What has to be among the more overwhelming aspects of this dispute between the NHL and its players association for most longtime hockey fans is the remarkable sameness in the cadence of behaviour by the two sides.
While there are a number of actual differences in the respective positions from the last time — there was no salary cap and more of the owners were on the warpath trying to raise the asset value of their franchises — so much of the rhetoric, particularly from the NHL side, is so much the same.
In fact it’s downright boring listening to these guys, particularly NHL commissioner Gary Bettman, who was doing it all exactly the same way last time.
While NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr is actually a fresh face and handles the media part of the job much better than did his predecessor, Bob Goodenow, Bettman, as skilful as he is at spinning a yarn, is just so much sameness to the fan.
You would think that ultimately this might provide something of a turnoff factor for many fans, but everyone involved seems to think they’ll be back to be financially soaked no matter what happens.
Bettman, who this time has the job of portraying the wolf going after Little Red Riding Hood as somebody who’s entitled to just about anything he wants from her, goes about his business smoothly but often not only doesn’t answer questions, he ignores them and just lectures.
He was asked Thursday by one of the assembled media, “What in your offer would you deem attractive to them (the players)? They don’t see anything that is a trade-off, it’s all something they would have to concede.”
His response might just as well have been to a question about whether he liked holidays in Florida.
“We’ve had seven years of incredible competitive balance; 29 clubs have made the playoffs,” said Bettman. “We’ve had seven different Stanley Cup champions; the game on the ice has never been better. That’s a function of this system.”
The response was loquacious and stated with considerable conviction, but it had nothing whatever to do with the question because the answer to that question, were he to be straightforward, is simply ‘nothing.’
He also slips in the most amazing comments that people don’t pick up until later or upon listening to their tapes.
He was asked about the players’ inquiries about keeping other costs down (there are no caps on what coaches and GMs make, for instance) so that basically the owners would at least give some kind of concessions in this process.
His response: “We’ve done a very good job of growing revenues, particularly at the top line, so that HRR (hockey-related revenue) has increased. I don’t think it makes sense to be putting that limitation on the way the clubs run their business.”
He then went on at length to discuss other costs the players had asked the owners to incur.
He doesn’t think it makes sense to put limitations on what clubs can spend on certain things, but he has no problem limiting player contract terms to five years, which limits how long teams can lock up their top assets, thereby keeping them away from the competition and in almost all cases actually keeping costs down by doing that. It’s unfair to limit what teams spend on front office people or projects they might not need, but it’s not unfair to stop them locking up their top assets long term?
With a lockout now a certainty, it would seem there are only two significant, artificial deadlines that might prevent the loss of an entire season. That would be opening day in the first week of October and then perhaps somewhere in the Dec. 1-7 window, whereby camps would have to start so as to have a couple of weeks before the Winter Classic.
Blow by those two semi-deadlines and this conflict could look like 2004-05 in a whole lot more ways than just the rhetoric.
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