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Dowbiggin: Are NHL players ready to roll over?

For those of you scoring at home, here's the skinny from Thursday's acrimonious CBA negotiations. Despite the NHLPA's bravado, the NHL believes that a lot of the players (and some agents) are wavering and might just take what they offered earlier this week.

So they're going to use the lull in talks to go over the head of Don Fehr and the Players Association's brain trust. You could read it in the words of Tampa Bay owner Jeffrey Vinnik. "While trust was built and progress was made along the way, unfortunately, our proposal was rejected by the Union's leadership." In other words, these guys don't represent the mainstream.

Them's fighting words. The message is to repeat the tactics of 2005, when players cut former executive director Bob Goodenow out of the process.

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They want the players to regret the hiring of Don Fehr as their executive director with every fibre of their beings. For the NHL's purposes, this won't go to the judge's cards. It wants a KO only.

The most interesting part of the gambit? It could well work.

Moderates in the NHLPA won't allow any secret votes on an NHL proposal. They saw what happens when you cut the knees from your executive director in 2005. But they will be leaning very hard on Fehr to come off his reach-for-the-sky stance on Thursday. They know it's too close to waste another $100-million a week.

They know Fehr's intrusion in the talks this week scuttled hopes for a deal. Look for a big push to get the process righted again.

"@andystrickland When#NHLPA wanted Fehr back in room to close out deal yesterday, owners said it would be a deal breaker. Derailed process"


Once again it's personal for NHL commissioner Gary Bettman. He virtually quivered with rage at Thursday's presser saying Fehr's behaviour was "incomprehensible". Last time it was inscrutable Bob Goodenow as the bogeyman for the Commish. This time it's Fehr, the incomprehensible contrarian, who doesn't play nice.

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Bettman spat out his words like bullets. On the surface, he made a good case for feeling put upon at Thursday's dramatic press appearance. Broken promises, missed appointments, disingenuous press messages. Fehr's inflexibility. It would make anyone mad. So if PR matters, it was a good Thursday for Gary.

Except that this is the same toxic stew that every NHL lockout has devolved into under Bettman. In 1996. 2005. 2012. Maybe you are right, Mr. B., but you can't always be the victim. Eventually people start making the connection.

Make no mistake. Bettman has the owners in his corner. More so than ever after Thursday. He has them seeing Fehr as a hockey outlier, a baseball guy who wants to blow up their sport so he can get rid of the salary cap. They feel they have the gods on their side.

But it boils down to the same old same old for Bettman and the NHL at the bargaining table. That's why, even as Bettman negotiates behind the scenes, the process of his succession is playing out. Deputy commissioner Bill Daly and COO John Collins are being positioned to lead the NHL out of the Bettman years.

Whenever the next time is that the NHL negotiates a CBA, it will look very different from Gary Bettman Theatre.

"@ScottieUpshall There's no pressure yet on the owners to lose this year, that's why they still treat us like Cattle. They'll need a partner come January."

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One sure thing in Thursday's developments. Any rump season that is accomplished will be fewer than 75 per cent of a regular full season. That means that the league will contractually be obliged to compensate its major sponsors for having put a stick in their spokes. The revenue pool shrinks further.

As well, the NHL will pass a threshold for cancelled games in their broadcast contracts. That means more givebacks. And as we said Wednesday, a season cancellation delays the expected TV windfall in Canada by another year, hurting hockey revenues.

The two sides in this deal are going through money the way Liberace went through sequins.


Even as the NHL squabbled, the NBA was showing how pro sports work in this decade. The New York Knicks and Miami Heat met in a nationally televised game from South Beach in Miami. Two glamour teams replete with stars. Two teams that drive revenues. Two teams with movie and music stars as fans. Two teams not named Sacramento or Utah.

Okay it was a rout for the Knicks, but it had pizazz. Parity is a lovely concept in a constitution, but it doesn't work in the televised world of modern sports. You only had to watch the Knicks / Heat to grasp the idea. You wonder when the NHL will get that message. / @dowbboy

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