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Bettman Facing The Trap

from Jack Todd at the Montreal Gazette via the Calgary Herald,

At this point, Bettman and the owners look like a high-powered scoring machine being ground into the ice by Jacques Lemaire’s New Jersey Devils. They’re frustrated because they’re trapped in the neutral zone and even if they can somehow get past Bobby Holik and Scott Stevens, there’s Martin Brodeur (in the person of Fehr himself) waiting to make the save.

Hence the hissy fit. Hence the visible frustration, the walkout, all the rest of it. Bettman is losing because Fehr doesn’t lose his head — so the commissioner is making an ass of himself and a laughingstock of the league. He’s threatening to take down another entire season, when the NHL going into this lockout had already lost more games to labour disruptions than the three other major North American leagues combined.

The commissioner has destroyed all the momentum that the league had built up, undermined all the good accomplished by chief operating officer John Collins, all for an unnecessary lockout that has already cost the NHL more than it can ever hope to gain in return.

It’s a game Bettman can’t win, because Fehr is at least his equal. Fehr has the players behind him as solidly as Bettman has the owners in his pocket. All the NHL’s divide-and-conquer tactics, the tricks that worked so well against Bob Goodenow during the 2004-05 lockout, have failed.

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Comments

Nathan's avatar

This article is interesting to me. From a sports writer (at least currently) based in Montreal, I would’ve expected more animus for Fehr. As someone that supports Fehr and thinks he did a lot of good for baseball in the long-run, the one thing that will always stick in my craw about that ‘94/‘95 strike (even though I see it as having been a necessary evil) is that it ruined what hope the Expos had at staying in Montreal.

Posted by Nathan from the scoresheet! on 12/10/12 at 09:32 AM ET

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I feel like at this moment in time, Fehr’s only hope is to sell the players on staying the course for PRINCIPAL alone… considering the financial reasons have basically been evaporated with a lost season. 

Considering an NHL career has a finite amount of time associated with it; what financial gain does any player have when you subtract 1 and possibly 2 from that total?  At some point here, and probably soon, the players are going to realize they are arguing for the right to make an extra $50, while losing $1000.

Posted by gretzky_to_lemieux on 12/10/12 at 09:51 AM ET

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Fehr’s only hope is to sell the players on staying the course for PRINCIPAL alone

I think this has been the basis of the fight from the beginning. The players are going to get less, it is a question of whether they roll over and accept it or make it onerous on the owner’s as well. The last CBA ensured the players couldn’t win and Fehr was brought in to stop the slide of player rights.  Many may hate him, many may feel the players are fools to lose years off their contracts, but this is as much about the future as it is about today.

Yes many of the players are millionaires many times over, but that came from players taking a substantial risk many years ago. Some people would just prefer the Ziegler/Eagleson NHL/NHLPA relationship.

PS
and I have no respect for Jack Todd.

Posted by hockey1919 from mid-atlantic on 12/10/12 at 11:17 AM ET

J.J. from Kansas's avatar

Bettman is losing because Fehr doesn’t lose his head

There’s a fairly stark difference between not getting everything you want as quickly as you want it and losing.

Unless something crazy happens and we end up with the NHLPA going through the decertification process to blow up the entire structure of the CBA which looks like it is slowly coming together, the NHL is going to end up getting another sizable pay cut out of the players when this is all done, plus limits on contract lengths and on variance. 

If it’s the popularity of the game that we’re talking about, then it’s still not exactly Bettman losing. If the damage to the game done now is very severe, then yes, Bettman and the owners are losing, but they’re not losing any more than the players are also losing. Like I said, unless something drastic changes, the players are going to come out of this situation with a share of Hockey Related Revenue. If that revenue goes down for the owners, it goes down for the players too. Since it’s less for the players this time than it was last, Bettman’s loss is still at least a Pyrrhic victory.

If we’re talking about Bettman winning by continuing to use the scorched-Earth tactics that he and Proskauer Rose have been working on for years, then yes, perhaps Bettman isn’t winning because of the damage (which won’t be known until they actually start playing). 

When all of this is said and done and people start taking stock of everything that’s been happening, Bettman very well may come out of this entire situation looking like a loser… and that’s exactly what the owners who have a more-lucrative system in place pay him for.

