These labor negotiations have far since passed the point of ridiculous and insulting.
As I wrote yesterday, to think these owners would risk so much to NOT have a season over the few extra issues remaining is absurd. There is one level that exists, albeit blown out of proportion in its power. There is a battle between the leadership of the NHL and NHLPA where both sides are more afraid of the other winning and what that will mean in the next labor talks than what that means to their actual constituents themselves. But you talk to the owners and players off the records and you get admissions of how poorly things are being handled. "Both sides are being remarkably childish," said one. "This is so stupid," agreed people on both sides. "They've all lost their focus."
On the NHL side, the owners are pressuring Gary Bettman and Bill Daly like never before. Behind the scenes, team owners want answers and they want some control, some say in all this, before it gets blown up over contract lengths and the like. I can tell you this is 100% true from talking to people at the very top of NHL organizations. To be honest, though, you don't even need sources to imagine how the majority of the team owners feel about it. They've gotten their desired 50% revenue split, conceded to collectively put up $300M to help in the transition phase and still THEY are not able to get a final say in whether there will be a deal. The NHLPA has a window of opportunity right now. If the NHLPA were to put a "final" take-it-or-leave offer out there with a tad more compromise on both sides, it would get VERY interesting. The owners would apply heavy pressure for a Board of Governors vote on this proposal.... even if Bettman presents it without a "yes" recommendation. As long as the NHLPA was in the ballpark, I believe we would have an agreement.
The problem right now is the NHLPA is steadfastly refusing to put another offer out there. They insist the next volley come from the owners. Basically, they want more of what led talks to utterly collapse nearly two weeks ago. Right now, the NHL will NOT make another offer. The owners and their leadership believe if they put an offer out there the players will just ask for something else to be added... and time will run out on a season-saving deal. The NHL will not negotiate any more. The league wants a complete take-it-or-leave-it offer from the union. That is why the players need to make the offer and make it in a way that says, "This is everything we want. Agree to this and we are done."
If the owners hear the words, "we are done negotiating -- this is our final offer" attached to an offer the is close enough to things already discussed-- even the kind of offer Fehr put forth last Thursday in the PT Barnum show -- I think the owners will vote in favor of a deal. The caveat: the owners must feel there will be NO MORE negotiations and the union cannot ask for any new concessions apart from meeting halfway on the existing gaps. If the NHLPA does this, pressure from the owners to take the offer to a vote will be intense. Basically, even if Bettman opposes a concession on contract lengths or CBA length, he'd still have little choice but to turn the matter over the Board of Governors for a vote. If not, it would mean a canceled season and court battle without an owners' vote. The internal backlash would be huge... and would be hard to keep shielded from the public. One owner said to me in complete frustration over the weekend, "At some point we need SOMETHING to vote on."
So now are about to find out something about Donald Fehr's character. Is he REALLY:
a) A fair-minded, logical leader who is hell bent on getting the best deal for the hockey players who have risked so much supporting him. Or
b) A man on a self-designed mission to change sports CBAs/history and who has picked hockey, a sport he doesn't care about, to sacrifice in order to finalize his legacy.
The Players believe A. The Owners fear B.
I believe it's A. I really do. There are people I trust who swear to me Fehr is honorable. The swear to me he sees his job here as "deal maker." People who tell me even off the record they feel will do right by his constituents and make a deal. They say he's not just make a point, and throw his supporters to the wolves---| and risk the uncertainties of the court system. If Fehr puts forth an offer in the next few days with every i dotted and every t crossed then Fehr is an honorable man. Bettman would be a fool not to put the offer up to a vote.
On the flip side, if Fehr is only willing to take the legal route and the season is cancelled without the NHL putting forth a serious offer to owners who are right on the verge of wanting to accept something to save their season/momentum/sport...well then, Donald Fehr is a fool. I would have no choice but to say the owners' pre-lockout fears were 100% accurate and the hockey players and hockey fans will know they were just horribly used. Again, the next has to come from the NHLPA as a final offer. The owners are the ones who can end this lockout....Right now they aren't sure how to, because the negotiations moved back from player-to-owner talks to the commissioner versus the Fehr. The owners agree with Bettman that every time the NHL has put out full offers, the NHLPA has made the waters more and more muddied by either introducing new issues or revisiting things that previously been discussed. That CANNOT happen again.
An NHLPA take-it-or-leave-it offer will be conclusive one way or the other. The owners could vote and accept it or reject it. They could say "We need you to move just a little more. Can we change just one or two things...and if we do... you've got a deal." That is where we are, folks. As the late, great Gene Hart used to say, "Buckle your seatbelts, my friends."