Last week, the NHL made its call to the relief corps. It looked like Ron Burkle, Mark Chipman, Larry Tanenbaum and Jeff Vinik were going to combine for the save. But at the end, things went all Joey McLaughlin.
Now it's Don Fehr's turn. He's got an ace, the Mariano Rivera of last year's NBA lockout, in Jim Quinn.
Quinn's bio is here
and it's, uh, not bad.
Thirteen months ago, Quinn reached out to the NBA and the National Basketball Players' Association to settle their insane, tortuous and destructive lockout. The union had filed its disclaimer of interest and things were disintegrating rapidly.
Quinn, who spent almost two decades as the NBPA's lead outside counsel and had a good working relationship with NBA commissioner David Stern, was invited to step in. Approximately 10 days later, he played a pivotal part in brokering a deal, thanks to several phone conversations with the particulars and a marathon 15-hour bargaining session.
He is available to do it again with the NHL's own insane, tortuous and destructive lockout.
Quinn's firm -- Weil, Gotshal and Manges LLP -- is advising the NHL Players' Association on legal issues. Quinn's not unfamiliar with hockey's labour history. He advised the players during the 1992 strike. San Jose Sharks general manager Doug Wilson and agent Mike Liut were among those who worked closely with Quinn during that dispute.
"There are a lot of similarities" between the NBA and NHL lockouts, Quinn said. "But a different dynamic of people."
The good news is Quinn's familiar with both, having known Stern for 40 years and NHL commissioner Gary Bettman for almost 30.
"We've always got along," Quinn said of Bettman.
The only criticism he delivers is that owners making "take-it-or-leave-it proposals ... doesn't work with professional athletes," so the opposite approach makes more sense.
"You look for a way to build some trust, make it so that people on each side understand what they are being told is something they can agree to build with ... What often happens is you get a lot of rhetoric, so both sides are pushing back. You say to them, 'Wait a second, there's got to be a way to talk things out and get something done in the interest of having a season.'"
Quinn declined to get into detail. But after we spoke, one source said that when things threatened to go wrong, he pointed out the importance of playing. Do you think the NHL and NHLPA could use that message?
Some of you will say, "This sounds like mediation. What's the difference?" Well, the NBA tried mediation, too, and it failed.
Quinn succeeded, according to reports, because he's calm and knew the parties much better than the mediators could.
He has not been asked by either the NHL or NHLPA to take a more active role in this gong show. Initially, his efforts in the NBA stalemate were rebuffed. But both sides wisely changed their minds and it is apparent during our conversation that he wants the NHL opportunity, too.
"Maybe I can be Santa Claus," he laughed.
Could be one heck of a present for hockey fans.30 Thoughts
1. A lot of feedback from my Ron Hainsey blog
, but it should be pointed out that not every player involved in the negotiations is having similar things said about them. Kevin Westgarth is getting a ton of media attention and, when his career is over, he's going to have some options. His work on the pension issues, opposite Murray Edwards, was said to be very impressive.
2. A couple of weeks ago, I mentioned the lockout-shortened 1995 NHL season and how it was played with a "Memorandum of Understanding" and not a signed collective bargaining agreement. Games resumed as lawyers haggled over the details and the New Jersey Devils won the Stanley Cup. The deal was not finished until August. Well, Fehr was asked about it in New York and sounded amenable to the idea. As for the NHL, deputy commissioner Bill Daly wrote in an email: "We would likely entertain the possibility of playing with some interim level of documentation, but I expect that we will require more detail than what he had in 1994-95." Something to keep in mind.
3. Daly is not prone to public hyperbole, so his "hill we will die on
" quote about contract lengths made me do a lot of thinking. In a follow-up email, he wrote that the owners said term limits was the issue needed "to the exclusion of all other Player Contracting Issues." That makes sense for them because, if you're down to five-year deals, the variance per season doesn't hurt as badly.
4. But there's another question to be asked here, which may be the root of all of this: Vinik bought the Tampa Bay Lightning for about $110 million US. At the time, Vincent Lecavalier had 10 years and $75 million remaining on his contract. The Devils are trying to sort out an enormous financial mess as Ilya Kovalchuk has 13 years and $88 million to go. How much more valuable would these franchises be if neither of those deals existed? What are the players going to do, say 'No'? But you can see why owners want to straitjacket themselves.
