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FTB: On the NHL and the stages of brinkmanship

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They have reached the “veiled threats” stage, soon we’ll get to “drop-dead dates.”

2020 NHL Draft - Round One Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images

Here we are in December 2020 and the NHL is sending out veiled threats to the NHL Players Association, covered in PR-speak, that they might cancel the season. The Players Association responds in kind about greedy owners. It’s like 2012 all over again, but, it’s also not, because there is no lockout this time.

The core problem is that the revenue sharing model in the CBA was designed for “normal operating circumstances,” and that Memorandum of Understanding from back in the spring really didn’t adjust expectations enough.

There’s plenty of blame for both sides here. Their projected timeline for the recovery from the pandemic was way too fast and contemplated no other possible outcomes. It was basically fans in seats watching games almost everywhere in December, guaranteed.

The owners offered that. The players accepted that. They are all morons for doing that.

But, here we are, in December, and not even playing games, and other leagues that tried to play games are shutting down for the whole month. The revenue this season is going to be far below what either side thought of as the worst case scenario.

So, what to do? Sit down and work out how to deal with this? You could do that, or, you could play the brinkmanship game. The owners are making veiled threats to cancel the season, and the PA responds in kind with the usual “greedy billionaires trying to renegotiate the CBA” line. The NHL offers the laughable and embarrassing rebuttal that “they aren’t trying to renegotiate!”

Of course they are. They have to. Both sides do because the deal they signed is idiotic and doesn’t work, but they all lack the humility to admit that. At the same time, the NHL is correct that the players will still get the total amount of pay they are owed, but it’s about when, and how much and how long they have to defer, and that the owners will essentially be loaning the players money for years. The Salary Cap may very well have to go down, which is both embarrassing, and disastrous for team management. The MoU deal works for neither side.

So now we await the next move in the NHL brinkmanship playbook, the “drop-dead date,” which gets lots of free and unquestioned media hype to the point even your local news broadcast will cover it, perhaps even before one of the car crashes of the day. Gary Bettman will walk up to his podium placed in some office tower lobby and declare that if the players don’t agree to something by [insert date here] he will cancel the season! The PA will reject it as brinkmanship, and say that they’ve wanted to renegotiate this whole time but the NHL won’t come to meet them at the negotiating table.

And we have to sit here and wait for that next step of this stupid game, just like last time.

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