I felt like a character in the Star Wars trilogy when I’d heard that Gary Bettman wanted a meeting between just the players and owners. By that, I mean my first reaction was “I have a bad feeling about this” and my second was “It’s a trap.”
The meeting is set for Tuesday in New York, and hopefully it’s at a neutral site. While the NHLPA is still picking its list of players who will be there, the owners have been announced – Mark Chipman (Winnipeg Jets), Ron Burkle (Pittsburgh Penguins), Larry Tanenbaum (Toronto Maple Leafs), Murray Edwards (Calgary Flames), Jeffrey Vinik (Tampa Bay Lightning) and Jeremy Jacobs (Boston Bruins). As the PA has agreed to have staff accompanying both sides, deputy commissioner Bill Daly will be there with the owners.
I smell trouble brewing. Why? Because of one man: Jeremy Jacobs.
Jacobs is Bettman’s biggest “yes man,” a guy who will help ram whatever he wants down everyone else’s throat. He’s Bettman’s enforcer, so to speak. Remember the story about how he intimidated Chipman and basically told him not to speak unless spoken to? Reporters have previously pointed out that when Jacobs wasn’t present during meetings, things seemed to go well. Once Jacobs was back at the table, negotiations would go to hell in a handbasket.
Some of the owners attending are new to the negotiations. One conspicuously absent name is James Dolan, owner of the New York Rangers. He openly said he wanted to attend the meeting – he’d had a hand in talks during the NBA lockout last year, so why wouldn’t he be included? It’s my guess that he was shunned by Bettman because he’s an owner with whom Bettman doesn’t play well. There are theories fluttering about that suggest the owners and Bettman have planned this lockout seemingly down to the letter, and putting any chance of ending it early into the mix ruins their gameplan.
Joe Yerdon of Pro Hockey Talk points out that having Jacobs attend the meeting could be good in terms of him listening and learning from other owners and players. I’m not so sure. I think Jacobs is so set in his (and Bettman’s) ways that he could tune out everyone who doesn’t subscribe to his line of thought and kill any chances of progress.
Jacobs is one of those “Gang of Eight” owners on which Bettman relies for support. Throwing him into this meeting will be just like having Bettman himself in the room. With the meeting happening the day before the NHL’s Board of Governors gather, I suspect I’ll be calling myself Admiral Ackbar before the end of the day on Tuesday.