The continuing CBA negotiations have seen the NHL cancel X number of games and even threaten the Winter Classic and All-Star games. The looming threat of a cancelled season has also been implied .

The players, for their part, have been equally willing to let paycheques go by, losing money while holding to their negotiating stance, willing partners, it would seem, in this game of chicken.

Each side has a list of what they consider their pressure points and those of their opponent. While we wait and watch for movement, it would seem that those pressure points are beginning to pass us by. Neither side wants to flinch or show to their opponent much opposition to the present course of action.

In public there is a great deal of consternation and hand-wringing that, but for the obstinance of their counterparts, they would gladly put this all behind them and get back to the game we all love so dearly.

One thing is being communicated to the public, while another is being communicated to the other side in the negotiations. Of course, it would be business suicide for either one to admit a kind of sad fatalism during talks, but the juxtaposition is sometimes comical.

It would appear, then, that the NHL and NHLPA have gotten themselves into a kind of potlatch.

Shared Sacrifice?

A potlatch is a gift-giving festival of sorts amongst the Pacific Northwest Native tribes of North America, the Haida, Coast Salish, Tlingit, Tsimshian and others in that region. While for many the tradition involves those that have hosting a great festival for the redistribution of wealth to those that do not, in some tribes this festival evolved into a kind of ritualized sacrifice. The more powerful families or kinship groups, as well as those who sought to attain power, would use the potlatch as a display, wherein they would willingly sacrifice their asset wealth to illustrate their deep pockets and convictions. At times, the potlatch served the group in the same way that conspicuous consumption does today, to demonstrate wealth, or the appearance of wealth and status, by virtue of, at times, ruinous expense.

The NHL has a list, I believe, of their “pressure points” that they are willing to sacrifice in order to prove their point and win these negotiations according to their definition of success. These points are or have been:

1.       The cancellation or delay of the opening of the season
2.       The cancellation of the season up to, and perhaps including, the Christmas break
3.       The cancellation of the Winter Classic as well as the potential backlash amongst sponsors and television rights’ holders.
4.       The cancellation of the All-Star week, along with financial rewards that would have come with it for the struggling franchise in Columbus.
5.       The cancellation of the season as a whole, including foregoing the awarding of the Stanley Cup for a second time in eight years due to labour strife.
6.       The delay, postponement, or even cancellation of the 2013 NHL entry draft.
7.       The eventual delay, or cancellation, of the beginning of the 2013-2014 season with the possibility of replacement players or NHL exceptions in the event that the players decertify such that they can then be treated as individual entities rather than a collective.
8.       The lost revenues from this entire period, even if it means that one or two franchises must find new ownership as a result.

The NHLPA, due to its very nature, obviously does not have the same number of ptions for self-sacrifice as the league and owners. However, they do have pressure points that the League is hoping to hit. They could best be summed up as:

1.       The pay period covering the first two-quarters of the season.
2.       The pay period covering the third quarter of the season.
3.       The cancellation of the season resulting in the loss of an entire contract-year.
4.       The loss of revenue for many PA members whose contracts would expire at the conclusion of the season and who may not receive as lucrative a potential contract had the lockout been foreshortened.
5.       The loss of crucial revenue for veteran players in the final years of their contracts as they approach retirement.
6.       The loss or attrition of up to 1/3rd of the membership as a result of the lockout in keeping with the experience of the Players’ Association following the 2004-2005 lockout.
7.       Decertification of the Association in order to pursue legal options under anti-trust legislation, with the aim of fracturing ownership along national boundaries, with the risk of weakening the solidarity of the players as a group.
8.       The loss of an additional portion of the 2013-2014 season due to a continued lockout with the possible result of the NHL exploring replacement players or seeking to exploit a potential decertification of the Association.

Looking over these lists of “weak points” in the two opponents, one thing becomes tragically clear. There is no sacrifice listed that does not harm the fan and, by extension, the sport.

There is an African saying that I think applies to this situation: when two elephants fight it is the grass that suffers.

  • HardBoiledOil 1.0

    ^you know what? it’s almost November and i have watched very little hockey, so they can go ahead and cancell the rest of the season for all i care….neither side is getting any sympathy from me!!

  • book¡e

    At some point the players will realize that it takes 20 years to ‘regain’ the lost season’s income if they successfully push the owners for an additional 5% of revenue. Then the reality that the best they can probably hope for is 2% of revenue and that will take 50 years of playing to make up for losing a whole season. In fact, if they lose a season, hockey related revenue will probably drop by a greater percentage than the 2%. So, even if they win, they lose. The best possible outcome for the players would be to give in right now. Every day they continue to fight, all they do is mitigate some of their loses.

    Furthermore, the owners will realize that ‘hotel room costs’ and other things that will make the players happy and give them something to claim a ‘win’ on are a pittance as long as they get the percentage of hockey revenue they are hoping for.

