SUN Hockey Pool

With anger boiling, it's tough to pick sides in NHL labour dispute

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman. (VERONICA HENRI/QMI Agency file photo)

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman. (VERONICA HENRI/QMI Agency file photo)

CHRIS STEVENSON, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 8:45 PM ET

The hits got real for everybody involved in NHL Lockout 3.0 with the cancellation of regular-season games Thursday.

I clicked on NHL.com Thursday afternoon and 82 games had gone pffft into cyberspace, the season now starting -- at the earliest -- Oct. 25 with the Anaheim Ducks at Boston Bruins.

Eighty-two regular-season games went the way of wooden sticks and some players will be down close to 10% of their salary. Owners will miss out on, what? At about $1-million a gate, that's $82-million of revenue they're not likely to get back unless the next time they play hockey, the season ends in August. (Better not give them any ideas.)

More importantly, the regular folks who earn money from the game that puts food on the table or is tucked away for a kid's education will go without.

Like I've said a few times, I don't have a dog in this fight. I try to understand where both parties stand at this point and why (shakes head).

Sadly, this has all been too predictable so far, kind of like the five stages of grief: Denial (They wouldn't be so stupid as to lose another season, would they?); anger (There's a deal there. Why the hell can't they just lock themselves in a room and get it done?); bargaining (OK, we haven't got there yet, really); depression (That's about to set in) and, finally acceptance (What time does the Wendy's Three-Tour Championship start again?)

After some time-wasting to start things, we're at the anger stage right now, apparently. The players don't like NHL commissioner Gary Bettman. "We'll stay united just to knock the smirk off his face," one told ESPN.com Thursday. Agent Allan Walsh tweeted "(It has) become perfectly clear that Gary Bettman cannot continue in this position. It's time for a new commissioner."

I respect the players' position of not wanting to give up any of the money owned them under the contracts they fairly negotiated in the past CBA.

I understand how the owners don't want to continue to hand over 57% of revenues to the players who enjoy the protection of guaranteed contracts while the owners assume the risk.

There's continuing talk about how the owners' opening offer of 43%, a drop from the current 57, was an insult to the players and contributed mightily to this current stalemate.

I get that perspective.

But view it in the bigger context of the negotiation: The owners had to make do on 43% for most of the past CBA (the players share started out at 54%). The offer was less a low-ball offer designed to insult than a statement about how the owners felt about the previous deal.

Get over it.

To the owners: If you think you're giving too much money to the players, explain why. Too many teams losing money? Let's see the financials for individual teams (I know creative accounting can skew reality, but at least let's see the case). If it's just greed, OK, at least then we know the cause for which you're fighting.

In the meantime, can NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr (and a lot of fans judging by the e-mails) stop wondering why the training camp and the season couldn't have both started on time? Any labour dispute is about leverage. Where would the urgency for the players to reach a new deal come from if they were playing under the terms of the late CBA and earning their paycheques?

If it was important to negotiate while games were being played, why didn't Fehr do a quicker job of getting familiar with the NHL landscape and work on a new deal last spring?

There are tough negotiators and smart guys, very smart guys, on both sides.

We've seen the tough.

Now, with the first two weeks of the regular season down the toilet, anybody want to take a shot at the smart?

chris.stevenson@sunmedia.ca

twitter.com/CJ_Stevenson


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