By Steve Silverman
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The Winter Classic is dead this year, but as the NHL buries its most popular regular-season event there is hope that the lockout won’t wipe out the entire season.
Just as the news was breaking that the league would cancel the outdoor game at Michigan Stadium between the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Detroit Red Wings, word slipped out that the No. 2 men from the NHL and the NHL Players’ Association would meet over the weekend.
Bill Daly is Gary Bettman’s right-hand man with the league, while Steve Fehr is NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr’s brother. Both are seen as reasonable men who want to get a deal done. Neither is a pushover, but if there is reasonable progress to be made both men are capable.
Bettman has no such interest in being reasonable. He wants things done his way, and he wants the NHLPA to capitulate to his demands. That’s been obvious since the summer when the two sides supposedly started talking.
It was obvious in 2004-05 when Bettman locked out the NHL players for a full season.
Because he “won” that lockout and because he has been successful at helping the NHL owners grow their business dramatically over the last decade, Bettman has become the lord of the manor. While he technically works at the pleasure of the owners, he can do what he wants to do as commissioner because he has made his owners so much money.
This lockout is about making them a lot more money. He wants to decrease the percentage of hockey-related revenues paid to the players so more cash can make its way into the pockets of the owners. At one level, nearly everyone can understand an owner’s desire to make more money from his business entity.
But when a job action prevents anyone from making any money, it’s not healthy for the future of the business. Bettman doesn’t seem to get that.
By putting Daly and Steve Fehr in a room, it keeps Bettman out of the equation until there is a final move to make.
Donald Fehr is more than willing to negotiate, but his opposite number is not. By putting Fehr’s younger brother in the room, two equals will be talking about the key issues. It’s a smart move by Donald to let his brother do the heavy lifting.
The Winter Classic has become a great New Year’s Day (on or about) television event. Rangers fans got a chance to see their team walk into Philadelphia’s Citizens Bank Park and break the hearts of the Flyers.
Prior to that game, HBO did a superb job of letting viewers see up-close-and-personal views of John Tortorella, Henrik Lundqvist, Brian Boyle and Marian Gaborik. Viewers also had a chance to see Peter Laviolette, Claude Giroux, Ilya Bryzgalov and Scott Hartnell on the other side.
It was brilliant television that helped make the game even better.
With the lockout, the Red Wings’ ownership wanted the game called sooner instead of later. The ugly tone of this lockout would have ruined the buildup to this event if the two sides could have come to an agreement by the end of November.
Detroit owner Mike Ilitch did not want the hangover from the lockout ruining the buildup to the event and turning it into an unpleasant exercise.
Pushing it back a year may make it the “hockey snow globe” that NHL officials want it to be.
Too bad. If Daly and Fehr are successful in building a hockey bridge and getting together before the end of the month, the always raw emotions of hockey players would have been even more explosive on “24/7.”
Now that would have been can’t-miss TV.
Some optimism regarding the NHL? We haven’t heard that sentiment in some time. Offer your thoughts and comments in the section below...