Roller coasters have nothing on the ups and downs of the CBA negotiations for the NHL. The crazy events that happened last week were a gut punch, roundhouse kick and knockout blow to the emotions to NHL fans everywhere.
A 12 hour meeting on Wednesday between select owners and players raised the optimism to the highest it's been since the negotiations started. It seemed that issues had been resolved and a deal was imminent.
Things looked even better on Thursday as Donald Fehr hinted in a press conference that a deal was extremely close and the NHL was ready to get started again in January. However, two minutes after he finished his conference, everything hit the fan. Fehr checked his voice mail, came back, and told everyone that not only was the deal off; the owners had taken their latest agreements off the table and ended talks entirely.
Little details then continued to leak out about how the owners were pissed at the players, even after the talks on Wednesday, and how the players were ready to play a season until Fehr told them they should continue to hold out for more. Calling these talks explosive is a massive understatement now. At this point it looks like the next step for the NHLPA is decertification, but they're still mulling that over.
It seems like I say this every week, but a full lockout has never looked more likely. So where does the NHL go from here? What happens next?
This CBA Won't Be Done For a While
At this point the CBA negotiations are irrelevant. For the past month or so, completing the negotiations and getting the game back hasn't been the most important thing on the minds of those in charge. It has been and will continue to be all about the PR battle and who exactly is at fault for the continued failures.
The NHLPA and Fehr are blaming it on the owners. The owners and Bettman are blaming this on the players and Fehr. Players are in turn taking shots at the owners and Bettman. Boston Bruins owner Jeremy Jacobs and Buffalo Sabres goalie got into a heated exchange during the Wednesday talks.
During Fehr's press conference on Thursday, he repeatedly stated that a deal was close and how the players had done everything in their power to try to get this done. He set it up so that in case of failure, it would look like all the blame would fall on the owners. In his words, "The players have gone a very, very long way. The players have done far and away the lion's share."
Fast forward a couple of hours to Bettman's press conference where he states the exact same things except that the owners were ones trying their hardest to get this deal done and that Fehr lied when he said a deal was close and the players union "clearly doesn't want to make a deal." He also chastised Fehr for toying with the fan's emotions in order to make himself and the players look like the good guys.
Long story short, it's all about swaying the fans onto one side or the other now. Neither side seems to realize that both are culpable for the extended lockout. The owners have rescinded their proposal taken away key elements that would have been in the player's favor. The CBA negotiations are back at square one and any progress from the past two months is lost.
I don't believe that a deal will be done until next summer, sometime in July or August of 2013. The season will be canceled after New Year's day and labor talks will cease until after the NHL draft. They'll start up again when the free agency talks fire up and hopefully both sides realize by then what the real issues are and to quit the PR battle shenanigans.
Donald Fehr and Gary Bettman have to go
If anything has become clear after the labor negotiations this season, it's that Fehr and Bettman have to go away.
Bettman, regardless of whether or not he truly has power to influence the owners, has been the overseer to three lockouts now in his 20 year tenure. He's done some good things for the league like expansion and the growth of the league's revenue, but his time is up.
He's been the league's villain now for a decade and the amount of hatred towards him this year is at an all-time high from fans and players alike. I have yet to see any player out there in support of Bettman staying as the commissioner and fans have had their mob pitchforks in hand to overthrow him for a long time now.
He's a puppet for the owners and can't get control of the league. Everything he's done lately has misfired, from the CBA talks to the relocation of the Thrashers and the Coyotes situation to his terrible fines and suspensions system. It truly looks like he has no power over the owners, no respect from the players and no leverage with the league even though he's the commissioner.
As for Fehr, this season is all the proof anyone needs to see that he can't stay as the NHLPA director. He is absolutely murdering the league with his hardline approach and his constant spin. He knew during his press conference that the league wasn't anywhere close to a deal and had called for the federal mediators to return but he still stated that a deal was really close.
I have no idea what to believe out of his statements so everything he says has to be taken with a grain of salt. I know he's there for the players but man his complete disregard for the fans is amazing. As soon as he gets the deal that he wants, he needs to go so this doesn't happen again.
Next season is going to suck
The longer this lockout goes on, the more firmly I believe that the hockey season next year is going to suck. The league has lost a lot of casual fans and the hardcore fans are becoming disillusioned with the league. The season ticket holders around the league can't wait to cancel their packages. I fully expect attendance to be down next year for a majority of teams. The fan backlash is going to be severe.
The on-ice product next year is going to suffer as well. A majority of the players aren't going to be in hockey shape to be playing at a high level at the latter stages of the season. You also have to include the additional games that some guys will have to play during the Olympics and travel involved over in Russia. There's going to be more hockey than usual next year and not everyone is going to be ready to play so many games.
This has been a sad embarrassing situation for those involved and the biggest losers have been the arena workers and the fans, both of whom have been thrown to the wayside. At this point, it would best to just get it over with and cancel the season and seriously work out a deal before training camp next year. If the league is going to this, they need to do it right.