• You have got to be kidding me

  • By Pierre LeBrun | December 6, 2012 10:02:54 PM PST



NEW YORK -- What should have been a fairly doable mathematical adjustment this past summer has transformed into perhaps the most ridiculous labor impasse in the history of pro sports.

Honestly, I can’t wrap my head around this one.

Are the owners and players really going to let the season get canned over the differences that remain in the two offers?

I would make the argument that the players are crazy to take that kind of financial hit rather than accept what the league and owners offered Wednesday night.

Similarly, the owners are out of their minds if they don’t see elements in the NHLPA’s counteroffer that they can live with to get hockey back this season.

Are we really going to drop the ax on an entire season because the owners are THAT adamant about five-year term limits for player contracts? And are the players THAT opposed to five-year contract term limits that they will let an entire season’s worth of salary go down the drain?

It’s pure madness in my opinion. All of it. Both sides.

NHLPA executive director Don Fehr has done a masterful job throughout this lockout of telling his players to stay patient and wait because the deal would get better. And when owners upped their "make-whole" provision from $211 million to $300 million Wednesday night -- something the league said it would never do -- Fehr was proved right.

Thing is, you can’t wait and wait and wait forever, and believe the offer will always improve. You have to know when the time is right to cut a deal.

To that end, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman promptly pulled the "make-whole" offer off the table Thursday night, as well as other concessions on player contracting rights. The league had been willing to not touch unrestricted free-agent eligibility, the entry-level system and salary arbitration. Now that’s out the window as well.

You know exactly what Fehr will tell his players. That those things aren’t really off the table, that it’s just a negotiating tactic.

Perhaps. Or maybe Fehr just managed to infuriate the most player-friendly owner in the league, Ron Burkle, a man who has won labor awards for his work in his private business life but somehow finally found a place where his negotiating expertise was unable to penetrate. Yes, the Pittsburgh Penguins' owner absolutely wanted to explode Wednesday night.

Conversely, I question Bettman’s decision to halt talks Thursday night. Why not respond to the NHLPA’s counteroffer Thursday night by saying it’s still not good enough but, hey, let’s meet again Friday and keep plugging away?

Well, I’ve got one theory on that. Given reports that players were having intense, sometimes heated debate internally Thursday as they decided how to proceed, it might very well be that the NHL and the owners smell blood. They might believe the players are finally cracking and that by pulling this week’s new elements off the table, they’ll get those players who are questioning union leadership to nullify Fehr and make a deal with the league.

Who knows, maybe their calculation is right about that. But as one player told ESPN.com on Thursday night after the theatrics were done, why wouldn’t the league submit a full formal offer? That’s the only way players would have a chance to vote on it membership-wide, he figured.

Again, good point.

In the end, once again the drama has overtaken the facts on this night.

I don’t believe the two sides are that far apart at all.

One NHL governor told ESPN.com that they were shown both offers from the league and NHLPA in the board of governors meeting.

"I looked at them both and wondered how this thing isn’t done already," he said.

And those were previous offers. Not the ones from the past 24 hours that showed more movement from both sides.

What we need now is for both sides to exhale and get back to the table no later than Monday.

For the millionth time, there is a deal here. Stop the politics and get it done.


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