Frank Seravalli: Both sides show solidarity in NHL stalemate

Posted: September 14, 2012

NEW YORK - Toward the end of the Board of Governors meetings in the palatial 15th floor offices of the NHL overlooking Manhattan, commissioner Gary Bettman asked for a simple show of hands to take the temperature of his bosses on his performance this summer.

All 30 governors raised their hands in approval, Bettman said.

Bruins owner Jeremy Jacobs took it one step further, motioning for an officially recorded vote, which was quickly seconded.

One by one, all 30 of the NHL's team-appointed governors - including Flyers chairman Ed Snider - unanimously voted in support of Bettman's tactics and thus, another work stoppage. Bettman made it clear that he did not need approval to enact his third lockout on Sunday when the clock strikes midnight.

But he got it anyway. Solidarity duly noted in the league's meeting minutes.

"We have been clear," Bettman said. "The league is not willing to go forward with another season under the status quo, with the current collective bargaining agreement that is expiring. The system that was originally negotiated, in our view, needs some adjustments.

"I'm not going to apologize for saying we need to adjust it."

Just four blocks south, at another Times Square hotel, exactly 283 players wrapped up their own meetings - with some of the game's biggest names in Sidney Crosby, Claude Giroux and Henrik Lundqvist standing on stage in support of their leader, Donald Fehr - to further dig in on their stance.

Fehr said afterward that not a single vote was taken by the players in their 2-day meetings, choosing instead to move forward in their billion-dollar game of chicken with billionaires.

As the players streamed out of their meetings, their solidarity - seemingly strange, with Flyers, Penguins and Rangers standing shoulder-to-shoulder in support - was duly noted in force.

"The biggest thing for me is that you see the unity," Flyers forward Max Talbot said. "Everyone is on the same page. Everyone came in here and asked questions, communicated well. We are all in this together. We want to play. We want to make a deal that is fair for both sides."

With no scheduled negotiations between now and Saturday night, the NHL's second lockout since 2004 is all but a certainty.

"Right now, it's not looking great," Crosby said. "We're willing to move and we're willing to sacrifice things with our proposal. I think if you look at their proposal, it's not the same thing."

Fehr said the most common question in his meetings with players was: "What's in the NHL's proposal for the players?" He couldn't come up with an answer.

Back and forth, the NHL and NHLPA have traded barbs through the media this week, each with their own convincing spin. It's all sickening, with both sides crying poor. The players see a money grab from owners looking to capitalize on a reduction in player revenues from the NFL and NBA. The owners say their cut of revenue - having to saddle all of the expenses of the sport - is too small.

Both make compelling arguments. Neither is currently willing to budge.

In fact, it is still too early for either side to show a weakness in their stance, and that's why the players will retreat to their homes and put their feet up for a while, knowing they won't be opening training camp next week, also when the league is expected to begin canceling preseason games.

When owners start losing out on gate receipts, merchandise, concession and parking revenue after missing games on Oct. 11, and players miss their first paychecks on Oct. 15, that's when these negotiations will get real.

Until then, it's all talk.

"Nobody wants to make a deal and play hockey more than I do," Bettman said, having never played a day in his life before joining the NHL some 20 years ago. "This is what my life is about. This is very hard, and I feel terrible about it."

No cap world?

Without an official lockout, the only real nastiness between the NHL and NHLPA has existed in their shots through the media. That could change pretty quickly, since Bettman said the NHL's offers will be lessened with each day that passes, losing out on possible revenue.

Interestingly, Fehr did not rule out the possibility of attacking the salary-cap system, something the players lost an entire season fighting over in 2004-05.

"That certainly wouldn't be a positive step in these negotiations," Bettman said. "Not only would it not be constructive, it would defy logic as to why someone would want to take that kind of system off the table.

"Even a brief lockout will cost more in terms of lost salary and wages than what we're proposing to do."

At its core, the NHL and NHLPA differ over the percentage of revenue split. In its most simple terms, the NHL wants to bring the salary cap down from the current $70.2 million to $58 or $59 million. The players want to keep it the same.

Slap shots

Braydon Coburn, the Flyers' player representative, said the players are still working out details on where they will continue on-ice workouts in the event of a lockout. The likely option would be to buy ice hourly from the Skate Zone in Voorhees - their normal practice rink - and dress in regular locker rooms. Most players already have cleared out their stalls since they will not have access to team facilities or training staff starting Saturday night . . . The Flyers sent veterans Danny Syvret and Matt Ford through waivers on Thursday so they can report to AHL Adirondack's training camp on Sept. 29 . . . Injured players Chris Pronger (concussion-like symptoms), Andrej Meszaros (Achilles') and Andreas Lilja (hip) cannot be locked out and will continue to be paid while rehabbing in the event of a work stoppage.


Contact Frank Seravalli at seravaf@phillynews.com or on Twitter @DNFlyers. Read his blog, Frequent Flyers, at www.philly.com/frequentflyers.

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