With several players apparently flying into Toronto for Thursday's NHL/NHLPA talks, here's what shouldn't matter to them:
Here's what should matter to them:
For the first time in this process, Bettman is ready to negotiate.
Over the past few months, players launched a blitzkrieg of negative tweets and quotes about the NHL commissioner. Their feelings are pretty clear. Fine. They don't have to like him. But, barring an Amin-like coup from within the NHL, they have to do a deal with him.
No one's saying the players have to take the league's proposal as is. But, it is in their own best interests to sit at the table and make a serious effort at seeing where the next week or two will take them.
This must be business, not personal.
On Wednesday, one agent likened the NHL and the NHLPA to a soon-to-be-married-couple fighting over the prenup. It's a pretty good analogy. Whether it's October 2012 or October 2032, these two sides have no choice but to get into bed with one another at some point.
No matter how ugly the fight gets, there are times when a solution is possible. This is one of them, even though no guarantees exist. The NHL is risking serious damage, and the players won't escape that pain. Therefore, they are doing themselves a disservice if their dislike of the commissioner blinds them from an opportunity for legit conversation.
THE COURT OF PUBLIC OPINION
Very curious to see how Donald Fehr handles the next two weeks. He may be the only person in this process who legitimately does not care about public perception. The players obviously do, and, judging from its hiring of a big-time spinmeister, the NHL does too.
This should have been a disastrous week for the league. Monday's Deadspin story was embarrassing, even if hiring focus groups isn't exactly uncommon. But it recovered with two masterstrokes: a surprise proposal that got everyone's hopes up, and the decision to post details of this offer on NHL.com. (While I thought that move would cause more harm than good, I concede I'm in the minority.)
These moves turned up the heat on the players as Bettman tries to save an 82-game season. Fehr's driven the league insane (the NHL might hate him more than it hated Bob Goodenow, which would really be something), but this week highlighted one mistake he's made in this process - failing to convey that a 50/50 split really isn't a 50/50 split. (It's because of the costs the NHL is entitled to subtract from HRR before the players get their share.)
Several sources indicate the players have had an offer "in their back pocket" for a little while now, but the majority of the membership was uninterested in tossing it on the table. We're going to see that proposal now.
Here's what else we're going to see: two sides finally ready to at least try and make a deal; a league that wants something done by next Friday; a union betting Bettman isn't willing to use the nuclear option in the 2012 calendar year; a lot of people worried about public perception; and one guy who really isn't.
A lot of obstacles and challenges for group that can't afford many more mistakes.
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