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Donald Fehr, executive director of the National Hockey League Players' Association (ERIC THAYER/REUTERS)
Donald Fehr, executive director of the National Hockey League Players' Association (ERIC THAYER/REUTERS)

DOWBIGGIN

Daily Grind: What is there to say except Poo-tee-weet Add to ...

We’re not sure what songs NHLPA executive director Don Fehr plays on his iTunes, but we do know that Molson Coors’ recent complaints about the NHL lockout were music to his ears. At a point where the union’s breathing room was getting a little thin, the corporate wake-up call last week to Gary Bettman and his kitchen cabinet of hawks was a shot of pure oxygen for Fehr and the players.

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Sources tell Daily Grind that many on the league side thought they were very close to having the NHLPA to sign on the line that’s dotted with their proposal last week. There were rumours of contractors and arenas being told to keep their dance card open after December 1. People were getting giddy.

Then Molson Coors CEO Peter Swinburn went public with his position that the brewer– one of the NHL’s elite customers– was going to be asking for give-backs for losses suffered in the current labour dispute unless it was settled soon. (Why the brewer would be frustrated by a third labour stoppage since 1994 is beyond us.) Suddenly, commissioner Gary Bettman was fighting on two fronts.

Understanding they face owners who seemingly value wins in collective bargaining above wins in the standings, the PA was gifted with one more chance to make the NHL squirm in front of its best clients. Instead of kissing the ring of Boston owner Jeremy Jacobs, the hawkish chairman of the NHL Board of Governors, the NHLPA decided to rag the puck a little longer.

Leaving the Jacobs faction furious and fulminating about more draconian offers to the cheeky players. Even as they try to make nice with their disgruntled sponsors. And their fans turn off the league as it inducts its 2012 Hall of Fame class. So it goes, said Kurt Vonnegut. Poo-tee-weet.

TWENTY-FIVE PERCENT RULE

If the NHL wants to preserve a partial season, there is still time left to play the minimum games needed before the league must compensate its best customers. As we mentioned Thursday, the NHL’s sponsors are on the hook unless the league cancels more than 25 per cent of the season.

So can the league fit in a 62-66 game schedule and not play the Stanley Cup final series up against the MLB All Star Game in July? January 1 to April 15 would mean a game every 1.85 days. Not very realistic. December 15 to April 15 would mean a game every 2.1 days. Still tight and demanding, but more doable. Dec. 1 to April 15 is even better. But that requires a settlement in the next two weeks.

FAILURE TO COMMUNICATE

Funny to hear the NHL lambaste Fehr for not communicating its latest offer to players. This from the league that thinks if it writes “Thank You Fans” in really, really big letters on the ice it’ll make everything all better with the public.

SCORCHED EARTH

One of Fehr’s proudest boasts in his time with the MLB Players Association was breaking its militant owners of the lockout habit. Baseball has not had a labour dispute since 1994 after having eight previous stoppages that virtually wrecked the business. (Actually it killed the Montreal Expos.)

Fehr did this through his Pyrrhic victory strategy, making the lockouts and their aftermath so bloody that no right-thinking owner would ever go there again. It worked in baseball, and don’t believe for a second Fehr won’t employ this take-it-down-to-the-studs gambit in hockey by demanding the salary cap be scrapped.

More than the people who’ve been living in the hockey bubble the past 20 years, Fehr sees an unsustainable NHL business model and a bunkered ownership class. You get the impression the laconic Fehr would be happy to teach hockey’s owners the same lesson he taught in baseball. The question is, would the players let him?

TWEET NOTHINGS

This from former NHLer Chris Therien.” @ctherien6 : I’m not saying Don Fehr doesn’t have a plan B, but if I’m a player again now, I’m calling on that ’always available’ line to find it out... You know, I go back to 04 lockout as a player. 1 question I would have asked Goodenow now that I’ve been thru this– what exactly is plan B?... If I’m a player right this very min and I’m about to lose 2-3 million this year, I require an answer to the alternative!

PIGSKIN ALTERNATIVE

While the NHL burns, NCAA football plays a merry tune. After stalling for years, the BCS decided to institute a four-team playoff for the national championship beginning New Year’s Day 2014. (Remind us, what else is supposed to happen that day? Don’t tell us, it’s on the tip of our tongue...) The lords of college sport are currently entertaining bids from TV networks for the package. Word has it that ESPN has offered $500-million a year. That would be 2.5 times what the NHL gets from NBC for its entire schedule!

JUST SAYIN’

Finally, to all of you who bought greeting cards for Nov. 11 reading “Happy” Remembrance Day or “Happy” Veterans Day... you might want to reconsider. In Flanders Fields the poppies don’t have happy faces. Just sayin’.

dowbboy@shaw.ca / @dowbboy

 

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