WINNIPEG - This snoozefest also known as the NHL labour negotiations would be a whole lot more interesting if it weren’t so predictable.
Less than 72 hours before the so-called deadline the league made a so-called final offer in New York Wednesday, one that’s off the table if the players don’t sign it before Saturday.
You’ll find that under the heading Take it Or Leave it on Page 3 of the owners’ negotiating handbook — right after Page 1’s Lowball Opening Offer and the Initial Concession outlined on Page 2.
Hey, these guys and their lawyers weren’t born yesterday. If they all ran their teams with the precision of their CBA strategy, the league wouldn’t have as many messy markets as it does.
You can almost see them huddled around the chalkboard, head coach Gary Bettman with a marker in his hand and a whistle around his neck: “We’ll start by intimidating them, follow with a relentless forecheck and then start trapping until they cough up the puck — I mean, the bucks.”
If you believe Bettman, the owners have moved some $700 million from their opening proposal in August.
On the surface, that makes you wonder why the players haven’t jumped all over it like a lawyer on a loophole.
Then you realize the NHL’s trapping strategy: the proposed six-year deal would start with players taking home 49% of total revenue, but end with the players at 47%. In other words, going in the wrong direction — and a Dustin Byfuglien slap shot on a frozen lake from the current 57%.
Why they can’t just make this a 50-50 relationship is anybody’s guess.
My guess is they eventually will, but it won’t be before the real deadline.
Waste of time
The only thing slated to start this weekend was training camps, and the last time I checked that’s not a player’s most wonderful time of the year.
Pre-season games? Puh-lease — a waste of time for established players, and that’s who’s running this show.
As for the owners, you could probably fit the revenue from a Phoenix or Columbus pre-season game into a piggy bank.
Sure, real hockey markets start collecting even during the pretend games. But the Winnipeg Jets have three-year commitments, remember, thousands of them financed through monthly payment plans.
And if there are only a dozen teams who stand to make money under the old system, well, you figure it out: the weak ones will lose less by not playing and skipping payroll than by actually running the business they’re in.
That is the crux of the players’ position: better sharing of existing revenue, as opposed to giving up a larger share from their silk pockets.
Fat chance the owners will give in to that concept, though.
So don’t expect this thing to get really serious until players start losing paycheques, also known as the regular season.
But they’re not exactly hurting, with a war chest the size of the economy of a small nation. I don’t know what a player’s strike pay would be, but I imagine it’s slightly higher than the run-of-the-mill picket-line walker on the street.
And the owners, they’ll just lay people off and draw from their other ventures.
There’s no risk of Ed Snyder, Jeremy Jacobs or Geoff Molson missing a meal over this, and David Thomson will still be able to afford his haircuts.
What both parties do risk losing is fan support, at least in the U.S. You’d like to think it could even lead to a few cracks in the ice up here.
The current hockey-mad state of Canadian affairs developed over time, and there’s nothing that says it can’t erode over time, too.
Time will also bring the two sides to their senses.
By Christmas, with good will on their minds and expensive gifts to buy, they’ll all be getting itchy to dig into our wallets again.
And they’ll somehow come out unified, shaking each other’s hands and smiling for the cameras as they boast about a deal that promises labour peace for years to come.