Gary Bettman has made the remark that he hopes to start labor negotiations with the NHLPA "soon". (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
Dear Commissioner Bettman and Executive President Fehr:
The 2012 NHL playoffs have crested at their apex and have now concluded. The championship matchup featured teams representing the biggest media markets in North America. This has been good for the National Hockey League, the broad exposure, and good for the sport of ice hockey.
Please, sirs, do not screw this up.
Now that the playoffs have concluded with the crowning of a new champion, I have this horrible feeling that you or representatives directly tied to you are going to be reclusive and dismissive when posed questions about labor negotiations. In fact, Commissioner Bettman, you already have been. Gentlemen, it's time to take the reins and re-assure fans that a labor war is not going to happen. Mr. Fehr has spoken about numbers and other information being exchanged recently, some preliminary work that sets up negotiations. That's fine, that's good, and that's great. But it still necessitates actually tackling what needs to be discussed and resolved instead of procrastinating until September.
Commissioner Bettman, you're used to not beginning talks until late; waiting for the final hour and hoping the Players Association gets too anxious and flinches. That tactic only sets the stage for a more hostile negotiation, which has the potential to damage the league and its reputation. Is this position brought along with the urging of the Board of Governors, or specifically from you? In either case, it's irresponsible at best and intentionally sinister at worst.
Mr. Fehr, I know you are not one to be trifled with in a game of chicken. You took Allan H."Bud" Selig and Major League Baseball to the brink and taught them a lesson not to cross you or the Major League Baseball Players Association. It may have cost the 1994 MLB playoffs and World Series, but also ushered in an era of general labor peace for the league.
Both of you should know full well that a scorched-Earth policy in negotiations, attempting to "break" either side while lobbying for grandiose changes in the next collective bargaining agreement, is a recipe for mutually assured destruction. It would needlessly alienate those who have been loyally invested in the well being of the league and its respective franchises: advertisers and sponsors, media partners, arena employees, and the fans.
Though ownership will cry poverty, once again, as evidence why more restrictions on player salaries are necessary, it's empty rhetoric by the league this time around. Seven years ago, in the summer of 2005, the NHL got all of its financial demands in the ratified CBA. The salary cap that's been in place since 2005-06 has steadily risen to match increasing revenues (boasted annually by Mr. Bettman). If the league has teams in such financial dire straits that necessitate thorough concessions from the NHLPA to remain solvent, it's wholly contradicted by reckless spending from ownership and the cap's steady rise.
If there are financial issues that would keep the NHL's ledger healthy, then the league is charged with approaching the Players Association as a partner in business - not an enemy to destroy - and forge a mutually beneficial document. This is the opposite of the contemptuous, strong-arm maneuvering that has historically been used leading into and during these negotiations.
The future of this league is in your hands, gentlemen. You can get lost in petty rhetoric while slinging propaganda to represent your argument, or perhaps parrot political rhetoric of the moment that suggests there will be no compromise until the other side is defeated. Or, instead, you can be responsible for the health of the business that is the National Hockey League and hammer out a mutually agreeable deal that results in no lost time, lost revenue, or lost jobs that would take place with a work stoppage.
Move things forward, gentlemen, and resolve them before there is even a need for invested parties - sponsors, employees, and the fans - to worry.