P.R. Battle Intriguing Waste of Time

By HOWARD BERGER

TORONTO (Oct. 17) – Until a group of fans and reporters are invited to participate in collective bargaining between National Hockey League players and owners, I will remain mystified over the exertion toward public consent.

Once the labor wheat is separated from the chaff, we all know that a bargaining agreement will result from a locked-room stare-down between only four men: Gary Bettman and Bill Daly on behalf of the league; brothers Donald and Steve Fehr representing the players. Yes, legal advocates for both sides will be party to the discussion and constituents will need to be apprised. Under no circumstance, in the final round of battle, will Joe Public enter the ring. Why, then, such effort to appease the uninvolved?

This came to mind upon discovering – earlier today – the grist of the NHL’s latest proposal on its high-traffic website. Argument for such a declaration appeared in the preamble: “While the original intention was not to release the details of the offer publicly, not surprisingly there have been widespread reports attempting to describe and characterize the terms of the offer that understandably are incomplete. As a result, we believe that full public disclosure at this stage is both necessary and appropriate.”

I ask again: Why?

NHL COMMISSIONER GARY BETTMAN INFORMS MEDIA OF A PROPOSAL MADE TO THE PLAYERS ON TUESDAY. DETAILS OF THE OFFER WERE POSTED EARLIER TODAY ON NHL.COM.

Chicanery from either side will be confronted, contended and ultimately resolved during eye-to-eye negotiation. No public or media-conveyed ballot is required to rubber-stamp any issue – big or small.

When such approval is needed, opposition parties square off before the governing audience. That’s why Barack Obama and Mitt Romney went toe-to-toe on Tuesday night in a rotunda two blocks from the empty Nassau Coliseum. The United States presidency cannot be collectively bargained.

Hockey’s return to the ice must be, yet outsiders bear no claim to the negotiating mechanism. Neither Bettman nor Fehr, in the midst of central discussion, will bow to external force. Whether you – as a hockey fan and consumer – favor either camp is irrelevant; conveyance of partiality by the media is similarly pointless. In the end, only the clout of economics will determine when hockey reappears.

Bartering opinion in print; electronic and social media occupies a void that would ordinarily focus on competition among the NHL’s 30 teams. It is both intriguing and essential – within its allocated realm. At no point will it imbue the crux of negotiation.

Bettman and Fehr understand that implicitly.

Their attempts to sway public approval are confounding.

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