NHL vs NHLPA: The “Art” Of CBA Negotiations


September 13, 2012; New York, NY, USA; NHL commissioner Gary Bettman speaks during a press conference at the Crowne Plaza Times Square. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-US PRESSWIRE

Everything you hear, read, and talk about has probably exhibited the notion of impending doom gliding into a ‘Hockey Town Near You’; the National Hockey League is in jeopardy of another lockout for the second time in EIGHT years.  Insanity, right?! Fans often find themselves screaming profanities at a self-conjured-entity of Commissioner Bettman/______{Insert Name Here} in an attempt to convince him, and themselves, that a lockout ‘is outrageously pointless’ and will ‘propel fans away from the sport’ like some flesh eating strain of Bubonic Plague in North American fast-food joints and Walmart (Oh yes, I’m guilty of it too).  Ladies and gentlemen, I’m sorry to say that whether you teleport an invisible doppelganger or the man himself onto your coffee table, there is no amount of verbal berating nor number of beer bottles one can heave his direction to affect the course of these negotiations. Over the last few weeks I have noticed numerous fans  venting their frustrations with the NHL in general; some are wondering if the information they are receiving is illegitimate, others oversimplify the actual importance of who gets  [x] Dollars because ‘10 Million is more than I’ll make in a lifetime’, while the rest of the human collective has begun arming their militias before soldiering into battle.  Before we all dive overboard into a muddled insanity, and I saddle up my warhorse Balduvian, Ice Kraken of the Pixburgian Tundra, let me explain the reality of labor negotiations.  [FYI, if you need to catch up on the CBA, check this out)

The essence of collective bargaining meetings and the conflicts that arise between the sides most closely resembles a couple of exorbitant wealth, brawling in Divorce Court over the division of property and valuables.  Beyond the fact that bargaining-table talk is rarely smooth-sailing, we, as fans, don’t realize the nastiness involved in the hardships of negotiation.  All of the recent updates explaining the day’s sit-down lasted a mere hour, or that the NHL seemed flabbergasted when asked about reconvening ASAP to bulldoze through agreement issues; both are red flags that recent conversations have been overwhelmingly contentious.  Anyone who is familiar with the breakup of high profile marriages, or even business partners, know the process can be quite awful, if not downright volatile.  Donald Fehr, head of the NHLPA, and Commissioner Gary Bettman will fight valiantly for what their group deserves.  Conversations carried on behind closed doors are far from a friendly dinner party, and each outlandish offer fuels rampant disdain between sides.  The demands are an assortment of principles, revenue streams, and overall revenue percentages, but look at it this way:

Bettman wants the house in the Hamptons, the Pokémon collectibles (definitely Bettman), and the McLaren F1.  That’s alright with Fehr, he takes the crib in Malibu and the 747.  As the mediator takes cover under the table, they are reminded the Mansion in St. Thomas and the one-hundred-thirty foot Yacht must be divided between them.  Obscenities echo about the room as the dog fight begins…

In the end, personal concessions will be made by both sides as they choose partnership instead of the perceived ‘divorce’.  Bettman and Fehr will recall their minions and leave the daily posturing and laughable proposals on the battlefield.  The “negotiations”, however flawed and rudimentary we view them to be, are much more a belligerent staring contest than a simplistic debate.  Divorce Court is nasty, just watch it on TV.  We look at the X’s and Y’s and say ‘hey, stop being unrealistic, these concessions in those categories will square everything away’.  I’d imagine the Suits are fully aware, but this is high-stakes gambling, not gin-rummy with grandma.  No one wants to fold first.  The parties are sensitive; they’d be better off with therapists heaped around the room, massaging each figurehead’s ego into a blissful state before conversing.  Now that is the “Art” I would introduce to CBA negotiations.

And so while we say Bon Voyage to the first games that are cancelled, just remember that this couple NEEDS that one hundred thirty foot yacht and the gargantuan, Caribbean mansion in St. Thomas to impress their guests, so much so, that they will keep coming back…