Bad Bet, Man (11/17/2012)

(This article was originally published by me as a guest author at the site called “Surly and Scribe.”)

I know the site has been quiet for a long time, and has refrained from extensive writing on the  CBA negotiations. But, I just saw an article where the tag line was about Bettman being an idiot, and whenever I see someone called an idiot I always like to step in and offer my thoughts to see if I can also qualify.

In this amazingly candid series of quotes from Ian White we are given some pure gems from a player’s perspective. Even though he gets some material facts wrong, White makes it plain that the onus is on the owners for the entire situation to be resolved. (While I am at it, if you mash-up “onus” and “owners,” you get “own us,” which is probably not entirely coincidental.) 

Here’s the money quote: “Speaking after an informal skate Friday in Troy, White lashed out at NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman. ‘I gotta be honest: I personally think he’s an idiot,’ White said. ‘Since he’s come in, I think he’s done nothing but damage the game.’” Actually, the game has not been entirely “damaged;”  attendance is up, TV exposure is up, revenues are up, the game is more exciting due to rules changes, etc… But I get it, White is talking about the damage from work stoppages, and if there is an overall improvement it might be something like one step forward and .999 steps back.

White also discusses his frustration that the owner’s procedures are not entirely democratic: “Three work stoppages — I don’t know if he’s in control of the owners or what he’s saying, but I think it’s only seven of the owners that have to agree on something to have something pass. You’d think it’d be at least 50%. It just doesn’t seem like they’re running a democratic process, if you will.” Although the emotion involved is clearly justified, and the practical result is correct in that a minority of owners can corrupt the process, this is where White loses his grasp of the material facts involved.

The owners cannot pass something with only seven votes. This thinking is a misinterpretation of the by-laws and NHL constitution. White has it backwards, in a way. The rule is that, where a new Collective Bargaining Agreement is concerned, the league requires a 3/4 vote to pass, meaning that if 8 of 30 DO NOT AGREE, the agreement cannot be ratified. In short, 8 owners can block an agreement, instead of needing 7 owners to pass an agreement. As I said, the practical result is the same, kinda, but the difference is there.

Whenever I read about the negotiation process, it is easy for the small-picture reality as described by either side to confuse me, leaving me uncertain as to who is more responsible for the most recent stand-still at any particular moment. Rather than run back through a long summation of the entire process, for which I am entirely unqualified, I can share this simple set of facts that provide me clarity: (1) The owners initiated the last work stoppage by a lockout and achieved all the significant changes they sought (2) Since then the league has increased profits (3) The owners offered the players salaries to play, also known as “contracts,” and then signed them (4) The owners then decided they didn’t like those contracts and want to get out of them (5) The players were willing to negotiate while still playing, but the owners were not.

When you say you need a new deal, and you get it, then that new deal makes you more money, it’s   counterintuitive to then say that the new deal wasn’t good enough and for that reason you intend to ignore that deal while you strong-arm an even more one-sided newer deal.


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