5. Now you might say, "Well, the league's last offer was seven years for your own guy and the union proposed eight. What's the big deal?" Well, one thing I've learned is an owner tends to answer that differently than a general manager. Also, NHL contracts can only be insured for seven years at a time.
6. A lot of us look at how many players have long-term deals and say, "Wait, we're fighting a big battle when so few are affected?" But from the players' perspective, you have to look at it in terms of leverage. If you can, conceivably, get an eight-year term, maybe you get pushed down to five or six. But if you start at five, you can get pushed down to four, three or less. That's not a lot of security.
7. Out of the last lockout, Rick Nash got a five-year, $27-million contract from the Columbus Blue Jackets that set the "new" market. This time, it will be Evgeni Malkin of the Pittsburgh Penguins. Without the ability to backdive, how high is that contact going to get when he's 28 and 29 years old? What about Lightning sniper Steven Stamkos when he's 26, 27 and 28?
8. As we move closer to a CBA, amid all of the fire-spitting, the biggest question now among teams is the "transition rules." The NHL says it doesn't want amnesties or an escrow limit. So if the cap is $60 million in 2013-14, how are the Lightning ($57.5 million for 15 players), Philadelphia Flyers ($57M for 16) and Boston Bruins ($57M for 16, no goalies) among others going to make it work?
9. The best perspective on the "Manhattan Meltdown" came from a relative of mine who regularly negotiates big deals. "They're too close not to get it done," he said. "They just hate each other so much, they're throwing their last haymakers."
10. I thought a lot about Fehr's initial media conference last Thursday, when he came across as Captain Optimism
yet knew the league was going shred his offer. He was trying to tell the players not in attendance to hang in there. He knows some are restless because they are unsure of his endgame. Those loyal to the boss say it is to "negotiate a fair deal and we are trying to do that." Obviously, no one's going to tell a reporter what the specific plan is. But it sounds like many of the players believe the owners have a "date in mind" and will budge when it arrives.
11. Several of you asked about Decertification/Disclaimer of Interest. It would be the latter because it's faster. I've been told it's still a threat, although the players have backed off at least twice from pulling the trigger. One possible NHL counter: suspending the league. Would it work? No idea. There is so little case law on this that people are hesitant to guess what's right.
12. There is a lot of public debate about allowing NHLPA membership to vote on the league's last proposal. I've been told by several people, "There is nothing to vote on" and that's probably true without a full formal NHL offer, including a few issues that don't get a ton of attention. But if we get another mega-breakdown, does the league put together something, post it on nhl.com and see what happens?
13. A few of you have asked about the process for an NHLPA vote. I couldn't find anything. But I was told that the executive board would recommend an agreement to be voted on. Article XII, Section 2 of the organization's constitution does explain "a majority vote of the members in good standing voting to approve the tentative collective bargaining agreement shall constitute approval of the agreement. The ratification vote of the membership shall be conducted in accordance with applicable laws and/or regulations and shall be by secret ballot."
14. I was at a charity event and someone asked, "Who do you think is more unified, the owners or the players?" Boy, that is a great question. Both sides have their dissidents, for sure. Minnesota Wild owner Craig Leipold, who has paid approximately $21 million in bonuses, can't be liking this. Neither can the Montreal Canadiens with payments towards the $600-million purchase price. There are, percentage-wise, more owners willing to kill the season than players, for sure. But what I think it comes down to is this: who's got the stomach for a deadline negotiation?
15. That scenario worries a lot of the moderates around the game, who badly want the CBA done beforehand. The concern is if we get into January, the atmosphere will be absolute poison.
16. If they do get this done soon, start on Jan. 1. Even though the Winter Classic is cancelled, it still has a chance to be the NHL's day. Drop the puck at noon ET and go until the last game is done out West.
