Labor deal not owners' priority

Labor deal not owners' priority
December 19, 2012, 10:30 am

While dealing with Donald Fehr, Baseball's business has grown sixfold in 15 years. (AP)

With time running out before the holiday season shutters all businesses, it is time for the National Hockey League owners to treat themselves. I mean, at this point, who else will?

And the treat? Cancelling the rest of the season, just so everyone knows that they mean business. Or in this case, lack of business.

It is clearly what they want now, just as much at this point as seeing Don Fehr with a spike through his head. They’re not talking, even though they’ve already received all the concessions made to this point. And their countersuit to the players’ disclaimer of interests threatens voiding all their contracts, essentially making every player an unrestricted free agent.

In other words, the years of roster- and franchise-building are now considered expendable to the greater need, which is showing the continent who’s boss.

And the only way the owners can do that and feel good about themselves to themselves now is to close the shop, put their feet up and say, “Well, that was a good year’s work.” Because it’s a very short step from “We don’t care who’s on our team” to “We don’t care if we have a team.”

And that is the hill with the little tiny flag they have decided is good to die upon, for reasons that baffle all other interested parties.

They surely see the signs everyone else does. Commercially, companies are leaving the hockey market in droves, or making massive reductions in investment. The television networks are already thick with alternative programming – except of course for the NHL Network, which has a smaller inventory than most junior college TV stations.

In addition, two Canadian polls have found (through the small sample size that limits all such endeavors) that more than half of the nation doesn’t give a damn whether they come back or not. Canada.

And in a triumph of meaningless statics conjoined to tell a greater truth, Gary Bettman’s personal odometer has just passed 2,000 days in the job, and 500 of those days on lockdown. And there is an increased interest in never seeing him touch the Stanley Cup again.

And Bettman is just the office manager in this little enterprise. We now also know who the hardline owners are leading the charge to keep the padlocks in place, the moderate owners who feel like negotiating a deal on everyone’s behalf is beneath them, and the ones just waiting for someone to give them a check. And as we know, the modern owner craves only money more than anonymity. Knowing who the villains, the silent majority and the spongers are by name works against their interests.

That’s why they hired Bettman – to be the abuse magnet for this sorry performance. And he’s outlived his value.

It is now clear to anyone that the owners are so tired of dealing with the boogeyman they have created in Fehr that they’d rather not deal at all. And Fehr isn’t going anywhere, which leaves them with Option B.

The “Closed For The Season” sign in the front window.

Some will suggest that the union is responsible for this state of affairs, on the basis that you always do what the boss says whether you like it or not. Well, no – not in collective bargaining.

In addition, as we said, the union has done all the significant giving here, and the art of making a deal is not insisting upon surrender but finding a midpoint that can be airtight (for owners who like to screw with the salary cap rules) and hurt everyone an endurable amount.

Baseball owners learned this while dealing with Fehr, amazingly, and their business has grown sixfold in 15 years.

The NHL owners have decided it isn’t the deal that’s important, though, but the head on the stick. They’ve already shown how little they think of those whose livelihoods depend on the ancillary businesses around the sport, so feeling bad for arena workers and souvenir salesmen and restaurateurs, etc., is wasted on them.

And now that they’ve been properly and publicly shamed for preferring the pike to the pen, and having discovered that Bettman is now more a screen door than a shield, blame delegation wise, they’re kind of cornered, public relations-wise.

Thus, they have to give to each other in a bizarre Secret Santa ritual that probably has to be held in a dark cave. And what they have to give is another cancelled season. After all, they did so well with the last one that they clearly remember it only with fondness.

So they may as well get on with it. Or in this case, off with it. They’ve made Canada hate the sport they sell. They’ve made television hate the programming they provide. They’ve made corporate America treat them like they were  anthrax salesmen. They’ve run the table.

So a hearty fa-la-la-la-feh to all 30 merry gentlemen. They’ve made another holiday extra special – for each other. Now they can talk about the sport they all profess to love in the past tense, a fitting reward for them all.

Ray Ratto is a columnist for CSNBayArea.com