For the past few days we've tried to keep the CBA negotiations (or lack there of) away from the site as much as possible. And that was the plan again today, even though the two sides are scheduled to meet. But with news breaking about the leaked focus group the NHL set up in order to gain more information about the lockout, we can't help ourselves.
The NHL has some egg on its face after the story broke about the group. I would highly recommend you read the article in its entirety, but here's a telling excerpt from the story:
The NHL is losing the publicity war. While most fans categorize the negotiations as the rich vs. the richer, there's almost no sympathy for Bettman and the owners for promulgating their third lockout in 18 years. That's a perception they're desperate to change. While concessions will come at the bargaining table, the court of public opinion will dictate which side feels the most pressure to compromise. And, of course, when hockey does come back, the league doesn't want fans to feel so bitter that they stay away from the game. That's where Luntz's research fits in. Most fans, ignorant to the ins and outs of revenue sharing and the like, just want hockey back. It's within the league's power to win the PR war, and portray the NHLPA as the villains behind the work stoppage.
Obviously the timing isn't exactly good for the NHL, who is about to enter yet another "who will blink first" meeting with the NHLPA. The players, at this point, don't seem interested in giving a new proposal at all; something the NHL has repeatedly cited as a major issue to why the two sides aren't making any progress.
The NHLPA (lead by Donald Fehr being used to the other side blinking first) wants to see the NHL make more concessions before the Union gives another offer.
Which puts us right back where we were back in June when the negotiations started. Neither side wants to make the next move, since it will be seen as a sign of weakness. Neither side wants to be seen as weak. Neither side wants to be seen as losing the negotiations.
So, we get neither side talking. We get no new proposals. We get the NHLPA refusing to move forward -- even though it's their move to make -- and the NHL trying to gauge how they can make fans have a more favorable opinion of the owners and Gary Bettman.
Can you say square one?
Yes, the NHL is probably pretty embarrassed by the leaked focus group story. It's yet another blow to the owner's public relations efforts -- a war they're losing handily. But it's highly doubtful that the story is going to force Bettman and the owners to give in. In fact, it will probably do the exact opposite.
What this does prove is that Bettman and the owners do care about what the fans think, but not enough to move talks forward. It's not surprising that the owners want to see what they can do to make the public's opinion tip back in their favor, but don't expect it to change the way these meetings are going.
Right now the only thing that can do that is a new NHLPA offer. And right now, that's not coming.
So, yes, the two sides will meet today. Do I expect progress? Not really.
And both sides are to blame for that.