SUN Hockey Pool

NHL's curious approach

AL STRACHAN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:01 AM ET

If the National Hockey League truly wants to negotiate a settlement with its players, it certainly is employing a curious strategy.

If you were paying attention two weeks ago -- which you probably weren't because most fans tuned out of this debate long ago -- NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said this: "We believe that it's in everybody's interest to make a deal as soon as possible."

He also said, "We're all trying to do the right thing as partners. We're going to invite the union back to the table soon, and I assume that they'll discharge their legal obligations to bargain in good faith."

It now appears that to Bettman, "good faith," means bringing back the structure that the NHL Players' Association has been rejecting for more than three years, and inserting a few clauses that make it even more unacceptable.

By the league's own admission, the offer that Bettman presented yesterday was worse than the offer the union rejected in the hours immediately prior to Bettman's cancellation of the season.

Back then, he offered a salary cap of $42.5 million US -- later followed by a hint that he might go to $45 million -- but the NHLPA wanted $49 million.

Yesterday's offer was $37.5 million, an uncommonly bizarre way of demonstrating "good faith."

But wait, those magnanimous people from New York had an option to present. If the PA didn't like its first diluted offer of an oft-rejected concept, there was another option -- an alternative diluted offer of an oft-rejected concept.

Some time ago, the league offered a salary structure based on 55% of league revenues. The latest offer is 54%.

If you want to determine the NHL's league revenues, you'd better call Donovan. You're trying to catch the wind.

These guys have more hiding places for their revenues than al-Qaida has for Osama bin Laden. That's why Bain Capital LLC's offer to buy the entire league for $3.5 billion -- considerably more than it is worth as determined by its own Levitt Report -- was rejected out of hand.

The rejection certainly had nothing to do with the financial worth of Bain. It was a major player in yesterday's $6.6-billion purchase of Toys R Us.

Needless to say, the PA found its way clear to reject both of yesterday's "good-faith" proposals, and now, barring a sudden attack of common sense, the governors will go through the charade of preparing to play their games with minor-league plodders and fodder-league goons.

It's hard to believe that even the NHL, which has an astonishingly lengthy record of idiotic decisions, would take that route, but if you watch these guys long enough, you learn that logic and the NHL tend to be mutually exclusive.

Replacement players would create a plethora of new difficulties, not the least of which would be the ridicule that would accrue to the league.

There would be the farce of selling two-tier tickets (no doubt at full price, but with a refund available after the NHL pockets the interest) that would be partly refunded if the real players don't show up.

The concept of selling the game to TV networks also would require some contortions, again with a two-tier price.

In Toronto, there would be the spectre of the devoutly unionist Ontario Teachers, through their ownership of the Maple Leafs, engaging in union busting.

Make no mistake. That's the sole intent of this latest round of "bargaining."

Yesterday, Bettman presented two offers that he knew had not the slightest chance of being accepted.

No matter how much rhetoric he produces, he clearly does not want a negotiated settlement.

He wants to do battle with the players because he thinks he can break their resolve and their union. That shows how much he knows about the game he purports to be running.


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