30 Thoughts: Lockouts chock full of familiar refrains | Hockey | CBC Sports

Hockey Night in Canada30 Thoughts: Lockouts chock full of familiar refrains

Posted: Wednesday, October 31, 2012 | 01:24 PM

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Commissioners from different sports like David Stern, left, and Gary Bettman often speak the same language in labour disputes. (Bruce Bennett and Jesse D. Garrabrant/Getty Images) Commissioners from different sports like David Stern, left, and Gary Bettman often speak the same language in labour disputes. (Bruce Bennett and Jesse D. Garrabrant/Getty Images)

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Despite notable differences between the NBA and NHL lockouts, the language used by the main players on the inside and keen observers on the outside often sounds eerily familiar. 

Does any of this sound familiar?

A commissioner saying there are "enormous consequences at play ... we think that we made very fair proposals."

Was that Gary Bettman two weeks ago? No, it was David Stern in October 2011.

"Our indication today to go to a 50-50 deal demonstrates even more potential movement on our part ... so we haven't made a secret of the fact that we'd very much like to make a deal."

NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly? No, NBA deputy Commissioner Adam Silver.

"The players are clearly of the mind that it's an unacceptable proposal. But because of their commitment to the game and their desire to play, they're saying to us that we want you to go back, see if you can go back [and] get a better deal."

NHL Players' Association executive director Donald Fehr? No, National Basketball Players Association executive director Billy Hunter.

How about this: "Despite the intransigence of the owners in their goal of achieving profitability and a level playing field ... despite the players' almost religious zeal for guaranteed contracts and other perks achieved over the years ... and despite formidable external forces that threatened to implode the negotiations ... the [league] and the players' association are only about $80 million-a-year apart on the economics of a new collective bargaining agreement. Despite being at the cusp of an economic deal, the two sides left the hotel Tuesday night with no agreement, resulting in the league almost immediately cancelling the rest of the pre-season schedule at a cost ... estimated at $200 million."

Was this an annoyed hockey writer within the last few days? No, it was CBSSports.com's Ken Berger, an aggravated basketball reporter, one year ago.

Had enough? Too bad, here's more:

-Players' Association sources said league officials refused their request for a Monday meeting unless the union agreed to the 50-50 split.

-After the players turned down one so-called best offer, Stern said the league [NBA] will revert to the lesser offer, which affords the players just a 47 per cent annual share of basketball-related Income as well as ... rollbacks of existing contracts.

-A group of hardline owners hope the players reject the current offer so they can push for a more restrictive financial system.

-Said [Cleveland] Cavaliers player rep Anthony Parker: "Once the league's offer was spelled out clearly, everyone [in the room] said it was worse than they thought."

-When settlement talks resume Friday, lawyers representing the players will be looking for the league to make most of the movement ... the players believe they've made most of the concessions in these labour negotiations.

Those five statements were taken from the work of ESPN's Marc Stein, Yahoo's Adrian Wojnarowski and the aforementioned Berger. If this were Hollywood, I wouldn't qualify for a screenwriting credit.

There are some differences between the two lockouts. The NBA/NBPA went through mediation, lengthy negotiating sessions and Hunter saying the two sides were "within striking distance" a month before things got done on American Thanksgiving. The union also filed for decertification. None of those things have happened in the NHL.

WHAT DOES THIS ALL MEAN?

There's a lot of negativity right now -- on both sides. Conversations with players, agents, executives and owners are full of frustration, aggravation and pessimism. Fehr admitted to The Minneapolis Star-Tribune's Michael Russo that some of his constituents were frightened, "but that doesn't mean you make a bad agreement because of it."

The few optimists say this train wreck is following a script authored by the law firm Proskauer Rose. Once employer to both Stern and Bettman, its client list includes the NFL, NBA and NHL. To use a Hallowe'en motif, this firm is the Michael Myers of labour fights.

If you're the kind of masochist who likes to go through three months of basketball quotes, you can find some real similarities. Eventually, a deal got done -- a couple of weeks after Stern threatened the players with the "lesser offer."

That said, things in hockey may get worse before they get better.

There are a few reasons: Unlike the NHL, the NBA hadn't gone through its free-agency process, so it needed more time; the NBA wanted to preserve its precious Christmas Day games; we're nowhere near two weeks away from the drop-dead date for the NHL season.

And perhaps the biggest factor of all, anger is now a major part of this process.

The players are enraged that 1) contracts signed in good faith are endangered and 2) they believe Bettman has "no respect" for them and 3) the owners aren't serious about their proposals, continually rejecting them 10 minutes after receiving one.

The league is furious that 1) players "confuse revenue with profits," according to one owner and 2) the NHLPA kept them waiting 90 minutes in Toronto before the gong show of a get-together on Oct. 18 and 3) Donald Fehr was born.

