The impasse between the NHL owners and the players reminds me of a conversation I had years ago with Gil Scott, the most prominent agent in the CFL, about negotiating.
Scott, whose clients range from CFL players to NFL players to NHL coaches and executives, was talking about the tenets of negotiating. One of them concerns what happens when each side states what is supposed to be its best position or makes a firm offer.
At that point, Scott said, the belief among many negotiating experts is "the next guy who speaks loses."
The idea is that whoever speaks indicates he is more eager than the other fellow to make a deal and thus willing to make a concession.
Scott tends to believe that, which was especially trying in the late 1980s when Joe Zuger was the general manager of the Hamilton Tiger-Cats. The old quarterback was famous in the CFL as a man of very few words who was quite comfortable sitting in silence for long periods of time. Scott recalled many agonizing stretches in Zuger's office sitting quietly as the clock ticked.
Which is where we are in the NHL's stalled labour negotiations. Each side says the other should make a new offer but no one wants to go first.
“Obviously, we've been saying for over a month now that we would welcome a new proposal from the Players' Association. That continues to be our position," NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly told The Associated Press on Wednesday. "[It's] not a constructive position to say, 'Here's our first offer. We think it's really good. Call us back when you are ready to accept it.' That's what the union has effectively done here.”
On the union side, NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr sees no reason to make another offer even though NHL commissioner Gary Bettman is playing the We-made-the-last-offer-so-it's-your-turn game.
But things could get interesting on that front, since a player told Tim Panaccio of Comcast SportsNet Philadelphia that NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr does not have a proposal ready for the NHL but asked the players if he should make one. The answer was no, let the NHL make concessions with their next proposal.
It looks like at least some of the players have read the same negotiating textbooks as Scott. So the wait is on.