Friday, November 02, 2012

Four burning questions, Part II

by Bob Herpen
Phanatic Hockey Editor 

Searching for different ways to approach the issue of the current lockout, the brain trust at the Phanatic decided to canvas fellow colleagues for their thoughts on how the labor battles of 1994-95, 2004-05 and now 2012 have colored their perspective on the game of hockey from their time as fans to their status as credentialed professionals.

Joining us for the next four Fridays will be Dan DiSciullo, hockey editor at The Sports Network, Josh Janet from, and Matt Brigidi from The Checking Line and SB Nation.

Issue #2: Do you think there will be an NHL season in 2012-13 -- why or why not? If so, how do you think a new Collective Bargaining Agreement is accomplished, by when, and how many games do you think will be played? If not, when and how do you think the NHL will call things off? 

DiSciullo: I've changed my mind on this topic several times over the last few months, but currently I feel there will be no 2012-13 season. It seems like both sides have convinced themselves that they can win big in these negotiations and that has led to a lack of urgency when it comes to hammering out a new CBA.

For months the optimists took comfort in the fact that neither the owners nor players were clueless enough to lose another season so soon after the 2004-05 lockout, but I think we may have overestimated their common sense. Time and time again during this stalemate both sides have proven how out of touch they are with the average hockey fan and ultimately that lack of self-awareness could cost us the entire season.

My guess is that the absurd game of chicken that the owners and players are testing each other with will last through January and then the entire season will go on the chopping block in early February.

Janet:  Prior to the most recent proposal from the NHL, I was convinced that the season was already over. There had been reports made that Gary Bettman viewed the NBA’s agreement to a 50/50 as a mistake, and would accept nothing less than 48% of hockey-related revenue for the players.

With the NHL moving towards a 50-50 split, I think there is a deal to be had with hockey returning by Black Friday (with 68± games played per team). Unfortunately, it requires the owners to accept paying out a sizeable portion of existing contracts, and there has not been much, if any, movement on that issue to date to expect an agreement to be reached.

If there is no agreement by mid-December, I expect the season to officially be cancelled.

Brigidi: I don't know if they will play this season. That's not to say I think they will miss the whole year; I just don't know because I'm not in the bargaining room. I have found it difficult to gauge where discussions are at based on what players say or what people's gut instincts are (and of course the owners aren't talking at all...for the most part). 

To actually answer the question, I think it makes a lot more sense for the NHL to play this year than it does to sit out a whole year fighting over a set of issues (hell, it could be a single issue).
Ultimately, I think this process is a lot more difficult than some make it out to be and it will ultimately be resolved when the sides get close enough to a deal that they are willing to make concessions or when one side gives up. However, I think it's more likely that the two sides agree before one gives up.

Herpen: Though my hopes wavered from time to time, I figured as far back as the NHLPA's hiring of Donald Fehr that any future labor issues would very likely result in a truncated season at best, and a cancelled season at worst.

It appears the worst-case scenario has reared its ugly head -- that discussions about a new CBA instead have turned into ideological warfare between Bettman as figurehead for the owners and Fehr as figurehead for the players. If things continue to progress with neither side giving an inch and sticking to their respective guns concerning their negotiating positions, we might as well seek out alternate entertainment options inside and outside of hockey, because there will be no season.

I think it was ridiculous that Bettman ordered a lockout, instead of at least trying to negotiate while the NHL continued without a CBA as the players had done in 1991-92. As of now, the only way I can see a schedule that's not a pure money-grab being played is in the miracle category: both sides come to their senses by Christmas, temporarily lift the lockout for the Winter Classic, then start the season in mid-January after hammering out the details of the new CBA. 

Short of that, it'll be eerily quiet in 30 cities this Winter.

Postscript: Late last night, this nugget of optimism appeared on the radar. 

A few questions:

1) How does Timonen come by his certainty? He is not the Flyers' player rep -- that's Brayden Coburn and he's said little but the union party line in public discourse. 

2) Does Timonen really believe the NHL was just bluffing the first three times it cancelled portions of the schedule, and its firm stance of negotiating solely from its last proposal, only to give up on the fourth now that it appears the Winter Classic is on the chopping block? Same goes for the NHLPA's tactics.

3) Why would Timonen come out now with his stoic optimism, a stance which is more likely to string desperate fans along than not? They may need some optimism, pulled from somewhere out in the ether as it seems, but that's not a wise thing to do when things appear bleakest. 

4) How is this latest story any different or distinguishable from the hundreds of tweets that preceded it, with a certain number of players who believe a season will happen contrasted with another certain number who don't?

5) Since the crux of the piece seems to be one where a non-North American feels comfortable expressing his opinion to his countryman, can that courage be displayed where it counts, in Coburn's ear or in Toronto with the Fehrs?

Short of any answers, it's just another player blathering an uninformed opinion, just as he plans to leave the continent and go play somewhere else for the balance of the season. It's not something where desperate fans clinging to hope can invest any kind of trust -- just another piece of ammunition to tip the scales of public opinion against the union as player after player will think about their own pockets rather than getting a new CBA squared away.

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