll end up with a room full of successful businessmen with similar aims to his on the one side, and a bunch of high school educated (for the most part) players on the other.

  10. mmcneels81 - Nov 30, 2012 at 2:00 PM

    This isn’t going to happen. If it looks like a trap and smells like a trap… it is a trap, and you don’t go walking right into it. Not without a really good plan, anyway.

  11. stakex - Nov 30, 2012 at 2:11 PM

    The players themselves would almost certainly go for this. While most NHL players are idiots, there are enough smart guys mixed in that could lead them in one on one talks. Not to mention the players would almost certainly run any deal past all the union brass befor accepting anyway. Theres almost no downside to the owners and players sitting down and talking. It might not get a deal done, but hows that worse then where we are now?

    With that said, I doubt Fehr will ever let it happen since there is little to no upside for him. If a deal gets done without him in the room, he will look irrelevant and in-effective. So if the players want to go for this, they might have to do oust Fehr to do it.

  12. scrouch - Nov 30, 2012 at 2:31 PM

    A meeting might not be a bad idea but there’s no way that the NHLPA would agree to a true bargaining session between players and owners. And they shouldn’t. The players have agents to negotiate their individual contracts for good reason, and those are much less complex than the CBA. Which is why they have guys like Fehr under their employ.

    • bmscalise - Nov 30, 2012 at 5:01 PM

      Agreed. Everyone is acting like this would be a negotiating session, as if the players would walk out having signed some ridiculous deal. The meeting would be (at least ideally) a structured conversation between a variety of owners and carefully prepped players, to try to break the ice. The players would be told what they shouldn’t reveal, as would the owners. It merely would be the opportunity for players and owners to explain their concerns to a group that they may trust more (say, a ex-player like Mario), as opposed to the current tools in charge.

      Relationships fail when people stop listening to the other side, and both sides have long since hit the “tune out” stage. Neither side would learn anything new, per se, but it might shift the toxic attitude (granted, that that’s a big might). And perhaps it better reveals the genuine must-haves for each side. Both sides believe that the other side is divided – or at least less invested in sticking to certain elements of a deal. Perhaps if the players know that ALL of the owners are heavily invested in eliminating long-terms deals, the PA can focus on protecting arbitration and FA age. And if the owners hear a bunch of players stressing that the PA simply won’t sign a deal that raises FA age, they’ll consider giving up that element to get others. At best, it could reveal priorities and shift the discussion in that direction – a necessity, since right now neither side is willing to compromise and insists there is no middle ground.

  13. westof1club - Nov 30, 2012 at 2:43 PM

    This may be the players’ only opportunity to ascertain which owners are not in Bettman’s corner. To those who feel Fehr has brainwashed players, wake up. They hired him to avoid being fleeced by the owners again. If the owners want to kill their sport, go ahead. Fehr’s only doing his job. I’d sacrifice 10 hockey seasons to see justice and watch the current owners lose a league.

  14. ballistictrajectory - Nov 30, 2012 at 3:09 PM

    Tweeet! Owners. 2 minutes, too many men on the ice.

  15. wsphloyd - Nov 30, 2012 at 3:35 PM

    FIRE BETTMAN T-Shirts and more at:

    http://www.cafepress.com/fbettman

    The little, arrogant weasel must go!!!

  16. ibieiniid - Nov 30, 2012 at 4:10 PM

    whether it’d do any good or not, how did we not hear a response today? what i’ve been most pissed about this whole time is the length of ‘The Flapping Heads” work weeks. “we met today, we might meet tomorrow if we feel like it.” then they take 2 weeks off. a simple yes/no on Fehr’s part and he couldn’t give the answer today?

    I wonder what kind of hours Bettman/Fehr actually work to be making that serious amount of money.

  17. fortwaynekomets - Nov 30, 2012 at 4:42 PM

    I watch hockey every day on America One Sports online. college, CHL, ECHL… you name it. best thing ever during an NHL lockout!

  18. id4joey - Nov 30, 2012 at 5:07 PM

    Question, why would Bettman/owners suggest this meeting between players & owners? is this their subtle way of telling the players that Fehr is not communicating the owner’s proposal accurately to them? It’s doubtful that Bettman would take himself out of the equation without the owner’s consent. Why? Is it strictly a PR move? Lame one if it is.

  19. thedavesiknowiknow - Nov 30, 2012 at 7:51 PM

  20. id4joey - Dec 1, 2012 at 8:08 AM

    Just saying it happened again,

    id4joey – Nov 29, 2012 at 7:59 PM
    It’s not about their lack of brains, but more so about their lack of experience. Do you seriously think they can go head to head with the owners to resolve their issues? Besides, it is like asking a couple to negotiate the terms of their divorce.

  21. jimw81 - Dec 1, 2012 at 2:17 PM

    The person i think nhl will pick is ed snider. although he’s hawk like bettman he has more to lose in this situation because of comcast/nbc relationship. plus the players like him around the league and that article that he denied showed that he has a different philosophy than Mr.Burns, excuse me, jacobs.

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