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How does the NHL’s negotiation plan work? Gary Bettman employs ‘need-to-know basis’ strategies

This is particularly interesting, and it's particularly disappointing given that it's an Insider-only article. ESPN's Craig Custance spoke to a former member of the Board of Governors and a player agent about the potential for a long lockout, and the governor suggested that Bettman has both the supreme confidence of the owners after delivering a hard cap...

"I would assume Gary is still being Gary. He's gone through this once. He did what no one had ever done before," a former NHL governor said. "He has the playbook."

And that Bettman does something very, very smart in terms of keeping owners both informed and in the dark regarding negotiations--essentially employing the opposite strategy of Donald "Let's tell every player what's going on after each meeting" Fehr, and instead utilizing the same techniques that government contractors do when working on secret projects. He tells them all they need to know while skipping the "unnecessary" or "irrelevant" details (emphasis on "irrelevant" as Bettman used it to refer to the 100,000+ pages of audited hockey-related revenue books that the NHL delivered to the PA in late July, which were essential to truly begin negotiations):

"My phone would ring randomly it seemed like once a week for a very long period of time. He would be calling me to update me on the negotiations, provide me on insights to the league's strategy," he said. "A call could last three minutes or it could last an hour. I assume he was doing the same thing with everybody else. He built up a lot of street cred with me, certainly. It enabled him to lead from the front and not allow a faction of owners or another faction to take over the room."

Do the owners have any incentive to get the business of playing hockey underway?

Sure. Sort of.

"There's huge pressure," a former alternate governor said. "If you're in Minnesota, you want to be back to work. Go right down the list -- New York, Los Angeles."

But, he points out, that pressure works both ways.

"Right now, there are 25 or 26 teams with players going into camp thinking they can win the Stanley Cup this year," he said. "When you have that many players that hungry because they have a team that can win, it's pressure."

So when do "negotiations" really begin?

"Maybe that pushes a little bit of something," a team executive said. "I've always said this whole time, I don't think we're going to get juice until the end of the month or the first part of October ... Once you start rolling up on missing a paycheck or missing a gate, now it's a lockout. That affects business. Let's just wait."

Custance continues, but very regrettably, the rest of his article's behind a paywall.

Filed in: | KK Hockey | Permalink



Bettman has not promoted effective management at the team level, and he is unwilling to admit his mistakes and walk away from them. Bettman and his side did not properly evaluate Fehr as a negotiator. He has the players at his back and has been open to them about progress. There are no back door shenanigans like last the time around. In his negotiations with MLB, Fehr has faced bigger clowns across the table than Bettman and the NHL and he has come out on top. Its going to happen again.
The owners can’t expect that the players should give up things because of their stupidity.  No one put a gun to the heads of the owners in Minnesota and told them to make outrageous offers to Suter and Parise or Nashville with Weber, and so forth. Every time you give the owners cost certainty, they destroy it themselves. The aim of the status of RFAs in the last CBA was to create cost certainty and it might have except for the fact that organizations began to run each others RFAs. If there is a mess in the NHL, its most likely due to the management of the owners.

Posted by FlyersFan on 09/14/12 at 01:31 PM ET

George Malik's avatar

Andrew Zimbalist had it right when speaking to Sportsnet’s Mark Spector yesterday, suggesting that the NHL’s biggest problem is that Bettman is a poor business manager who expects the players to pay for his mistakes.

Posted by George Malik from South Lyon, MI on 09/14/12 at 01:37 PM ET

MoreShoot's avatar

I wish we could get Bettman and David Stern to disagree on something.  Because then we could lock them in a reactor chamber and let the BettmanStern fission fuel an entire city for months to come.

Posted by MoreShoot on 09/14/12 at 01:51 PM ET


Funny how one day an article comes out that says Bettman is a mere mouthpiece of the owners, the next day he is a Machiavellian genius that has so much power over the owners that they couldn’t make a move without his approval.

I think he does the owner’s bidding and as long as he gets the results they want they prefer to remain as publcily ignorant as possible so that they can always pretend at least to their own fanbase that they weren’t the cause of the problem. If the owner’s didn’t want Bettman they could easily eat his $8 million dollar salary and just bring in a new commissioner under their own terms.

The owners know that as soon as the ink dries they will be working as hard as possible to circumvent it and gain as much as a competitive advantage as possible.

Posted by hockey1919 from mid-atlantic on 09/14/12 at 02:14 PM ET

Down River Dan's avatar

Oh Gary…..he’s a genius,he’s in control,he’s got everything just the way he want’s it…...

So, how come the “brilliant” Gary is hours away from his 3rd work stoppage????

I thought he “fixed” it all last time?

The only sport I give a crap about has been co-opted by this little midget and he’s done Nothing ( That’s right I said Nothing!) good during his 20 years.

Oh for the days of Gil Stein or John Ziegler

After 35 years of enjoying this league, I am done.

I will get my hockey fix at UM and Plymouth Whalers games.

Well done Gary.

Posted by Down River Dan on 09/14/12 at 02:30 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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