In an episode of the comedy series The Golden Girls, Dorothy tries to get her mother, Sophia, to go to the doctor for a physical, but Sophia refuses. Dorothy reminds her that she made her go to the doctor when she was younger, which prompts Sophia to remember how: by luring young Dorothy with the promise of a pony ride. Dorothy gives up and tells Sophia that she’ll take her to her favorite deli for a chocolate egg cream instead. After a moment of delight, Sophia says “Forget it, Dorothy. I smell a pony ride.”
It seems like I’ve been saying that last sentence over and over since the marathon meeting between NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly and NHLPA special counsel Steve Fehr. This started as a feeling I had when the league made their “great concession” of a 50-50 split. But the sentiment actually became a regular part of my vocabulary after that weekend.
Four days of talks had me feeling jaded. Some saw it as great progress, while others saw it with cautious optimism. I took the “wait and see” approach but felt a disturbance in the Force. I was right on that after last Friday night’s finger-pointing by commissioner Gary Bettman and its aftermath.
It seems like every time the league reaches out with meetings and new offers, they just seem too good to be true, like there’s a catch to each agreement. Unfortunately, that’s been the case recently. Just when you think there’ll be a resolution, the league does something to put things right back at Square One. It has me wondering if they’re actually trying to get a deal done.
Or maybe they’re not. There have been a few players who have speculated that perhaps the league planned this lockout all along. The timing of these proposals would suggest it: their first “really great” one didn’t come till mid-October, and they’ve been sputtering ever since. The little ploy to try to divide the players against PA Executive Director Donald Fehr would’ve been to their advantage as it had been during the last lockout. Fan frustration is being directed not just at the league but at the players as well.
The owners liked the heady feeling of power they had last time. Locking out the players and threatening to cancel the season makes them feel as though they have, in the words of Chancellor Palpatine, unlimited power.
If the season is lost, I look for the league to point fingers again and say that the PA didn’t want to save it. But if you really step back and look, you’ll see that the league is at fault as well. They were the ones demanding concessions before negotiations would begin again. They were the ones not budging on anything and demanding that the PA concede entirely. This is not how you negotiate in good faith.
I’d like to give the league the benefit of the doubt, but their tactics haven’t allowed that. So for the time being, I’ll be saying “Forget it, Gary. I smell a pony ride.”