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Are the NHL owners cracking? Bettman says no

Comcast Spectacor Chairman Ed Snider

Associated Press

Question: "There was a report out of Philadelphia on Saturday that says you are losing the support of the owners."

Gary Bettman: "It was a fabrication. Ed Snider is the one who told me about the article when he found out about it and he was terribly upset. He's in Europe and it was his idea to put out a statement. Anyone who doubts the resolve of ownership is either uninformed or (being) intentionally misleading."

There are two must reads today on all of this NHL lockout nonsense, both of which come back to trying to pinpoint the end of this silly thing.

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The first is that report out of Philadelphia, by Daily News reporter Frank Seravalli, that Flyers owner Ed Snider is growing discontent with the lockout and looking for a way to end it.

The second is an interview with Commissioner Bettman in the Winnipeg Free Press, one of the few one-on-ones he has done of late.

First, on Snider: Bettman is calling the report completely fictional, but if you closely examine what's really at play here, there's very little reason for the Flyers to be on-board with what's left of this fight.

Think about it. Why would Snider, whose franchise is one of the richest in the league and has inked more of those front-loaded, back-diving deals than anyone, want to extend this fight over the relatively limited contracting rights that remain at issue?

For a team like the Flyers, they've won what they needed to in negotiations. Players have agreed to end up at 50-50 over time, giving Snider additional profits every year, and the additional revenue sharing the NHL has put on the table shouldn't be a huge negative factor.

The longer these talks go, the more the NHLPA pushes for additional revenue sharing from the wealthier teams and the more the Flyers would lose their advantages over other markets in terms of front-loading deals.

So, no, Snider shouldn't (and likely isn't) be on board with this fight stretching into January – especially given the fact his network is dying for hockey content. This is a fight being pursued by the militant owners of weaker franchises as well as a few hardliners like Jeremy Jacobs of the Boston Bruins.

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It's also worth noting that Snider has rarely been present at negotiations, which is a change from the 2004-05 lockout.

That said, even if the Flyers are moderates and can find some company there, Bettman really only needs seven or eight backers to continue this fight and there are at least that many whose teams couldn't dream of signing those heavily frontloaded deals.

As long as there are enough owners who see all those contracting rights as worth taking a stand on, the lockout will continue.

All along, those I've talked to on the players side didn't think anything beyond the 50-50 split would, in the bitter end, hold up a deal. Their reasoning was that, with linkage, the league as a whole will receive its money regardless of who becomes a free agent when.

What they didn't count on was some franchises standing this strongly against deals they feel circumvent the salary cap.

My sense is this ends with some form of a contract term limit, as I don't see the NHLPA conceding on the other issues (later free agency, year-to-year variance limits, later arbitration, etc.).

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But the players remain adamant their only positives with having a cap and linkage is increased freedom of movement, and they don't intend to give that up. (A term limit of six or seven years is something that affects very few players – less than 5 per cent – and might be palatable on that basis.)

That comes back to Bettman's interview with the Free Press.

There are some interesting tidbits in there, especially where he is asked about Ian White calling him an idiot and responds with "I love the players."

More telling is his response to why the players should give more than simply getting down to 50-50 over time.

"One, we want to make sure the system works well and continues to work well," Bettman said. "There are certain trends and issues that have arisen that we believe need to be adjusted in order for us to have the competitive balance that we want and need to enable us to continue to grow the game. What's in this deal for the players? Give or take $14-billion over the next seven years."

And that, in a nutshell, is why we are where we are right now: The owners' apparent belief that they don't need to concede anything to the players in negotiations.

That's a tough thing to negotiate around.

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About the Author
Hockey Reporter

James joined The Globe as an editor and reporter in the sports department in 2005 and now covers the NHL and the Toronto Maple Leafs. More


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