SUN Hockey Pool

Nifty PR move by commissioner

AL STRACHAN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:14 AM ET

For some time now, the speculation had been that before National Hockey League commissioner Gary Bettman killed the season, he would try a nifty PR move to convince fence-sitters that he was not to blame for his own lockout.

That move came yesterday in his suggestion that the league was willing to let the players come back to work under the terms of the union's most-recent proposal.

Sounds great. But wait. There's a catch. What a surprise!

The catch is that if any one of four triggers should be activated, the league's hard cap would then be imposed.

So lets look at it this way.

Here we have a bunch of owners who are so committed to a hard cap that, as they have shown, they are willing to shut down for a season or more.

To get that coveted hard cap for five years (and the crucial precedent in future contracts that its imposition entails) all they have to do is get three of their number to award payrolls of $42,000,001 US.

By doing so, they activate a trigger. Look out players! Here comes the hard cap.

Last season, 13 NHL teams had payrolls in excess of $42 million. But if three do it next season, the players' version of the CBA is scrapped and in comes Bettman's hard cap.

Or three of them could cut payrolls drastically. Now their average payroll would be more than 33% below the average of the top three. That's a different trigger, but it means the same thing. In comes the hard cap.

Bettman's proposal was really nothing more than a way to get his cap without negotiating it. He wants a system featuring triggers that are totally dependent upon the owners' spending to determine whether there will or will not be a hard cap.

What do you think the result will be?

Bettman wants a six-year deal. If the owners manage to make sure one of the triggers is activated in the first year, then the players have at least five years under a system they said they could never accept.

In his press conference last night, Bettman wondered out loud why any owner would want to do that. "Why would you over-spend to get another system?," he asked. "If the system is working, great. In other words ... if the guts of the system, the framework of the system the union proposes works, why would anybody complain about it?"

The obvious answer is that the owners have nothing to lose.

They know the union's system will work at its inception. There's no dispute on that point.

But the divergence in opinion is that the union says if the owners act intelligently, they will do well for the rest of the term. The owners say, "But we can't be trusted to act intelligently so we need a different system."

If the owners take the players system for one year, they're in great shape. They use that year to activate a trigger and now they've got their beloved salary cap.

Bettman of course, phrased his proposal to the union in the most advantageous terms possible.

But if you rephrase it, it looks like this

"Give us your deal and make sure that it works like the hard salary cap I've been asking for. If it doesn't work like a hard cap, then we'll replace it with my system which will definitely work like a hard cap because that's what it is."

Naturally enough, the players wasted no time rejecting it.

Bettman, still trying to earn as many PR points as possible, announced that he'll stick around town for a while just because he's so determined to get a deal.

He also announced that if there is no movement by the weekend, then he'll have no choice but to cancel the season.

He might as well do it now. There has been no serious movement in these talks since the players made a generous and workable offer on Dec. 9.

If Bettman were going to make a real offer that could get talks going, he would have done it by now.


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