The NHL and the NHLPA met again yesterday, this time to talk about HRR (the big hurdle in this current lockout). That’s about all the good news that came from Tuesday.
After a weekend that saw three straight meetings on the smaller issues – a meeting which yielded some progress – the NHL and the NHLPA took a day off to "do their homework" and then hit the negotiating table again on Tuesday. They were there for two hours.
The length of meetings, along with the length between meetings is becoming a central theme to this lockout, especially when you view it in terms of the lack of progress the two sides have made since they started this process over the summer. Apparently, neither the NHL or the NHLPA seems to believe there’s anything to be gained from sitting down and trying to work things out at the negotiating table.
Instead, the two sides have negotiated like small children. They’ve met, haven’t come to an agreement right away, thrown their hands in the air, walked away from each other grumbling in order to cool off before trying to meet again. The good news from this strategy? At least they’re still talking. The bad news? It’s eating up precious time, something the league currently doesn’t have an abundance of.
You can throw the blame around any way you want – the popular pick is Gary Bettman and the owners – but as I have been preaching since the summer, there is plenty of blame to go around. The NHL and the NHLPA have both handled these negotiations horribly, and both Donald Fehr and Bettman should be embarrassed.
While both sides have been singing to the media that they want to get a deal done, their actions have betrayed them. Sitting at a negotiating table for the first time in nearly three weeks (I’m not counting the weekend meetings here because they weren’t on the core issues) and not finding any middle ground after a couple of hours and then just ending the meeting right then and there is unacceptable. What’s the point of negotiating at all if the strategy is to get the other side to cave in a few hours, otherwise walk away with no resolution or no future plan?
And yet, that’s exactly what happened on Tuesday, with both parties essentially saying the same thing (and I’m paraphrasing here): "Nothing is going to get done until the other side makes the next move and budges first."
And there’s the problem. Neither side is used to budging first. Both Fehr and Bettman are used to waiting out their opponents, which is why you’re seeing both sides take the patient approach.
Remember that back in 2004 Bettman waited out the Union. He cancelled all the games, neither side spoke for months on end until the Union finally cracked and turned on itself – a move which resulted in the NHLPA taking a deal that was on the table before the lockout happened.
Both sides have agreed that they’re miles ahead of the pace set during 2004, since the NHLPA is still negotiating in the salary cap world.
Could have fooled me.
Now the ball is in the owner’s court. Or, actually, Bettman’s court. The NHL is going to start to cancel regular season games, maybe as soon as today. Some have speculated that the NHL might only chop a couple of weeks as a sign of good faith to the NHLPA that they expect meaningful discussions and some progress in the future. Other reports have pointed towards Bettman actually slamming his hammer onto the schedule, ripping out a significant portion of games (think a month’s worth) and setting the tone for the negotiations.
Again, the NHLPA deserves blame here too. Fehr has refused to move from his original proposal – stubbornness that has rightfully pissed off the owners – and was the driving force between the meetings about the non-core economic issues. Those meetings would have been looked back on as useful if the momentum carried over towards Tuesday. But it didn’t. And now those meetings seem like a gigantic waste of time and resources.
Not that it matters anyway. Neither side is willing to look in the mirror. Which isn't surprising, since neither side wants to take any blame.
Which is funny, because there is plenty of that to go around.