NHLPA starting to crack under the pressure

The cracks are showing

Looks like the cracks in the players’ resolve are starting to show.

It might not seem like it, but the more players you have taking cracks at Bettman, the more it shows that the pressure of being locked out, missing paycheques and facing the prospect of losing the entire season is starting to get to them. The growing frustration is evident, and this is exactly what Bettman and the owners are counting on.

You think Bettman is upset when he hears about players wearing Puck Gary hats? Or Ian White calling him an "idiot"? Or Dave Bolland retweeting a fan wishing for Bettman’s death? Or even former player Jeff O’Neil’s actual death threat? Well, maybe that last one, but all the rest are actually good news for Gary and his masters. This is one big game of chicken and these outbursts do nothing more than encourage the owners to ratchet up the pressure ever so slightly, because it’s starting to have an impact.

If you’re not convinced, look no farther than how quickly talk turned to the idea of NHLPA decertificaiton last week. That is clearly an option of last resort for the players, and yet there it was the main topic of conversation by weeks end. It’s almost as if it was coordinated in some way. It almost came down to players chanting their new slogan in unison: "A union divided will never be defeated", or something like that.

It’s actually kind of ironic when you think about it::

A union divided will never be defeated

The point is that trotting this out as a viable option is another indication that the players are nearing the end of their rope. On the owners’ side, they have to be thinking that if they push just a little more, they might finally get the last round of concessions they’re looking for.

What are those concessions? I believe they’re still about cash. The two sides are about $180 million apart over "make-whole" plus some unspoken amount over how to deal with the effects of the lockout on HRR. These are two items I think the owners still want to swing more in their favour.

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The much discussed sticking points over contracting issues are nothing more than the owners keeping a hand on something the players value dearly. Other than doing something to eliminate contracts that circumvent the intent of the cap, I remain convinced the owners would let the rest go. And you can deal with the long tail contracts either by limiting contract length or by implementing the 5% limit on year-to-year variability. You don’t need both.

All the other contractual issues are, I believe, just a bargaining chip to play against the PA when push comes to shove on the last few dollars. When you hear Fehr talk about how dear the players hold those contracting rights you start to understand the extent to which the NHL has them by the short and curlies:

I don’t know about you, but it’s pretty clear from this that if the NHL all of a sudden gave in on those contracting issues, this lockout would be over. This is precisely why they haven’t done so. They want to turn the screws one more time before they reach the drop dead date for cancelling the season.

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So while the season continues on life-support, the talks between the two sides are once again dead. In an effort to bring them back to life and open up the communication channels again, both sides have agreed to mediation. But don’t get your hopes up. By all accounts, the chances of reviving dead talks are about the same as talking with the dead; it’s just that one job title has a little bit more credibility than the other:

I see dead talks

Although with the death of Don Fehr’s mentor and the grandfather of sports unions, Marvin Miller, there may be calls to also bring a medium into these negotiations before long. (Too soon?)

Anyway, with both sides agreeing to mediation, the Federal Mediation and Concilliation Service (FMCS) assigned mediators to the dispute and hilarity ensued. It tuns out that one of the mediators assigned to get talks moving again had been doing a little too much talking on Twitter in his spare time. If you missed the fun, you can get a pretty good run-down over at Puck Daddy, but suffice it to say there’s a lesson to be learned here for you kids out there hoping to get high-profile: DON’T LET YOUR TWITTER ACCOUNT GET HACKED! 

Turns out that "I’ve been hacked" is the excuse du jour for anyone that gets called on the carpet for saying something stupid on Twitter, whether it’s the aforementioned Dave Bolland retweet or the months of Guy Serota tweets. But it seems to me that there’s a pretty high correlation between stupidity and getting hacked:

You have to be stupid to get hacked

So whether you’re fool enough to be spouting online inanity in ways that can come back to haunt you, or you’re not smart enough to protect yourself against being "hacked", there’s stupidity involved either way.

One of the most amusing elements of the Guy Serota affair was his reference to "assmode," which is apparently a Craig Kilborn inside joke. This, as you can imagine, resulted in all kinds of derision on Twitter and was probably one of the main reasons he was quickly pulled from the file. Strikes me, however, that while "ass mode" might get you fired as a mediator to the NHL CBA dispute, it’s a highly desireable quality for the job of NHL Commissioner:

Assmode can be a valuable quality

Indeed, iteems to me that Gary Bettman has been in ass mode for most of his stint with the NHL, and I’m sure it’s part of the reason he can command an $8 million salary.

So fear not, Guy Serota. You may be out of a job now, but if and when Gary retires, or Jeff O’Neil "makes whole" in his head, you might have just the asset the NHL Board of Governors looks for in a replacement.