17. I was thinking about the kinds of impactful things that the NHL and NHLPA are going to have to do for the fans. Fridge magnets and pocket schedules won't be enough. Something that means a little more would be offering Centre Ice for free the rest of the season (No blackouts, either). Sign up and get a free code. Yes, it hurts hockey-related revenue, but revenue is damaged this year anyway. Got do to something tangible.
18. Has anyone seen Bettman and Daly angrier
than they were last Thursday? Only example anyone would admit: "When Jerry Moyes put Phoenix in bankruptcy court."
19. The funniest thing about the board of governors meeting was the interaction with pedestrians outside the buidling. With all the media and cameras there, people were stopping, curious to find out who we were waiting for. Hoping for Brangelina, we told them "The NHL's owners." You should have seen the looks of pure disappointment on their faces. Sorry, guys, none of you is getting an "Us Weekly" cover anytime soon.
20. I thought Brad Richards of the New York Rangers had a good quote about the lockout. He compared it to a seven-game series where teams alternate victories until the end.
21. Had some questions about re-alignment. Not for this year, I'm told.
22. OK, let's move on, enough already. Some of Team Canada's world junior hopefuls
will face CIS No. 1-ranked Alberta on Wednesday afternoon. These games are like the Super Bowl for university players, as a good performance in front of the scouts can mean some kind of pro contract. Unfortunately, two of the Golden Bears' best players -- defenceman Ian Barteaux and centre Sean Ringrose -- cannot play due to exams.
23. If it was me, I'd blow off the exam, but that would make each player ineligible for the second semester. When I was at Western, economics exams always used to be on Saturdays. Professors said to the football players, "You want to dress for games? Write two days early." Too bad something similar couldn't be done here.
24. Wondered if Canada would invite Connor McDavid to the camp, just to get a taste. Totally understand that he may not be ready for the big event, but was curious to see if making him a brief part of camp was an option. Was not considered, though.
25. A few Oilers fans asked if Ryan Nugent-Hopkins had anything to gain by playing in the world juniors. Absolutely. A lot of teams like to see their top prospects in big-pressure moments. On the road, high expectations, a lot of games where a loss ends your hopes, important minutes against good players -- I'd say you have something to gain.
26. I got a lot of requests on Sunday for updates on prospects. More of that than anything else. So I emailed two NHL guys who have great AHL eyes and asked them to let me know who they liked. They weren't shy. Both agreed on (NHL team in parenthesis): Nino Niederreiter (NYI), Tomas Tatar (DET), Jason Zucker (MIN), Justin Schultz (EDM), Oliver Ekman-Larsson (PHO), Richard Panik & Tyler Johnson (TB), Jake Gardiner (TOR).
27. Executive A said he could've done two or three players per team, but cut down to: Jordan Eberle (EDM), Brayden Schenn (PHI), Brock Nelson (NYI), Nazem Kadri (TOR), Justin Faulk (CAR), Gustav Nyquist (DET), Roman Horak, Sven Baertschi & Barry Brust (CAL), Robin Lehner (OTT) and Curtis McElhinney (CLB).
28. If you thought that wasn't enough, here's the rest of the list from Executive B: TJ Brodie (CAL), Jacob Josefson (NJ), Chris Kreider (NYR), Nathan Beaulieu (MON), Charlie Coyle (MIN), Calvin Pickard (COL), Slava Voynov (LA), Lane MacDermid (BOS), Jaden Schwartz (STL), Zemgus Girgensons (BUF), Quinton Howden (FLA), Ryan Johansen, Cam Atkinson, Jonathan Audy-Marchessault (CLB), Ondrej Palat, Alex Killorn, Cory Conacher and Mark Barberio (TB), Eric Tangradi, Joe Morrow, Brian Strait, Brian Dumoulin, Robert Bortuzzo and Simon Despres (PIT), Zach Redmond (WIN).
29. That executive added: "The list is long but there are a lot of players taking advantage of the opportunity," and "At forward it's the year of the small player." He also pointed out that the Penguins are ridiculously rich on the blue-line with Derrick Pouliot (8th overall, 2012), Olli Maatta (22nd, 2012) Scott Harrington (54th, 2011) en route.
30. Familiarize yourself with "Victor Walk
." Excellent cause.
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