By HOWARD BERGER
TORONTO (Oct. 31) – In an effort to corral meaningless public opinion, the National Hockey League Players Association continues to disdain time. Invaluable, irrevocable time.
Another “internal” communique this week magically appeared on selected media outlets: “At every opportunity we have continued to state that we are ready to meet and willing to discuss all open issues, including the owners’ last offer,” it plaintively wailed. “Nonetheless, to date, their group has declined to commit to a meeting unless it can dictate what the agenda is.”
And therein lies the truth. When Donald Fehr and his negotiating committee accepts that the league is dictating the lockout – has from the beginning; will to the end – we’re liable to move forward.
At the moment, Fehr seems content to beguile the public by resurrecting the owners’ last proposal. The P-A’s executive director knows, better than anyone, that opportunity has sailed. The window for such banter was ten days, beginning Oct. 16, as articulated by Gary Bettman. Within 48 hours, it was rejected out of hand – consigned to a negotiating ploy. Now, Fehr wants us to believe it should form the basis for a resumption in talks?
Look, everyone is losing in this quarrel. The only wish I have is to see the 720-odd members of the Association back in uniform, plying their trade as only they can. We miss them and we miss the game. Hockey players are the salt of the earth; they have my boundless admiration and respect. What they don’t have is a prayer in their stand-off with the NHL.
Accordingly, the length of this disruption will be determined by Fehr and his negotiating elite. The more time they waste blaming the monster and currying public sentiment, the more they will gamble with careers. Not until Fehr and his deputies return to the table with a revised offer of their own will this process have a chance to accelerate.
DONALD FEHR: EXPERIENCED IN LABOR BUT GAMBLING WITH CAREERS.
The league overture of Oct. 16 – contingent on an 82-game schedule beginning Nov. 2 – is a thing of the past. Dead and gone. Relegated to history. Null and void since Oct. 18, when Fehr gave it the deep-six. Was it a strong-arm tactic by the NHL? Absolutely – to the full extent the league is commanding this process. The P-A can no more negotiate off it than the NHL insistence of a salary cap eight years ago.
Fehr is way too smart to think otherwise. No one questions his ability to confront labor unrest; to bargain such matters in good faith, or his character. There is, however, a fine line between resolve and practicality.
As it stands, one might easily conclude that Fehr’s desire not to show “weakness” – common in high-profile debate – is trumping the potential for movement. The players did not appoint him to befriend the public, or to leak nonsensical communication. All they want; all they need, is a good reason to once again strap on their equipment in the world’s best league; in the best arenas; with the best travel and accommodation; sound in the knowledge they will never make money like this the rest of their lives.
Bowing to gamesmanship will only destroy what they have fought to achieve since child-hood: the precious and scant opportunity to play in the NHL.
Time is of the essence. Careers are wasting away.
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