In 2004-05, I believed from the beginning that Bettman was willing to sacrifice the season to get a salary cap. In 2012-13, I don't believe he wants to do it again, even if he looks as publicly infuriated as we've ever seen him. Although Bettman hasn't really negotiated (yet), he didn't exactly swing a sledgehammer until last week.

The commish has three groups of owners: the ones who want to play; the ones in the middle, including Tampa and Nashville, who want a better collective bargaining agreement but recognize not playing is worse; and the hardliners. It would be a mistake to underestimate the last group. There are several who would rather cancel the season than accept a bad deal because they are hemorrhaging money and need immediate satisfaction.

While the players believe Boston Bruins owner Jeremy Jacobs is calling the shots, an educated guess at the final group includes but may not be limited to Anaheim, Columbus, Florida, the Islanders, Phoenix, St. Louis, Washington and Dallas -- enough to block any agreement from getting done (It's tough to lock it down because owners are forbidden to discuss this stuff. Attempts to talk to a couple were politely shot down).

This group is the biggest challenge for both the commissioner and the players.

But one year ago, Berger reported that the NBA's "Hard-Line Nine" -- Atlanta, Charlotte, Indiana, Memphis, Milwaukee, Minnesota, Philadelphia, Portland and Washington -- wanted much tougher concessions than Stern proposed. Three weeks later, there was a new CBA. If you believe this entire play is scripted, and some people really do, here's hoping no one changes the ending.

30 THOUGHTS

Bonehead move of the week: I accidentally deleted the file with your Twitter suggestions. Please resubmit any old ideas (and new ones). I'll be more careful.

1. Of all the things Bettman and Daly proposed in their most recent offer, one that really didn't go over well among some of those hardliners was forcing teams to reach the floor with actual cash instead of bonus money. It's a concession that got lost in everything else.

2. Thought for sure Minnesota would be in the hardline group with Wild owner Craig Leipold on the negotiating committee. But a few sources said they think he wants to play, eventually. Too much momentum to lose.

3. Congratulations to Brandon Swenson, 9, who will undergo his final chemotherapy treatment on Thursday. Two years ago, Swenson was diagnosed with B-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia. He's tight with Davis Payne, whom he met through the St. Louis Blues' security rep, and was close with many of the players. One night, he even came to the room to provide "security." Continued good health, Brandon. Good luck in resuming your hockey career.

4. If we do have a season, it would be smart for the NHL and NHLPA to find time for their "Hockey Fights Cancer" games, normally scheduled for October. The two sides have stopped swinging at each other long enough to raise $12.8 million in 14 years.

5. There is some impressive charity work being done, though. What a great job by Adam Burish and agent Bill Zito to put together a game last Friday at Allstate Arena just outside of Chicago. It raised $325,000 for Ronald McDonald house and the atmosphere was electric.

6. Meanwhile, Lightning owner Jeff Vinik continues his "Community Hero" project. Essentially, one person is honoured at every home game and given $50,000 towards their charity of choice. Vinik is continuing the initiative on what would have been game days. The first honouree donated to a shelter that helps war veterans re-integrate to society. Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman and head coach Guy Boucher will make some of the presentations along with Vinik and Lightning chief executive officer Tod Leiweke.

7. Tower of Babel, Part I: Players/agents think the two sides "are pretty close." Team employees: "They're so far apart."

8. Tower of Babel, Part II: Daly tells the New York Times when the Winter Classic is cancelled, there will be no "resurrection." There are players/NHLPA members who don't believe him (In past years, rink construction didn't begin until December). After thinking about it, though, could you really tell ticket holders to cancel their rooms, etc., and then say, "Psyche!"

9. If we could access Ryan Suter's phone records, whose numbers do you think we'd see on his list of calls from last weekend?

10. During the NBA research, I came across this story in which the city of Memphis threatened to sue the NBA and the Grizzlies should it be forced to pay the bond payments normally covered by the team's home games. Memphis has a publicly funded arena. Do any American-based NHL teams worry about this?

11. Comcast chairman and CEO Brian Roberts on a conference call last week, courtesy Adweek: "I can tell you we're pretty disappointed with regard to the lockout. I don't think we should say a heck of a lot more. I think that we're just hopeful that the ownership and the players can get together and get on with the season." Comcast owns NBC and the Philadelphia Flyers.

12. One tweep asked about players who go overseas and how much they get paid. The general answer was not as much as you'd think in most cases, especially if he's paying his own insurance. Also, does the team cover the flight over? Does he get the perks of a residence or a car?

13. One agent said that countries don't open the vault for a player who isn't a native son. "Finland doesn't pay much for a non-Finn, for example," he said. Therefore, it makes sense that it's believed the highest-paid NHLers overseas are Alexander Ovechkin, Evgeni Malkin and Ilya Kovalchuk. Some of the KHL teams do pay well -- St. Petersburg, Red Army, Magnitogorsk, Lokomotiv and the new team in Ukraine among them. And getting those three players in the prime of their careers is a coup for that league.