    I just hope it doesn’t take a year. I think Shultz, Nail, Hall, RNH, and Ebs are going to be thrilling and I don’t want to miss a year of it.

  • book¡e

    I understand the players standing up in principal. Not getting bullied etc. They wouldn’t be professional athletes if they didn’t have a fighting spirit.

    But there is a time, when its ok to just survive, take the best you can and move on for your own good. Realize you are fighting someone way outside your weight class, take a few lumps, hang on and hope you come out fairly unscathed with your head high.

    Cause as has been pointed out many times the players just can’t win. If there really is a shortened season, as individuals they have all lost. No matter how good a deal they get, they have forever lost money. The fight is over already. Horcoff is losing the last year of his $6 mil+ contract. Gone forever….

    The players going toe to toe with the owners reminds me of Bucky in the 90s. Sure he had honor and didn’t back down from Hatcher (or anyone). But he got his a@@ kicked, and his face is still messed up 20 years up later. In hindsight he probably should have just been a bit smarter about his fights.

  • justDOit

    What is totally bewildering to me, through all of this, is how they can just stand by and bicker, while watching the cash from games/tv/merch fly out the window.

    That they can’t or won’t find a common denominator to an interim agreement while they work on the CBA is discomboobulating to me. The NFL played a long time on an interim agreement to ensure their income streams remained flowing in the right direction, and yet here are the NHL buffoons again risking their entire business structure and fanbase with a 2nd work stoppage in 7 years.

    I would think it would be the other way around. The NFL has no competing leagues (well, NCAA football, but not professional), and they’re pretty much guaranteed that their fan base will return if a work stoppage occurred. The NHL, on the other hand, still has to fight for respect in the US media, and many sunnier market teams walk a fine line of solvency and don’t need any erosion of their fan loyalty.

    If you were offered a poor deal while still generating healthy income, or no deal and no income, would you really need to think about that proposal very long?

  • book¡e

    I am a huge hockey/oilers fan but seriously WHO CARES!! Find something else to do. Don’t let these millionaire’s and billionaire’s beat you. We should all boycot the NHL when it comes back anyway.

    • book¡e

      Actually, good point. I’m not naive enough to think I won’t come back and be a fan and watch and love it. I will, I’m just dumb like that.

      BUT – its pretty easy for me to not go to any games. Just watch on TV. No PPV, no Centre Ice package and no Oilers pjs for my kids this year. If everyone does that, we still get to be fans AND we save money AND it’ll hit the owners which in turn will cause the cap to go down and hurt the players.

      Its our change to teach both the players AND owners. I hope HRR goes down 50% this year. See how the players like the cap going down by 10 mil and a few teams going bankrupt.

  • vetinari

    I agree with almost all of the comments but I have to make one observation with respect to the players side of things: even if they lose a full season of income for 2012-13, with one year in either the NHL or the KHL, a player will still make more money than the average worker will make in their working lifetimes. That eases the blow of whatever this is that we are seeing right now from the players.

    If I had to arbitrate this mess right now, I would go as follows: we follow the NHL’s last proposal for everything BUT all existing player contracts are honoured. A team may exceed the cap until July 15, 2013 to give them time to move around players but for every dollar that they are over the cap in the interim, they pay three dollars in a “luxury tax” with one dollar divided between the bottom 10 money-making NHL teams, the next dollar divided in the manner that the NHLPA directs for its members (pensions, insurance, bonus, charities, etc.) and the remaining dollar divided between the non-management payrolls of all 30 NHL teams (i.e. the ticket takers, ushers, concessions, janitorial, etc.).

    This way, players get their current contracts honoured, teams have time to adjust to the new economics by paying a short term penalty, and the people who make a living off the table scraps left behind between these two ignorant groups can see something for their families.

  • justDOit

    Mob mentality……….rule number one. Never look for signs of intelligence in a mob because the entire mob finds the least intelligent persons and that becomes the collective IQ!

    The union will never do what is logical rather follow what everyone else is doing, even if that make no sense.

    I say lock them out for the entire season, after calling the current negotiations at an impass. Follow this by asking players to cross the floor and introduce them to the last offer as the basis of a new CBA. Start the season with replacement players and don’t look back!

    Does the AHL have a CBA? What a joke as if millionaires need a CBA?

  • justDOit

    @ Chris

    Good points, we can still be fans and cut into the profits. No live games, PPV, clothing etc. Also, with today’s media outlets, Facebook, twitter etc. we could really spread the word. How cool would it be if the rinks were empty when the NHL fired up again?

    • vetinari

      Exactly. Start spreading the word, I’d love to see some empty rinks.

