The View From Wisconsin

Just a random set of rants from a Sports Fan from Wisconsin.

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

NHL Negotiations: A Joke

We are currently at a position in the NHL's labor negotiations that reminds me of the old joke about the beautiful young lady and the lecherous old man.

A lecherous old man approaches a beautiful young lady and asks her, "What would you do for a million dollars?"

The beautiful young lady thinks about it, and tells the old man, "Why, there are many things I'd do for a million dollars."

The lecherous old man replies, "Well, would you sleep with me for a million dollars?"

The beautiful young lady is taken aback at first, but after some consideration and gentle persuasion by the old man, she relents and asserts that for a million dollars, she would indeed sleep with him.

The lecherous old man then replies, "So, would you sleep with me for one dollar, then?"

The beautiful young lady is taken aback by this proposal, and asks the lecherous old man, "My dear sir, what do you think I am?"

The lecherous old man replies with a smile, "Madam, we have already determined what you are, now we are merely haggling over a price."

And right now, dear sirs and madams, the NHL is simply "haggling over a price."

It appears, though, that "The Bettman" still doesn't trust the NHLPA completely. In a short interview in the Saint Loo Post-Dispatch (aka the Puke-Discharge), he hinted that he's not sure if the PA is sincere about trying to reach a cap number and structure both sides can live with.

We have gotten past the main sticking points that kept negotiations from moving forward for the last four years, with the players and owners now on the same page about a salary cap and about the financial numbers. Though there is a long way to go, there is a light at the end of the tunnel.

But like the "haggling" mentioned above, there is an overriding rancor that still lingers in the air between the two sides. Though the league stated that they will not seek to use replacement players, the PA is seeking recognition as a trade union in Quebec and British Columbia, essentially to block that as an option. Bettman and Daly have been soft-pedaling on the issue, saying that they may consider "all their options" at some future time.

What is truly at stake is the question of the money, to the chagrin of our beautiful young lady. Both sides realize that there is a deadline, where each side's economic status becomes of great concern to the other. The owners are eyeing June 1st, which is when ESPN is set to decide whether or not they shall continue to carry the NHL on "The Worldwide Leader In Sports" – or throw their lot in with Championship Poker and National Cheerleading Contests. That deadline can be a huge hit in the league's collective pocketbooks – which would drive their offer to the players down like a rock. The players have their own deadline, too: July 1st. That is the day that, technically, all contracts between the members of the NHLPA and the league would expire. Because of the default payment clause in the Standard Player Contract, the PA could essentially sue to have its membership collectively declared free agents.

That option would be a nuclear one of sorts for the PA, as it might cause more headaches than it would be worth. However, the headaches would be minor compared to the migraines NHL general managers would have in trying to resign an entire roster of players under a salary cap system. Flooding the market would make for a lot of unemployed hockey players – and a lot of overpaid hockey players, too.

The so-called "Hockey Insiders" that fill the Canadian and American press may not believe it, but the signs indicate that an agreement is sooner in coming than later. In fact, it wouldn't be at all surprising if a deal was completed well before Canada Day.

Then, the NHL can go back to being a hockey league – instead of the joke that it has become.