By Steve Silverman
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Game on in the NHL negotiations.
Desperate hockey fans got good news when Gary Bettman and the previously intractable NHL owners came out of the shadows and offered a decent proposal to players that included a 50-50 split of hockey-related revenues.
That offer means that there will be a season at some point. It does not mean that the players will simply roll over and thank the owners for coming to them with a deal that is still a significant reduction from what they have received in the past.
There may still be some shows of public indignation coming from both sides, but that’s just posturing.
There will be a season.
Bettman may have overplayed his hand by saying he wants an 82-game schedule, and he wants it to begin on November 2.
That’s what he wants. He may have to give some more to the players to get what he wants.
Donald Fehr knows what to do from this point. He has been a skilled negotiator for years with the Major League Baseball Players Association. Many thought he may have been out of his element by moving from baseball to hockey, but he has learned about the specific needs of hockey players.
At this point, it’s simply a matter of negotiating with his opposite number.
Fehr should have the edge on Bettman. Before Fehr came on board, Bettman was able to snort, scream and stomp his feet and get what he wanted. He had gotten the edge on the players in the 1994-95 lockout and the 2004-05 lockout that cost the NHL an entire season.
The finances of the game had gotten so out of control in ’04-’05 that it almost made sense to call of the entire season. Players received as much as 76 percent of the revenues, and making money was basically impossible.
So Bettman played hard ball, punished the union and a full season was lost.
The players realized that former chief Bob Goodenow was not good enough. They fired him, took their time and hired the talented and experienced Fehr.
During his younger years with the MLBPA, Fehr was often emotional when he met with the media. That is no longer the case. He keeps his eyes on the prize and focuses on getting the best for his players.
He may despise Bettman or he may like him enough to play a round of golf with him when it’s all over. But he keeps the negotiating process professional. He doesn’t let his personal likes and dislikes impact the outcome.
So Fehr has the advantage now. The NHL blinked when it said it wants a full season and wants it to begin by early November.
To make that happen, the NHL is going to have to give by not cutting players’ salaries by $230 million this season.
There will be hockey this season. It may not be the full 82 games and it may not start by Nov. 2, but a deal will get done sooner or later.
Do you see the season starting by November 2? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section below…