      Fehr keeps talking about wanting to ‘fix it’ so there is lasting labour peace and lockouts don’t happen at the end of each CBA. I’d suggest the ONLY way for this to happen is for the lockout to hurt. And it needs to hurt BOTH sides. When the dust settles if both sides have to split a $1 billion loss, then it will cause BOTH sides to fear a future lockout. As fans we can control this.

      But if HRR doesn’t go down after this one, and us dumb fans just flock back like last time then nobody will have learned anything.

      Fehr brags about how he achieved labour peace for the MLB. But really its just because their stadiums were empty for 5 years and billions were lost by all parties involved because the fans didn’t flock back.

      Its easy. No Oiler PJs for the kids, no hats, no Taylor Hall posters, no game day tickets, no PPV.

  • vetinari

    Almost 100% owners fault from day one . The season is lost , don’t fret about it . Why ? The owners best offer still takes away all the players contracts for one year by accepting the owners so called best offer . Players losing about 20% a year over the next five years = one seasons pay lost for every five seasons . Not a chance players will accept that , and who could blame them when owners are in best shape financially (overall) than they have ever been before . Lockout seems more like a frugal attempt at extortion of players contracts , and making a mockery out of meaningfull negotiations of which owners seem to want to avoid .

    Sympathy to players who have always wanted to play contract finalized or not , but owners greed prevents that so as they can extort more money from players and union to pay for their indiscretions and greedy pockets . They , not the players , treat fans like a Ringling Bros. Circus , feeling like their are countless hockey suckers born every minute ? beef , but i can’t say the same for owners or their tactics of Bettman and owners . Players have moved plenty already , but it falls on deaf ears to greedy owners who want even more .

  • vetinari

    My 2 cents: I am a diehard fan of the oilers franchise. Not the players, not the owner. I watched POS in an oilers uniform and watch them lose every game. The player need to get this through their heads. I would watch replacement players in the NHL and the oilers in a different league. The NHL and nhlpa are not as important to my hockey viewing pleasure as the think they are.

    • Wax Man Riley

      I too am a huge fan of the franchise. I loved Pronger when he was here and boo’d him like h@ll when he came back for his first game with Anaheim.

      Ditto Comrie, POS, and every other player that has come and gone.

      To be honest, and I am sorry, but this will really be the only thing I post in any article, I don’t care that there is no NHL hockey. I was watching KHL highlights last night and I am starting to enjoy them. I am watching Barons highlights and getting into it. I am watching junior games and love them.

      Screw the NHL.I’m with Chris above, I will be at the pub eating wings, drinking beer and watching the game. I will enjoy the luxury boxes and gold seats when work provides them.

      I will not buy a ticket. Purchase cable, shop at Rexall, and I will bring my own Jack Daniels to the games.

      Screw you NHL/PA. Screw you.

  • HardBoiledOil 1.0

    ^that’s the thing isn’t it? no to a possible wage decrease, but yes to playing in Europe for a lot less money than they’d still be getting. someone care to explain that to me

    • That is easy to explain Manfly. It is a matter of principle. Jonathan Willis wrote a very interesting piece a few weeks ago, which appeared either here or on the Cult of Hockey, that helps explain it.

      In a series of controlled experiments two individuals had the opportunity to divide $100. The first person would choose how much they would take, and if the second person accepted what was left, they both got their share. If he said no, no one got anything.

      Usually the first person would take $50 and of course the second person would accept that. But some people (think Jeremy Jacobs and Ed Snider) would take more than half. In most cases, the second person said no. To do that they had to give up the $30 or $40 they would have gotten, but they declined, so that the greedy guy got nothing.

      Think of the players’ actions as this experiment on a much grander scale. Our sense of justice is very important to us, and most people would rather lose some money to prevent people from bullying them or reneging on freely signed contracts, for example. Of course most players have lots of money socked away, so it is easier for them to take this kind of stance. I’m sure if JW sees this he will correct any mistakes I made,although I think I recall it fairly well.

  • Old Soldier

    All the owners fault??? Maybe but I dont think so personally. I think the players have placed too much into “name recognition” with Fehr in the hopes that the owners would be intimidated. As far as the players and Fehr, all they do is put out “tweets” and sound bites and doing their best to convince the public that its the truth, when at best they are half truths.

    “wanting to play while continuing to negotiate” pure crap, if the owners had been dumb enough to do that there would be an even more enjoyable strike in April before playoffs when the players got their last paycheck…and besides, where were they last summer, last February, last may when the NHL approached them.

    “The owners took 10 minutes to brush off 3 proposals” Did anyone read the proposals? Two are a couple of sentences outlining the same proposal the NHLPA first submitted (future revenues used to get to 50/50) with just different time frames, and the last wasnt even written down, just tossed out verbally….yet the NHL was to take those seriously? And by the way, despite the tweets and sound bites, not one of the proposals ever reach 50/50, the closest was 51/49 players.