14. What's hurt NHLers who want to go to Europe is that there's so many of them right now. Teams can play hardball. "If Player X won't take the offer, the team knows it can go to Player Y."

15. Insurance is the major one, though. Basil McRae, a tough customer who played 576 NHL games for Quebec, Toronto, Detroit, Minnesota, Tampa Bay, St. Louis and Chicago, is big in this industry. "My last year playing, I met an underwriter, although he didn't do any sports," he said. "I moved into the business. That was 17 years ago."

16. McRae said there is a formula that determines your premium, but several variables must be plugged in. "There's age. The numbers will be different for a 22 year-old versus a 32 year-old," he said. "There's his current contract. Does it have one year left or seven years? If it's a longer-term deal, does the player want to protect all of it? Does he want coverage for temporary total disability [eg., a knee injury] or permanent total disability [like a career-ending eye injury]?"

17. There's also a player like Tuukka Rask, who doesn't have an NHL contract beyond 2012-13. He might want to insure himself against future earnings. It's not an uncommon occurrence.

18. Most expensive policy? Someone out there is paying $40,000 a month to cover their NHL deal. Yikes! McRae wouldn't say who.

19. Interesting. Gary Roberts on Sportsnet's Hockey Central talking about Nazem Kadri. The Maple Leafs weren't happy with Kadri's fitness, despite his off-season decision to work with Roberts. Roberts said a separated shoulder prevented Kadri from training hard until July 15, "which is really late ... six weeks with me, maybe seven weeks. He needs two, three years of that. It's a lifestyle choice, which he needs to address with his nutrition and rest and realize that's the most important part to his success ... he needs to live the lifestyle all the time to have success."

20. That leads to two very important questions. First, will Kadri commit to it? Second, do the Maple Leafs have enough patience to find out?

21. For all of the grief Islanders owner Charles Wang gets, former employee Chris Botta, now doing great work for Sports Business Journal, points out that almost a decade before he agreed to move to Brooklyn, Wang was being advised to get out of Nassau County. But he badly wanted to stay where he was raised and didn't bolt until it was a last resort. He showed a lot more patience than many others would have.

22. Wang remains a tenant in an imperfect hockey building, but you have to assume he got a good enough deal to make that 25-year commitment. The revenue streams will be much larger. To continue to grow excitement, he needs to invest in his hockey operations. He's locked up some of his core guys, which is very important, but he needs to get Islanders GM Garth Snow some help and bring salaries to where he can attract/keep skilled people.

23. Went to the Ducks' website to look at head coach Bruce Boudreau's clinic for local coaches (link -- ), and also found "Bruce Uncensored." What a story he tells at the 2:20 mark.

24. The Charlotte Checkers, Carolina's AHL affiliate, are 6-1-1, despite zero home games. Apparently, that's because of the Democratic National Convention, even though it ended Sept. 6. Must be some sort of "Hot Air Alert." Anyway, the best news if you're a Hurricanes fan is the squad is using head coach Kirk Muller's system. To see Zach Boychuk, Drayson Bowman and Zac Dalpe among others playing well is a good sign for the future.

25. One scout said there's an interesting mix in the AHL of NHLers' effort levels. Most of them are playing hard, but he can tell some are trying to avoid injury because they don't want to be hurt if and when the big league gets its craziness settled.

26. Team that might be concerned: Edmonton. Jordan Eberle took a knee-on-knee last week and Taylor Hall is supposed to return Friday. This team is a target because the AHL Oklahoma City Barons are loaded. Every opponent is going to bring its best. Kevin Lowe and company must be a little nervous. I would be.

27. Mark Spector looked back and noticed that no defenceman was AHL player of the week last season. Justin Schultz has one already. Here's another stat: Schultz leads the league in scoring with 12 points. In the last 32 years, only three blue-liners have reached the Top 10 -- Steve Bancroft (2001), Chris Snell (1994) and Craig Levie (1981).

28. Oshawa Generals overager Scott Sabourin is an interesting free-agent prospect. Not drafted, but seven goals and 46 penalty minutes in 16 games so far. Trying to follow David Clarkson's lead. Getting some interest, so needs to keep up that edge.

29. Through its first 148 games, the OHL's fighting numbers are down 30 per cent from 1.11 to 0.78 per game. The league added new rules this year to prevent players and their teams from accumulating high numbers of fighting majors. Not everyone was thrilled, but what seems to be happening is what's best for the game. It's not going away, but it is happening more sensibly.

30) Best to Tim Bulmer, a casualty of the lockout from the Phoenix Coyotes PR department. This is one of the dumbest things about repeated work stoppages -- the brain drain because teams can't afford to keep good people.

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