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Hockey Negotiation Rhetoric

All sound familiar? We heard all this a year ago.

This past weekend brought us the best indication yet that perhaps the 2012-13 National Hockey League season can be saved.

Just one day after the league canceled this year’s Winter Classic, which was to have been played at Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor before a record crowd of at least 110,000 patrons, two of the negotiation antagonists, NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly and players counsel Steve Fehr, went to an undisclosed location to find common ground. After long and substantive discussions that went well into the night, the two sides agreed to restart formal negotiations this past Tuesday.

Quite often, this is how progress is made—not under the glare of the media spotlight, not in soundbites for the public consumption, but in quiet conversations and meetings of the minds.

Just a year ago, sports fans were listening to pretty much the same sort of posturing. In 2011, it was the NBA that had locked out its players, and the start of the regular season came and went that first week of November without any basketball.

“We think we have made very fair proposals. There will be enormous consequences if the players don’t agree to seek some sort of accommodation with the league and its owners sooner rather than later.”

No, that’s not NHL commissioner Gary Bettman talking. That was NBA commissioner David Stern.

“We are ready to resume playing while talks continue and lead to an eventual new bargaining agreement. We are ready to meet the owners and get a deal done at any time, It is not us not doing the negotiating.”

Sounds like Steve Fehr’s brother, NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr. But no, that was NBA players representative Bully Hunter.

“Once the owners know that we are united, they will come back and take this seriously. Now they know the players’ resolve.”

Sabres goalie Ryan Miller? Sure sounds like him, but this quote came from Cleveland Cavaliers player rep Anthony Parker.

For those who did not follow last year’s NBA lockout and all its attendant problems, the two sides really weren’t all that far apart. Separating the owners and the players was approximately $80 million in basketball related revenue and how to divide it fairly. The NBA players turned down the league’s “best offer,” and Stern than rolled back their proposal to a lesser offer, which gave the players just 47 percent of basketball revenue, and a rollback of existing contracts, just like the NHL owners are proposing now.

The players were aghast, and when talks did resume, they claimed that they had made the most sacrifices in the ongoing dispute.

A deal between the NBA and the NBPA was finally consummated right around Thanksgiving, and basketball resumed on Christmas Day with an abbreviated schedule. By late spring, as the Miami Heat won a thrilling final series to claim another NBA title, all the acrimony of the previous year had long been forgotten.

What’s missing from the this year’s NHL script? For one thing, last year’s NBA negotiations were an ongoing and constant process, not like this year’s NHL sessions, which break down and then devolve into seemingly interminable pauses. Second, both sides relied on mediators to assist in the NBA negotiations. No such entities are part of this year’s NHL lockout. Finally, the basketball players association filed for decertification as a labor management tactic, and the NHL players have not done so.

Just as the NHL has its “hard line owners” (Bruins owner Jeremy Jacobs is repeatedly mentioned as the leader of this group), the NBA had their “hard line nine,” nine franchises that demanded that Stern get huge rollbacks from the players. Even with that pressure, when it came crunch time, the NBA got a deal done. Here’s hoping for the same outcome in the NHL. And soon.

Taro Sez…

• After doing all the heavy lifting between the pipes for the Rochester Americans this season, David Leggio was finally given the night off this past Saturday, allowing backup goalie and college standout Connor Knapp to get the start up in Hamilton. Knapp was stellar for the first two periods, pitching a shutout into the third period, and then the wheels came off. Knapp surrendered four late goals and the Amerks lost 4-3.

• Spotted in the stands at Copps Coliseum, Sabres center and current Amerks player Cody Hodgson, who is out for four to six weeks while tending to an injury to his right hand. Hodgson was dressed in an Amerks jumpsuit, talking with fans thoughout the game and obliging anyone who asked with an autograph. Hodgson joins another valuable Sabres asset, Corey Tropp, on the injury list in this young season. Tropp is gone for the entire year with a leg injury.

• Ten games in the books, and Rochester is 6-3-1 in this young season. Left winger Marcus Foligno and defenseman T. J. Brennan are the team’s leading scorers thus far.

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