NHLPA executive Matthieu Schneider was being interviewed by the Hockey News yesterday. The former NHL player and now special assistant to Don Fehr argued on the radio interview a thought that has been rattling around in my mind these last few weeks. Is the NHL ownership(particularly Bruins’ owner Jeremy Jacobs) on a witch hunt against Don Fehr? As more information trickles out over the latest CBA talks meltdown, that ugly truth is becoming more apparent.
“The conclusion I keep coming to is somehow the owners do not want to deal with Don,” Schneider said, “and that was obvious this past week, but I think it’s been the case throughout the negotiations. They come in with a take-it-or-leave it, walk away, they try to pressure the guys, they have other people, they have owners, GMs, coaches, calling guys, meeting them in the dressing room, telling them, ‘You better take this offer, it’s not going to get any better.’ ”
Now granted, this is coming from one of Fehr’s employees, there will be an element of bias involved. As he went on, other information came out(and reported by other papers and sources) that validates Schneider’s argument that the NHL will negotiate with the players, as long as their union leader isn’t anywhere near by.
“Ron Hainsey[NHL player and negotiating committee member]said to Bill Daly[NHL's #2 guy] and Murray Edwards[owner, Calgary Flames], essentially, ‘We’re not deal-closers, we can’t finish this off. We’re very close, guys, let’s get in a room and work it out, but we’ve got to have Don and Steve and Mathieu and all of our staff in there, but we’re right here’,” Schneider said of Wednesday’s negotiating meetings, at which Fehr and league commissioner Gary Bettman were not present. “And [the NHL owners(likely Jacobs)]essentially said, ‘If Don’s in the room, it’s a deal-breaker.’ And I don’t know what you do with that. I don’t know how you work with that. They cannot tell us who should represent us. It’s like you’re buying a house and the seller says, ‘I’m not going to sell you the house if you don’t hire this realtor’. That’s essentially what they’re saying.”
Part of the romance I have with hockey is that is so unlike other professional leagues. It is not the endless cavalcade of self-obsessed millionaires who believe its perfectly alright to have a tantrum in front of twenty thousand fans and then have the gall to blame it on everyone but themselves. A sport where players took injuries that would sideline another player for weeks, and still play. A sport where it wasn’t about huge amounts of cash flow, and nearly no integrity. Players who played for the love of the sport.
Integrity is a rare coin in the sports world these days. NHL players seem to have more integrity on one team, then other sports have in their entire league. Players who thank the fans before they thank their families. Those players are still there. They are the ones who swallow that hurt, bury that pain away, and then go sign autographs for their fans for four hours. They are the players who show up at a local rink to give a bunch of juniors and pee wees a memory that will be burned into their brain for a lifetime.
Owners, take a page out of your players playbook. Yes, you have your foundations and your organizations. I’m sure your proxies do a fantastic job trying to fill the potholes you create in your continuing series of public relations disasters. Now it is time for you to accept several ugly truths. First, you are adults, not petulant children. For hockey’s sake, act like it. Second, you have no more control over the NHLPA having Fehr as their director as the players do having Bettman run the NHL. Third, refusing to deal out of spite has already done and will continue to do grievous damage to the league. Fourth, you had an opportunity to replace Jacobs as the head of the Board of Governors with a moderate and chose not to exercise that option.
The players can go back to the court in Quebec and ask the regional court to essentially decertify the union. They could also formally begin the decertification plan they put out a few weeks ago. What will happen if these plans get activated? The league will likely lose several teams. One or two will fold under the expense, and a few might even jump ship for another league. The teams that remain will have higher ticket costs to compensate for the larger overhead, and the NHL will officially be the ‘red headed stepchild’ of professional sports.
The players keep giving, and you finally had the impetus to do some maneuvering yourselves. You want Fehr out of the room? Fine. Toss Jacobs out as well. Don’t let him back into the room until you’re ready to sign.