Fehr to Bettman: "Welcome to the Big Time"
It seems key point in the NHL lockout has arrived.
Gary Bettman and the cabal of hard-line owners have finally realized they're dealing with a pro.
Don Fehr has been here before, and the results were better for all involved.
"For more than 25 years, Don has represented his constituency with passion, loyalty and great diligence. Although we have had our differences, I have always respected his role."
These are the words of MLB commish Bud Selig in 1995. That's just after a labor piece was settled at the cost of a World Series cancellation in 1994, which is when the MLB owners realized they were dealing with a pro.
Selig continued. "In recent years, we have worked together to find common ground for the betterment of the game, which will have resulted in 16 years of unprecedented labor peace by the end of our current collective bargaining agreement. We hope to continue to build upon the game's prosperity as we work with the new leadership of the Players Association. On behalf of Major League Baseball, I wish Don great health and success in the future."
Well, they did build it. MLB now has 17 years of labor peace and counting.
What does the NHL have right now? Let's start with a commissioner who has bleated on three separate occasions that 'this is our best offer' and then watched as the owners continued to make concessions to the players. No matter what you've heard, that's what's happened.
Why? Because this lockout is nothing but a mulligan for the last lockout. The owners so thoroughly crushed the players back then that they were too busy gloating to really analyze the finer details that were never addressed. Loopholes were gaping, and clever agents made the most of them. So this time, the hardline owners wanted to go back and mop up.
It's not working. Fehr did his homework. He saw most of the owners' so-called givebacks this time around were nothing more than a reversion to items that were forced down the players' throats in the first place. He told the players they could do better this time, because they can. And they will.
Bettman's credibility is shot. Multiple 'best offers' for the same thing belong on used car lots. Tantrums at the podium only accentuate that fact. His trusty sidekick Bill Daly may say the owners are prepared to 'die on the hill' for the remaining issues, but those issues have constantly changed during the course of the lockout. Don't think the moderate owners haven't noticed. They've stood by, so far, due to political favors being called by Bettman, but it's clearer than ever they're intent on standing rather than dying on a hill of shifting polemics.
The NHL has made great strides to be the fourth major sport in all of North America. Its hardline owners are now discovering what happens when the other side of negotiations are handled by someone who came from a major sport in all of North America. He knows the big stage much better than they do, and he's proving it.
Fehr was a major player in crafting an extended labor peace before. He is doing it again. Loose ends will be secured; hopefully, loose cannons will be silenced. Hopefully, that will include Gary Bettman.
When the lockout's aftermath does arrive, the owners should assess whether their shill of a mouthpiece is wheat or chaff, as if that's a even big time decision anymore.
Don Fehr has shown that the NHL needs a new sheriff in town.