Both sides wasting time with PR campaign
James Reimer speaks to reporters gathered outside the Leafs locker room as the Toronto Maple Leafs cleaned out their lockers at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto. (Stan Behal/QMI Agency)
Day 1 of Lockout 3.0 had both NHL owners and players doing a lot of talking.
Unfortunately, it wasn't to each other.
So much of this lockout scenario has been predictable and/or disappointing: the stalling to begin negotiations by the players, the "we just want to play" stuff from the players, the "players make too much" mantra from the league, the NHL's steadfast insistence it would lock the players out if no deal was reached by Saturday at midnight.
We saw the next stage of it Sunday. Both the league and the players made public relations moves to curry fans' favour in the absence of formal negotiations.
Though the fans have anted up the money the owners and players are fighting over now, there's little sense public opinion is going to do anything to sway the actions of one side or the other.
If anything, both sides are ticking fans off with their failure to engage in any formal negotiations -- Wednesday was the last time they talked -- and then wasting time telling the fans how much the fans mean to them.
The league went cheap with a simple statement on NHL.com and said it remains committed to negotiating around the clock to get a deal done that is fair to the players and the 30 NHL teams.
It lauded the benefits of the late CBA in helping foster competitive balance and making the regular season meaningful. (The league has stopped pointing out that under the last CBA (RIP) 29 teams made the playoffs. Wonder if the Toronto Maple Leafs said, "Hey, we're standing right here.")
On the NHLPA.com website, the players produced a slick three-and-a-half minute video with Pittsburgh Penguins captain Sidney Crosby, Chicago Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews, St. Louis Blues captain David Backes, Toronto Maple Leafs goaltender James Reimer and Colorado Avalanche captain Gabriel Landeskog.
Against a backdrop of artful black-and-white pictures, they talked about their love of playing the game growing up and how the players want a long-term fix for the league's on-going financial issues.
"The system that is supposedly broken was designed by the NHL owners and the league itself," said Toews.
OK, we get it.
There's no question the players won the day with the players carrying their message. The players are the stars and have more appeal to the fans than, say, Boston Bruins owner Jeremy Jacobs talking about how he grew up loving the idea of making money.
Again, so what?
On the NHLPA video, Reimer asks why they couldn't just keep playing while a new deal gets negotiated. It's a point the players made in New York at their meetings Wednesday and Thursday.
It's a question a few fans have asked. Why not play under the terms of the current deal until a new deal gets done?
"You don't need to have a lockout. You could keep playing and bargain at the same time, but that's not what the owners want to do. They want a lockout and use it as a tactic. The fans they lose the game they love and we don't get to perform in front of the fans," Reimer said.
There was no way the NHL was going to start the season without a new deal. If the regular season started, players would be getting paid and the NHL would lose that leverage.
The longer the regular season went, the more money the players would bank and the leverage shifts to the players. If no deal had been reached by, say, February, and the playoffs are approaching, now the players have the hammer. They could threaten to strike at a time when the owners are poised for their windfall in the post-season.
Even a no-strike, no-lockout agreement wasn't going to work for the owners because, if you believe Bettman, they weren't prepared to lose more money.
If either side truly believed the stuff they spouted to the fans Sunday, they wouldn't be wasting their time talking to the fans and would be talking to each other in formal negotiations.