Friday, December 15, 2017
Tampa Bay Lightning

Pride, hurt feelings driving NHL lockout

Hubris and hurt feelings. That is pretty much what the NHL lockout has come down to.

The owners, taking a page from the 2004-05 lockout, are confident if they play hardball long enough, the players will cave. The players, still seething about the 24 percent pay cut they swallowed after the last lockout, recoil at the thought of another 12 percent cut.

Commissioner Gary Bettman, the unyielding face of the league's squash-'em-like-a-bug effort, has the support of at least the most militant owners.

Union head Donald Fehr has sold his members on solidarity, reminding them fractures among players during the last lockout sapped their strength to resist.

It seems a lot to overcome. Really, though, the sides are not that far apart, and that is what makes this so maddening.

Both agree the split of league revenue is going to be 50-50. The owners want it immediately. The players, who took 57 percent of revenue last season, want the decrease to be gradual. Players also want contracts honored. That's reasonable, given that owners were sufficiently flush in the two days before the lockout began to sign players to contracts worth about $200 million.

For the most part, that's it. Canada's Globe and Mail reported the difference in the opposing positions in a five-year collective bargaining agreement might be as little as $300 million — relative chump change.

Even President Barack Obama, on television with NBC's Jay Leno, chided the very wealthy owners and very well-paid players for being unable to carve up a record $3.3 billion in revenue during a time of national economic stress.

Yet, we have this: games canceled through Nov. 30 — that's 600 to 800 part-time workers at the Tampa Bay Times Forum out of game-day jobs — no negotiations since Oct. 18, none planned and both sides blaming the other in the media.

Sad.

It's difficult to have sympathy for the owners. Their initial offer of a 43 to 46 percent revenue share for players was unnecessarily hostile. Their unwillingness to meet with the players association last week was unnecessarily petulant. And they failed to tell the union leadership they recently provided a 48-hour window during which owners and general managers could speak to players. That simply amped up the players' already substantial distrust of their employers.

It is the players, too, who are proposing plans that would cost themselves hundreds of millions of dollars over the life of an agreement. And you can't help but wonder if this whole thing could have been avoided had owners been more charitable with revenue sharing to help financially troubled franchises.

That said, the union didn't help matters by waiting until Aug. 14, one month before the old agreement expired, to make its initial proposal. And perhaps the recently received escrow checks of about 8 percent of last season's salaries have provided it just enough cushion to call the bluff of owners who hoped a lack of paychecks would cause players to submit.

Either way, watching billionaires and millionaires fight over how to split a gigantic pot of money has been unseemly. And what likely will be either a shortened season or no season at all is a permanent stain for the league.

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