I wonder if it has dawned on most of the players that the principle they lost in the 2004-05 dispute – linkage between player salaries and revenues – was pretty damned important to them. I suspect so. Losing that dispute put them in their current position and the leverage being what it is, it will put the players in this position every time they sit down to negotiate a contract. Bettman will extract as much as he can from the players every time he “negotiates” a CBA.
With linkage in place, the players seem to have only three options:
1) Fold and ratify the CBA Gary is going to insist they sign. This is almost certainly the best decision for each player as an individual. It is better financially for most players to take another big cut than it is to miss games. It doesn’t make sense for most players if they lose $900 MM in salary over half a season to save $200 MM a year. They will make lots of money – even after the owners stick them up – and they want to play.
The league will want a very long contract – threatening a lockout more than once a decade might alienate the customer – and the players should want to go along with a ten year deal like basketball and football players did. That leaves the next cut to the next generation of players.
To cave to an insulting and unfair offer would be galling, but I don’t think Bettman will go as far as to force them all to tug their forelocks and say, “Yes Guv. Anything you say, sir” so it won’t be too humiliating.
2) Fight the labour battle of 2004-05 all over again. This choice might work best for the players collectively in the long run but it means that the individual player has to be reconciled to losing at least the entire year and they have to be prepared to inflict real economic damage on the league.
If the players do choose this option, they had best be very clear among themselves about what they are doing and why. Players should look for work in Europe and plan to be there for the year. No half measures. No coming back for a slightly less insulting or unfair offer. If the players are eventually going to cave and take less money in this same system, they should save themselves and the fans a lot of grief by giving up right now.
3) Legitimately decertify the union. The players will likely lose the year under this option too because the league will still impose the lockout and fight the decertification effort. The courts are not likely to make any decisions quickly. (That the league would fight to keep the Union says a lot about whether Gary Bettman or Sidney Crosby gets the most value from the NHLPA.)
Again, the players have to be very clear about the choice they would be making. In the long run, they – and the fans in my opinion – would be much better off, but the players have to realize that in the short run, it probably means a year off and it probably means blowing up the league.
I can’t say what Donald Fehr and the players are going to do. As a fan who wants to see the season start as scheduled, I hope they give up and give up quickly. As a human being who hates pretty much everything greedy plutocrats like Ed Snider, Jeremy Jacobs and Gary Bettman stand for, I won’t blame the players if they decide to blow up the league. In fact, I’ll cheer them on. The only thing I absolutely positively do not want to see is for the players to miss games before giving up and signing a slighlty better version of Bettman’s contract.
If anybody – including Donald Fehr – has a better option for the players, I want to hear it.