At least they’ve been talking.
Even if it’s just debating their Week 2 NFL picks for Sunday afternoon, NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly and NHL special counsel Steve Fehr are said to have been keeping the lines of communications open.
Right now, folks, with yet another lockout upon us, that’s about the only grounds for hope you can take with you right now.
In the end, an eventual agreement isn’t going to come because commissioner Gary Bettman and union head Donald Fehr decide to shake hands and play nice. It’s not going to work that way.
No, this will be as much about the respective supporting casts of these two men as it will be about Gary and The Don themselves.
Does that leave any room for optimism?
Perhaps there should be some, especially if you listen to those in major league baseball who saw firsthand Steve Fehr’s influence in labour talks involving that particular sport.
As special counsel for the NHLPA, Steve Fehr brings much more to the table than just being Don’s younger brother. In fact, don’t be surprised if he is a vital cog who serves as a catalyst in eventually coming to an agreement somewhere down the road.
Still serving as a special counsel to the major league baseball players union, Steve Fehr has received praise from both the league and players association for his work in helping bring 17 years of labour peace to baseball, a sport once known for having the highest degree of animosity between players and management.
“I have always regarded Steve to be a positive force in our negotiations,” Rob Manfred, executive vice president of economics and league affairs for Major League Baseball, recently told Sports Business Journal.
Bitter hockey fans can only hope he does the same for their beloved sport.
That Steve Fehr and Daly have been able to be amicable in keeping discussions going at least leaves the door open for the sides to, at least theoretically, move forward.
Daly works for the league and the owners, so there can be no confusing his agenda. At the same time, he is considered by many to be the voice of reason within the NHL offices, at times offsetting the public perception that Bettman often comes across as being arrogant.
To that end, Daly recently admitted that the inability of the league and the union to pound out an agreement prior to the Sept. 15 expiry of the former CBA is “a failure for which we both must share blame.” A reasonable voice, it seems, in an environment of finger pointing and name calling.
Having said that, Daly’s focus during negotiations is to watch out for the league’s interests. Whether he can somehow appease the union’s agenda at the same time remains to be seen.
Behind the scenes, meanwhile, a potential key ingredient for the union stands to be general counsel Don Zavelo, the NHLPA’s “legal eagle.”
Last September, Zavelo joined the NHLPA from the New York office of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) where he worked for over 30 years. Part of his job was to overseed unfair labour practice investigations.
Zavelo is heavily involved in the union’s request for a temporary injunction against an NHL lockout from the labour boards of both Quebec and Alberta.
While the Quebec board turned down the request on Friday, Zavelo said that the union could take positives from the decision.
“We are pleased with the ruling that the Commission released (Friday),” Zavelo said in a statement released by the NHLPA. “While the Commission denied the players’ request for emergency relief, it also rejected the NHL’s request to dismiss the case. The ruling acknowledges that the players have raised issues about the legality of the NHL’s planned lockout that require a full hearing on the merits.”
Whatever inroads Zavelo and the union look to make, owners such as Boston’s Jeremy Jacobs remain imposing roadblocks to a quick settlement among the 30 NHL owners, Jacobs, along with Philadelphia Flyers colleague Ed Snider, is believed to have some of the most significant influence when it comes to the league’s demands.
Consider, for example, what took place near the end of the Board of Governors meetings in New York this past week.
When Bettman asked for a show of hands as an indication of support for his performance as commissioner, he said all 30 went up in the air.
It was here that Jacobs took it one step further. The Bruins owner immediately motioned for an officially recorded vote, which was quickly seconded.
Interestingly, as the lockout has come down upon us, Jacobs’ Bruins have created some bad optics (at least for those owners who are crying poor in this dispute) with the rash of re-signings the past couple of weeks, including new deals for Tyler Seguin (six years, $34.5 million US), Milan Lucic (three years, $18 million) and Brad Marchand (four years, $19 million).
For his part, Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli is just doing his job in attempting to keep his team competitive. Besides, none of those contracts could have been offered without the blessing of management - in other words, Jacobs.
Hypocritical on Jacobs part? Does all this spending just before a lockout really make sense?
In reality, nothing seems to. At least not right now.