Of course the labor dispute between the NHL Players Association (NHLPA) and the owners is all about the money. During the latest scrap, the owners displayed a smug arrogance by shoving a take it or leave it offer down the players throats early in the session. The owners appear to have stumbled and fallen into the arrogance trap, emboldened by the favorable CBA they signed six years ago when they secured multiple financial concessions from the NHLPA.
During a recent interview on Team 630 Montreal Radio, retired Montreal Canadiens enforcer Chris Nilan said it best when he noted NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman set a toxic tone from the outset of negotiations when he dumped an offer on the players laps, expecting the union members to roll over like trained dogs. Knuckles Nilan should know a thing or two about setting tones during disagreements, since he was involved in quite a few during his playing days.
If you have ever had the misfortune to deal with those who feel a sense of entitlement, you will know that Bettman setting a condescending tone is not much of a stretch for his ilk. An unappealing personality is usually as standard issue as a hairpiece is for these corporate lawyer types.
What you have here is a group of privileged wealthy guys looking down their noses at the working class players, and all the way down to the fans. Granted, a pretty well payed working class, but considering the short careers of many players, not as well compensated as most would think. It is simple class warfare with Bettman taking an opening swing, as Knuckles astutely observed.
On one side you have approximately 750 players who are who are mostly from working class families all over the world. The other side consists of thirty or so elite guys, mostly from North America, who live in a completely different world than the players and fans do. All one has to do is analyze the contrasting ground rules which have been set for the players and owners to see how literally far apart the two are in society.
The players have a rather long leash to come and go as they please during this stoppage…as they should have. NHLPA chief Donald Fehr’s lenient policy indicates the union is secure enough to allow players to go their own ways and play in Europe or Russia, if they choose to do so. Reeling the players in and banning them from working overseas would be counter-productive to the union’s morale and cohesiveness.
Contrary to popular belief, not all players are wealthy, each one being in a different stage of their careers. They range from the younger players who need experience to improve their skills, to the veteran guys who need to stay in game shape to avert potential serious injury if the season does return suddenly. Those who view the players open labor policy as a weakness by the union are failing to see the entire picture.
A major advantage the players enjoy over the owners is they have not been muzzled by the union heads, as the Park Avenue types have done to the owners. Not censoring the players has been rather effective for the union, who knows it is best to leave such fascist policies to the owners side of the table.
Best to let the players open their mouths and talk; and the more they talk, the better. Whether the players agree or not with every aspect of the union’s position is not the issue here. And if some players want to take some shots at the union, so what? Again, this shows strength in the union being secure in itself, unlike the chicken spit owners who have had their mouths taped shut in what some may see as a somewhat demeaning tactic.
The players talking and providing varied opinions humanizes them to the fans. Even groups of people who are on the same side can have differing opinions, as it is only natural. Again, each player is in a different stage in his career, and they will not all agree on all the issues…as it is impossible for that to happen. Why some see this as a sign of weakness by the union is perplexing.
If the players are displaying a refreshing human touch expressing their varied viewpoints, what kind of side are the owners showing by having their brains and mouths frozen solid like a shallow northern Manitoba pond in mid-winter? What would happen if one of these guys actually opens his mouth and actually shows a human side? Maybe then, will all the reptilian conspiracy rumors be laid to rest?
One would probably have a better chance of filming an alien abduction than catching an NHL owner saying something of interest or value during this lockout. Who said money buys you freedom? For these “self-made” hockey owners, a few bucks can’t even buy them an opinion. One has to really feel for them.
Plain and simple, it is class warfare. The owners see the union getting bigger and more powerful, which they view as a threat to their domain. The players standing firm and not allowing the owners to steamroll them may have caught the big guys by surprise.
The wild cards in this negotiation consist of those floundering American franchises which are not very far from a death watch. If the players can hold out long enough, these failing franchises will become an overbearing financial liability to the owners, forcing league contraction, which would immediately increase the league’s quality. It would also be a shot to Bettman’s credibility, since he is the one who forced these franchises upon the league.
In any event, since they have the lawyer guy working and talking for them, the owners do not need to say much; Bettman’s toxic demeanor in representing the ownership group has pretty much said it all from day one.