Posted by J.J. from Kansas on 12/10/12 at 11:41 AM ET

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It’s strange to me that yet another journalist makes the mistake of thinking Fehr is “winning” because Bettman’s mad. If Todd’s going to use Bettman’s anger as evidence of something, he needs to consider why Bettman’s mad, which is: Fehr is not being quick enough or orderly enough for Bettman’s liking in nailing down the terms of the PA’s inevitable surrender.

In Todd’s analogy, Fehr may very well be a wall in net, but his team’s also down 2-0 with, hopefully, about a minute remaining in the series.

Posted by larry on 12/10/12 at 02:23 PM ET

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Should note that JJ covered this already in excellent detail.

Posted by larry on 12/10/12 at 02:24 PM ET

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fairly stark difference between not getting everything you want as quickly as you want it and losing

If you were insane and considered the 43/57 split of revenues to be the initial bargaining point, then the owners have already lost a great deal as well. Now you would be working off of a false premise to start off with of course.

The players are going to lose in the short term, it is a question of how much. They are fighting for how much they will lose in the long term and if they can make this process as distasteful for the owners as it is for them. I would imagine that Fehr’s plan is to make the slash and burn tactics that have worked in the past remain far less appealing in the future. The NHLPA had little leverage in October, when January rolls around and the season is on the brink, there are a few significant markets that will think twice about money they will be losing. Even some of the traditional losers stand to make money in a shortened season with full stadiums, a couple of home playoffs gates and prorated salaries.

Posted by hockey1919 from mid-atlantic on 12/10/12 at 02:57 PM ET

redxblack's avatar

I’m not sure the players are down 2-0. There’s something significant forgotten between the lockout of 94 and today. The KHL pays roughly what the NHL pays. The owners do not have a monopoly on world-class salaries. If the NHL wants to play hardball and lose this season, carrying the lockout over into the next season, who wants to place odds on the NHL’s stars taking out full-season contracts in Europe?

Posted by redxblack from Akron Ohio on 12/10/12 at 03:15 PM ET

Nathan's avatar

It’s strange to me that yet another journalist makes the mistake of thinking Fehr is “winning” because Bettman’s mad. If Todd’s going to use Bettman’s anger as evidence of something, he needs to consider why Bettman’s mad, which is: Fehr is not being quick enough or orderly enough for Bettman’s liking in nailing down the terms of the PA’s inevitable surrender.

In Todd’s analogy, Fehr may very well be a wall in net, but his team’s also down 2-0 with, hopefully, about a minute remaining in the series.

Posted by larry on 12/10/12 at 01:23 PM ET

Agreed. Fehr is not winning. But I don’t think he was ever brought in to “win”—he was brought in to minimize losses. The only way Fehr would’ve been expected to straight up “win” would have been if he was brought in a year earlier and the players went on strike. And thankfully that didn’t happen.

Posted by Nathan from the scoresheet! on 12/10/12 at 03:43 PM ET

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The KHL pays roughly what the NHL pays.

The KHL salary cap is $36 million and the floor is $5 million. To put this in perspective, the poorest NHL club shells out more cash than the richest KHL club. Most teams are closer to the floor than the ceiling, though there is a “franchise player” exception.

Unless you’re a homegrown all-star (Ovechkin, Kuznetsov), a player who functions to score marketing points in the K (Radulov, Jagr), or an AHL caliber guy who is capable of scoring in the K (Christensen, Thoreson) or busting skulls (Mirasty, Gillies) you don’t make anything close to what you make in North America.

I’m not sure the players are down 2-0.

Relative to their last deal, the NHLPA has, in their own latest offer, proposed worse contracting rights and lower salary growth. What the NHL has “given them” relative the last deal, is the opportunity for the players to use some of their own money to shore up pensions (wow, awesome).

They’re down 2-0.

Posted by larry on 12/10/12 at 03:52 PM ET

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Agreed. Fehr is not winning. But I don’t think he was ever brought in to “win”—he was brought in to minimize losses. The only way Fehr would’ve been expected to straight up “win” would have been if he was brought in a year earlier and the players went on strike. And thankfully that didn’t happen.

Posted by Nathan from the scoresheet! on 12/10/12 at 02:43 PM ET

In my opinion, he has failed miserably in minimizing losses. It’s nice that the owners upped the make-whole to $300 million because he played hardball, I guess, but it cost his guys $500 million (more now with the new round of cancellations) to get the NHL to do that. Trading a single $50 bill for 30 $1s is an awful bargain for the bargainer.