    “The NHL should honor their contracts” LOL, they are honoring them, even if the amounts change….on each and every Standard Players Contract……Para 8b of Standard Players Contract states “All obligations and rights set forth in paragraph 8(a) shall be subject to modification from time to time by the provisions of the CBA. Article 8(a) deals with player obligations to the Club, and the Clubs obligations to the player, including salary. Para 18 of SPC states “The Club and the Player severally and mutually promise and agree to be legally bound by the League Rules and by “ANY” CBA that has been “OR MAY BE” entered between the member clubs of the League and the NHLPA, and by all the terms and provisions thereof.”

    “the majority of owners arent in agreement on the strike” what a wonderful way of exploiting Bettmans Rule on speaking out. No owner can call bull, so damn it must be true, yet……we still have a lockout.

    Perhaps its the players who might have some insider fighting…… insiders brought up that there are 240 contracts that are up after this season, both UFA and RFA. So let’s just imagine 300 some players making less than the league average, 240 players who don’t have a contract after this year, and the NHLPA asking them to give up a year’s pay in order for the Big Boys to save some coin. Still think the union is united?

    As a soldier I have spent a lifetime watching and reading the media spout half-truths and plain and simple lies and exaggerations from where I happend to be, and yet we continue to be sheep and believe them…..wait…they found the WMD’s….

    If an illiterate old soldier can find, read and understand this, why can’t the players…..or perhaps they do and don’t care, and Mr Johnson you definitely need to hire an agent if this surprises you.

    • What’s your point Old Soldier, apart from the fact you spent most of your like saluting other men and taking orders, and seem awful jealous of people who stand up to their bosses when they are unfair?

      Obviously the new CBA will ultimately be decided by leverage and the owners seem to have more of it than the players. On the other hand shutting down an entire season for the second time in eight years doesn’t seem like a great way to grow the game in the US.

      As for your legal assessment of the CBA, obviously contracts are susceptible to buyouts and legally players can be locked out until they agree to salary rollbacks in a new CBA, but that doesn’t make it right. The same thing happened to workers at the London, Ontario, Caterpillar plant. The owners, despite an 83% increase in profits demanded the workers take 50% across-the-board cuts, or they would close the plant Do you think that is fair? The players refused. Does that make them stupid? Or does it show they have some dignity? The only difference with the players is the amount of money involved. The principle is the same.

      I suspect that a career in which butt-kissing is the first order of business has distorted your perspective on management – labour relations. Whether it was your butt or your lips.

      • As for your legal assessment of the CBA, obviously contracts are susceptible to buyouts and legally players can be locked out until they agree to salary rollbacks in a new CBA, but that doesn’t make it right.

        Wildly irrelevant. He’s not talking about the lockout, he referring to the constant whining by players that the owners don’t want to honor contracts, when the opposite is, in fact, true.

        Under the current CBA player contracts are not guaranteed dollar figures, they are subject to modification based the total percentage allowed by the CBA. Those same contracts would be subject to EXACTLY THE SAME TERMS under a new CBA, even if the percentage guaranteed to the players was lowered.

        IT’s a basic term of SPCs and I am horrified how often people express opinions on the matter without an understanding of this principle.

        The same thing happened to workers at the London, Ontario, Caterpillar plant. The owners, despite an 83% increase in profits demanded the workers take 50% across-the-board cuts, or they would close the plant Do you think that is fair?

        It would be if the players earnings were tied directly to revenues.

        Based on the players own growth estimates, they would earn $1.7 Billion more over the next 6 years than they did over the last 6 years if they accepted the owners last offer. Which factories offer raises like that? Your example is not analogous.

        Or does it show they have some dignity?

        If it does they have been demonstrating the opposite every chance they get. If a player doesn’t understand his contract or the CBA he should probably just shut his mouth about it.

        This should probably be applied equally to your comments about the CBA and the military.

        Speaking of player dignity – how much dignity does it show when current players happily throw future players under the bus to get paid now? “Sure we’ll take a cut in HRR but AFTER our current contracts are paid out. Screw those future players!”

        What class!! Way to sell out the next generation of players to make sure you get yours!!

        The only difference with the players is the amount of money involved. The principle is the same.

        Patently false.

  • RexLibris

    Some very interesting perspectives here.

    I keep coming back to the commitment of each side and how much they are willing to sacrifice.

    The NHL looks ready to pull the trigger on the entire season while the players appear to be willing to call their bluff.

    I am not really on either side, although to some extent I believe that the NHL has made an offer closer to what I believe to be a fair split.

    Remember, though, we’re all given space here to express our points of view behind a comfortable degree of anonimity. When someone shares a personal experience try to respect that.

    This begs the next question: how does everyone here feel about the possibility of a cancelled season? Better or worse? For the Oilers? For the league?