Time for Fehr, Bettman to compromise Halloween without hockey a scary situation for helpless fans



Here’s a Halloween costume suggestion for NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and players’ boss Donald Fehr: How about dressing up as a pair of negotiators?

As it is, they’re nothing of the sort. Instead, they’re alternatively acting like spoiled children and bullies. At least that’s the opinion of one passionate Ottawa Senators season ticket holder, who just happens to be a lawyer with a long history in civil litigation and arbitration and who also serves as a small claims court judge.

“I’ve been a great hockey fan all my life, but I’ve had enough of how these people are behaving,” says Lyon Gilbert. “I see this as bullying. Yes, I have sat through mediations where everybody sits there and nobody wants to budge for awhile, but this makes no sense. Why aren’t they sitting in a room? Eventually, they’re going to have to. What’s the point of all the pontificating? They’re not impressing anyone with their statements to the press. The average person looks at this and sees it as ridiculous. They’re behaving like children. It is about sitting in a room and really wanting to get it done.”

Gilbert and his wife, Marsha Kathnelson, co-authored a letter to the Citizen last week, outlining their frustrations, which they believe are shared by most fans. Gilbert understands that Bettman and Fehr have different views of the league’s future, but he’s reached a boiling point because both sides are apparently more keen on taking shots at one another than in resolving the dispute.

“Of course, there’s a need to compromise,” he says.

As an outsider looking in on the impasse, Gilbert doesn’t necessarily side with either the owners or the players. Rather, he considers himself among the group of fans who feel helpless as Bettman and Fehr let the season slip away. The Winter Classic, the NHL’s showpiece regular season event, is on the verge of being cancelled.

Once that game disappears, millions in revenues, for both the owners and players, go out the window, as well. The math in the owners’ and players’ latest proposals towards a resolution is complicated, but this part is simple: 50 per cent or 53 per cent or 55 per cent of nothing still adds up to the same for both sides: Nothing.

“It’s really getting aggravating,” Gilbert says. “I perceive that I’m a bit like most fans, trying to follow the story every day, but maybe not the fine nuances. I must admit, one of the things I find strange is the refusal by the owners to honour the contracts they’ve already signed.”

Gilbert is referring to an offer from the players’ association in the last round of negotiations, back on Oct. 18.

The NHLPA proposed that players would eventually accept a 50/50 split in leaguewide revenues, providing that all the existing contracts on the books were honoured. Bettman, who had proposed a different type of 50/50 split two days earlier, walked out of the meeting after 10 minutes, later saying that the players’ offer was “a step backwards”.

There have been no formal talks since. Last Friday, the NHL cancelled the entire November schedule. The Winter Classic between the Detroit Red Wings and Toronto Maple Leafs, scheduled for New Year’s Day, could be chopped later this week.

At this point, Gilbert is hoping that some of the smaller, less vocal forces on both sides — owners and players who disagree with the firm stance taken by their leaders — push harder to be heard in order to salvage a partial season.

“I’m hoping the less hawkish on both sides will start to be more influential,” he says.

While Gilbert has stopped short of a promise to boycott the NHL when it returns — “I love it too much” — he believes that the longer the lockout goes, the more people will tune out the talks. Eventually, the marginal fans, he says, will fade away.

“For a lot of people, I think, it’s now out of their mind,” he says. “They’ve written off the season. They’ve lowered their expectations.”



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