Posted by larry on 12/10/12 at 03:58 PM ET

redxblack's avatar

The KHL salaries aren’t taxed, so that $36m is effectively much higher.

Posted by redxblack from Akron Ohio on 12/10/12 at 10:00 PM ET

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The KHL salaries aren’t taxed, so that $36m is effectively much higher.

Posted by redxblack from Akron Ohio on 12/10/12 at 09:00 PM ET

Even if that were true, and it’s not, any NHL player would need to become a citizen of Russia and renounce his home citizenship before avoiding paying taxes in his country of origin (in the US, you can deduct something like 100k, but any hockey player making that may as well just stay in the AHL where he doesn’t need to deal with shady bosses that pay him late in brown paper bags).

Moreover, many of the higher paid players are expected and pressured to chip in and pay portions of the other players’ salaries.

The concept of guaranteed contracts doesn’t exist in practice.

And finally, if Kyle Welwood is to be believed, there are packs of dogs roaming the streets of Atlant that will steal your groceries.


All this stuff NHL players enjoy (pensions, per diems, own hotel rooms, a voice in the league’s financial structure, guaranteed contracts) doesn’t exist in that league.

And, apart from the four types of players I mentioned (homegrown Russian stars, marketable hockey quasi-celebrities, skill guys who washed out of the NHL because they’re bad in traffic, and bruisers who skate too poorly to stay in the NHL and have no scruples) the money is much, much worse.

It is not a better alternative than even the NHL’s most-draconian proposal for more than about two dozen guys. It’s not even close, really.

Posted by larry on 12/11/12 at 01:16 AM ET

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pensions, per diems, own hotel rooms, a voice in the league’s financial structure, guaranteed contracts

Are we talking federal workers or the NHLPA?

Posted by hockey1919 from mid-atlantic on 12/11/12 at 10:36 AM ET

redxblack's avatar

Not every player in Europe is an American or Canadian expat. European countries tax codes vary widely, inside and outside the Euro Zone. When Jiri Hudler went to the KHL, it was widely reported that the Czech forward would be earning his salary tax-free, and that’s the case for MANY in the KHL.

Further, the idea that these people are paid in brown paper bags is fairly ridiculous and cartoonish. The KHL as it existed last year may be in a drastically different place should the NHL talent decide to make a go of it in Russia. If Parise and Suter could start a bidding war in the US, imagine the Russian plutocrats lifting their cap to make way for American stars, if for no other reason to embarrass further the NHL.

Posted by redxblack from Akron Ohio on 12/11/12 at 11:39 AM ET

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Further, the idea that these people are paid in brown paper bags is fairly ridiculous and cartoonish. The KHL as it existed last year may be in a drastically different place should the NHL talent decide to make a go of it in Russia. If Parise and Suter could start a bidding war in the US, imagine the Russian plutocrats lifting their cap to make way for American stars, if for no other reason to embarrass further the NHL.

It doesn’t matter whether you think the manner in which KHL clubs do business is “cartoonish” or not; that’s how many of them operate. Here’s an article from “last year,” quoting then-current KHL players about its practices. I especially liked the section where players currently have to tote around their own toilet seats because visiting team locker rooms don’t have them.

KHL in 2012

And, again, what would it have mattered if some KHL club had offered a similar sum to Ryan Suter. The contract wouldn’t be guaranteed. He’d end up taking a $50 million dollar bath compared to his Minnesota by signing it, and that’s just in a best-case scenario. Not to mention, I don’t see why a guy who refused to play outside the US midwest would sign on another continent.


For the third time: there are 4 types of players for which the KHL makes sense: homegrown russian superstars (Kuznetsov), a couple of “marketing” type players at a time (Jagr, Radulov), NHL skill players who washed out because they’re bad in traffic (Christensen, Morozov), and AHL/ECHL goons with no compunction about attacking non-combatants for no reason (Brennan, Mirasty, Gillies, Yablonski).

K, now what about the other 730 guys? For them, that league’s not an option while they can hold down a job in the NHL.

Posted by larry on 12/11/12 at 03:56 PM ET

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Paul Kukla founded Kukla’s Korner in 2005 and the site has since become the must-read site on the ‘net for all the latest happenings around the NHL.

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