An open letter to Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik

Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik will be part of a group of owners negotiating directly with members of the National Hockey League Players Association on Tuesday. - Photo via Tampa Bay Lightning

A respectful plea for compromise, for reconciliation, and an end to the 2012 NHL lockout.

Dear Mr. Vinik,

It's impossible to overstate the fondness that fans and residents in the Tampa Bay area have for you with regards to your commitment to transform the Tampa Bay Lightning franchise into a World Class Organization as well as your involvement and generosity within the community. Rescuing the Lightning from the dire straits the franchise was left in by previous ownership; renovating the Tampa Bay Times Forum with $40 million of you own money; the hundreds of thousands of dollars given out through the community heroes program; your donations to the Florida Aquarium and other local institutions... It's impossible to not associate your name as an example of an involved business owner and upstanding member of the community.

At this moment, however, the sports team that led you to the city of Tampa is missing in action and is lost from the consciousness of the Tampa Bay sports community. Though the organization plods on, the product that drives the Tampa Bay Lightning professional hockey club has disappeared. The franchise has largely been idled for the past four months with the cessation of the 2005 NHL / NHLPA collective bargaining agreement.

This brings us to the moment. Today, you and your counterparts from the Boston Bruins, Pittsburgh Penguins, Toronto Maple Leafs, Winnipeg Jets, and Calgary Flames (Jeremy Jacobs, Ronald Burkle, Larry Tanenbaum, Mark Chipman and Murray Edwards, respectfully) will be meeting with a six member delegation of NHL players in an effort to find common ground and (perhaps) bring an end to the 2012 NHL lockout.

With that in mind, sir, I implore you to lend a voice of reason, an ear of understanding, and a willingness to compromise for the good of the National Hockey League, and bring about an end to this work stoppage in a mutually beneficial fashion. This would be counter to negotiating tactics utilized up to this point which sought the most optimal financial gains for owners while further straining relations with members of the NHL Players Association and damaging the league's reputation.

I may be speaking in platitudes here, and this negotiation is not that simple. None of this is that simple or it wouldn't have drawn out for four months... Or is it? Let me quote Montgomery Scott from Star Trek, "the more they over think the plumbing, the easier it is to stop up the drain." That quote is a truism with systems in general (be they business, governmental, or every-day projects around the home), the more complex and grandiose a design becomes, the more complications and flaws get worked into the entire process. In that case, it's necessary to get back to basics to find a simpler way to solve the problem or complete the task.

Various proposals from the league have included the exact same complications time and again, ones that do not bring about agreement between parties and seem to foster continued animosity between the two negotiating groups. The request from the Players and their representation, that existing contracts be honored, has been the most unnecessary complication to these dealings (by way of "make whole" and funding the arcane measure). The league simply agreeing to honor existing contracts at their current rate and grandfathering revenues to the new split is the simplest way to rectify this situation. But simplicity seems to be the complication here - the lack there of.

It may not be the ideal profitable situation for owners, but neither is continuing to idle your brand for countless more months with a continued impasse.

I realize there are more gray areas to these negotiations than this, there are more caveats and complications that I am not addressing. I'm oversimplifying things... But, perhaps, that's the biggest problem of these talks: They've been over-complicated to such a degree that the goal has been lost while writing up drafts of fine print and formulate ideal economic models that bring the best financial conditions while ignoring the human element.

I have my doubts you will see these words, sir. If you do, I don't know how much you'll take them to heart. I just know that I can say my piece here, and my piece is that this lockout must end for the general welfare of the National Hockey League. The damage done to the league through this ongoing malaise is far worse than central figures in negotiations seem to realize.

Those damages can be addressed going forward, and hopefully worked upon in unison with the Players Association and not as enemies. For the good of the NHL, that's the path forward - together as partners. Not through animosity, driven by contempt and disdain for each other.

The lockout must end, sir, and I hope your voice and contributions to the conversation will help achieve a resolution.

Best regards,
John Fontana

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