As soon as federal mediation between the NHL and NHLPA proved to have done absolutely no good and provided zero progress, commissioner Gary Bettman threw an interesting proposal on the table. He suggested having the two sides meet without the leadership of either side present, meaning that himself and Donald Fehr would be absent and allow a candid meeting between the players and the owners.
Of course, many saw this as a horrible idea for the players to accept. This would mean taking away one of the few actually experienced and knowledgeable when it comes to negotiations of this scope, pitting the players (who allow agents to negotiate their own contracts) against billionaires who conduct negotiations of this sort for a living. It would skew heavily in favor for the owners and no one expected the meeting to actually take place.
On Sunday, the NHL and NHLPA agreed to the parameters for the meeting as we continue down this gong show that has become the ongoing lockout.
Six NHL owners and six players will meet face to face on Tuesday, without Bettman or Fehr present. Both sides will have support staff present, however. From the NHLPA statement on the meeting:
"The NHLPA has agreed to a meeting on Tuesday in New York that should facilitate dialogue between Players and Owners. Neither the Commissioner nor I will be present, although each side will have a limited number of staff or counsel present.
"There will be Owners attending this meeting who have not previously done so, which is encouraging and which we welcome. We hope that this meeting will be constructive and lead to a dialogue that will help us find a way to reach an agreement."
There was a lot of discussion as to exactly which parameters should be met for the players to even begin to think about agreeing to the meeting, starting with keeping Bruins owner Jeremy Jacobs out of the room and even allowing the players to pick the owners. Bettman and the NHL would never have allowed that to happen and likely would have allowed the meeting only under their particular desired circumstances.
Which is why Jacobs is one of the six owners to be in the meeting. Also joining him:
*Pittsburgh Penguins owner Ryan Burkle
*Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik
*Winnipeg Jets owner Mark Chipman
*Calgary Flames owner Murray Edwards
*Toronto Maple Leafs owner Larry Tanenbaum
Every owner except Tanenbaum has very close allegiances to Bettman, especially when you consider the role that the commissioner played in allowing Burkle, Vinik and Chipman to actually acquire their franchises. This is hardly the group of ideal group of owners for the players to face and it's very likely that Jacobs is going to be controlling the conversation from his table anyway.
So, you wonder if there is any chance at all a meeting like this even has a chance in hell at working. The players have made it known they don't trust the owners and have a particular disdain for Jacobs. The owners, meanwhile, believe that Fehr is not being completely forthcoming with the players and want to get their message directly to the the NHLPA. This has led to a meeting that could be nothing more than both sides stating their case, remaining entrenched on their own principles and walking away blaming the other side for progress not being made.
The NHL Board of Governors is scheduled to meet on Wednesday, the day after this meeting, and what they decide on that day will likely decide the fate of the season.
The issue with this current lockout has to do with the fact that so many teams and owners sit at opposite ends of the spectrum financially, and the exact same situation exists on the players' side as well. None of the owners present, with the exception of Tanenbaum and likely Vinik, represent the group of teams desperate for hockey to begin as soon as possible. It's also becoming clear that while the NHLPA presents on a equal front, there are a number of players out there that are far removed from the every day back and forth in the current lockout.
No matter what, something needs to happen soon. Perhaps this is the breakthrough we've been waiting for, an airing of grievances that clears the air and provides space for the season to begin. Perhaps once all of the owners are in the same room on Dec. 5 a compromise can be reached, as cooler heads begin to realize just how bad losing another full season will be for the NHL.
It's going to be another interesting week.