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WAITING FOR GODOT; BETTMAN AND FEHR PRACTICE THEIR POSTURING

There have been no negotiations between the NHL and the NHLPA. Instead, Bettman and Fehr, either themselves or through their surrogates, have engaged in well-rehearsed posturing. In almost every negotiations there is a stage of pre-negotiations where the framework of an ultimate agreement is discussed or communicated in writing. There are so many viable ways to reach a cogent agreement, it's almost more difficult to have a non-agreement than an agreement. I have no doubt that if Crosby and Karmanos were given authority to meet and not come out until each had negotiated the best deal possible they could start at 9:00 a.m. and would be finished by Noon. Accordingly, there is no deal yet because neither the NHL owners or the NHLPA has sufficient incentive or will to reach what will be the ultimate deal.

One way to tell is that both Bettman and Fehr are not speaking the language of agreement or compromise. Instead, both speak of economic principles or the need to avoid a cycle of lockouts. This CBA negotiation is not about the future. The future is unknowable. The CBA is a contract that speaks for itself. It has a beginning and it has an end. Nothing about the next CBA is relevant; and both Bettman and Fehr are fully aware that is the case. So why then are Bettman and Fehr using an approach guaranteed to result in a deadlock? There are reasons rather than a single reason for this absurd melodrama. Perhaps the biggest reason is the personality of both Fehr and Bettman. They view negotiations as an opportunity to establish a personal legacy in the world of sports. Realistically, historians generally could care less who the NHL Commissioner or the head of the NHLPA was. It's a curiosity.

Also, Bettman and Fehr are so focused on winning a victory for their side that an agreement is secondary to them. So why then are the players in particular being led won this path of almost certain disappointment? It's harder to judge the reasons for the players. In part, the players are rightly feeling betrayed by the owners. The players correctly view themselves as the primary reason the NHL's popularity and revenue have skyrocketed. The players risk their health for the game they love. They work year round to hone their skills. They have a very short work life. They attend autograph sessions, participate in We Love our Team luncheons, and many participate on Twitter and other social media. Additionally, hockey is an ultimate team game. The players who make it to the NHL have done so by cultivating their ability to view the greater good of the team. They block shots and come to the rescue of their teammates. That pack mentality is being exploited by Fehr. Surely Fehr at many level believes he too is helping these players; but his approach sacrifices these current players for future players and future CBAs, even under his own terms of trying to break the cycle of lockouts. The current players need a CBA. The cycle of lockout affects future NHL players. The most disturbing aspect to me is the fact Fehr overlooks basic math in trying to achieve victory. Take a player who earns $1,000,000 a year on a three year contract. Over the course of the term, he receives $3,000,000 in pay if all three seasons are played. If a CBA reduces this contract 10% per year, the player would receive $2,700,000.00. If there is no lockout out, and a 5% reduction occurs, the Player effectively has a two year contract in which the total payment is $1,900,000. SO why would a player rather "win" by leaving $800,000 on the table? If that is a win, I'd rather lose.

My example becomes more draconian if the owners in fact offer less and less as the lockout drags on. Assume that Bettman negotiates an even better deal in August after an entire season is lost. The same player could get $2,700,000.00 today. In August, Bettman forces a 20% rollback. The same player now would receive $1,600,000.00 over his contract term. The cost of Fehr's trying to squeeze the owners would result in a loss of $1,100,000 to the player. Former players have said the other lockout wasn't worth it. The reason is that a lost season is money lost that can never been regained. It's a fool's errand in other words to focus on the money being rolled back rather than focusing on the total cost to the players.

The math is so basic and elemental that it's obvious Fehr knows the contradiction. Bettman is a master of ruthless, no holds barred negotiation. He realizes that Fehr has motivations other than the bottom line. Bettman is if nothing else a bottom line kind of guy. He has worked Fehr into checkmate. Fehr now has only bad, worse, and horrific options for his clients, the players. It's time for Fehr to call the game, take the best offer he can get; and stop before things get even worse for the players.

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