Friday, January 13, 2012

The Donald

By: Mike "BCMike" Fraser
Edited By: Mike "The Deuce" Bailey

We’re completely and totally against re-alignment!! Period! End Of Story! No if ands or buts! Re-alignment completely out! The membership has spoken. 

Why, Donald?

Ummmmm hold on a minute…………  Travel!   Ya…Thats It!….. all that extra travel. The travel is preposterous and egregious. How can anyone be expected to live like that! You think its easy flying on private jets and staying in five star hotels?  Why just the other day Phil Kessel’s Nintendo DS ran out of battery on an extended flight! Do you know how stressful that was? Well do ya! And don’t even get me started on the lack of big screen hi-def tv’s on these cut rate charters!

Oh and another thing, the new conferences would be as unbalanced as me at the NHLPA Christmas party. That’s right unbalanced! With the Phoenix Nordiques playing in the west, how can it possibly work? I mean my god man the universe can’t exist without balance!  Even Yoda said the force must be in balance and the NHL is exactly like the force. Are you going to go against a firkin Jedi master, well are ya! No, of course not, there can only be one!

‘Phoenix Nordiques’, Donald?

Ya, haven’t you read the secret repor….  You misquoted me!  I mean the Phoenix Coyotes of course. We’re all going to do our very best to make sure the Coyotes stay in Phoenix, blah, blah blah… Unbalanced I say!!!

Did you consult with the membership Donald?

How can you even ask me that! I made every attempt possible to talk with our downtrodden membership. Most of the poor bastards are too concussed to look at the bright light their new iPhones make when ringing though, so it was problematic. I did however get in touch with Bryzgalov and he absolutely agrees the universe must be in balance. 

Donald did you….

Ya know what punk, I’m sick of talking to you. Carcillo get this ingrate outa my office, I gotta get the Vegas line on the Phoenix game tonight. 

There you have it folks, my imaginary interview Don “The Donald” Fehr. As you all know by now big Don came out with the first smack down of the upcoming CBA war by throwing a wrench into the NHL re-alignment plan that would have seen Winnipeg in a Central division and mercifully not wandering out of its time zone for more than half the season. Of course that’s history now and the first battle of the great 2012 CBA war has officially begun.

I have to admit reader, being on the west coast I was prone to buying into all the peace and love that had been coming out of the Players Association in recent months. Words like “We look forward to working with the NHL on the next CBA”, and “No one wants any kind of work stoppage”, along with my favourite “We’re just looking out for the best interest of the players”. Yes the bong water tasted sweet as I thought to myself, self maybe this is a different, kinder gentler Donald Fehr than has been suggested in the media. Maybe he does have the best interests of the game at heart. And like all good hippie dreams it was shattered by a cold hard realty gut punch.

Of course any six year old and or sports journalist can obviously see that this is pure manoeuvring by the NHLPA to develop the first in what will be a long list of bargaining chips come this summer. The official excuses of excessive travel and the unbalanced schedule are wafer thin, but sturdy enough to for an opening gambit. The Donald, it appears, seems to like to play rough, although in my opinion this opening play borders on reckless. It certainly has scored the PA no points with the fans, but really has the PA ever really cared about what the fans think?

Let’s talk about travel. The NHLPA is asserting that travel is somehow going to become more onerous for the majority of its membership. One thing for certain is that under the new re-alignment plan travel will become somewhat more difficult for a minority of NHL players on the eastern seaboard who now enjoy leisurely two hour bus trips between cities.  However the re-alignment plan was designed to try and alleviate the B-R-U-T-A-L travel regime of everyone else, especially Winnipeg who are currently forced to play in the southeast division.  The stated goal of re-alignment was to try and alleviate travel for the majority of teams, but the PA has effectively asked the NHL to prove a negative by demanding proof to the contrary.  Really NHLPA?  How’s that supposed to happen without so much as a basic framework of a schedule started? It’s a shaky leg to stand on, any way you look at it.

Next on the gripe list is the unbalanced format of the new conferences. It’s true this would be problematic if the Phoenix Coyotes where to stay in Phoenix, but of course we all know the worst kept secret in pro sports is that the Phoenix coyotes will be the Quebec Nordiques in 2012-13. I’ve already spilled lots of ink on that dead horse so let’s just say that if Phoenix really did have a shot of staying in Phoenix the re-alignment plan wouldn’t have had such an easy time getting through the NHL Board Of Governors. The Donald of course knows that the NHL can’t come out and publically say this, so he can fly the unbalanced flag at least until June, when the hammer will have to fall in Glendale.

Now I know what you’re thinking reader; how did the Donald get the players on board with his opening barrage? Well dear reader he exploited the one valid hole in the re-alignment plan; the playoffs. Under the new re-alignment plan it would be possible for a team with a better record than their eastern/western counterpart   to miss the playoffs. This was a hole identified early on, and was thrown to the General Managers to try and hammer out a better format. By all accounts The Donald leveraged this with the player reps to get them on board. I think the players know the rest of the arguments are smoke, but the nature of the playoff format grates on their hyper competitive DNA. I’m also not convinced that players where necessarily consulted as widely as we might be led to believe. On the day of the PA sucker punch several player agents expressed genuine surprise and amazement. These are the guys on the front lines of player issues, its their job to know about things that affect their clients livelihood and for the most part, a lot of them were out of the loop.

So what’s really going on? What’s really happening here is that like the animals we are, one side is marking his territory. The Donald has come to play and he wants everyone in the media and the NHL to know that there will be no free ride during the CBA talks. As a bargaining chip, holding re-alignment hostage is weak, and the NHL signalled as much by having Winnipeg’s Mark Chipman, the man most affected by re-alignment, hold a press conference saying basically, It’s no big thing.  Still it was a combative opening move that is meant to somehow convey a hard line by the PA. I am however curious to know why the NHLPA feels it needs to circle the wagons around the issue of re-alignment but seems blissfully ignorant to the fact that half their membership is spending time in the quiet room nursing their concussions. I’m guessing in NHLPA land, players’ (and by extension the PA executives’) financial status seems to supersede their physical well being. After all, the PA doesn’t seem capable of acknowledging the concussion epidemic, let own dealing with it.

The Donald should be careful though. The NHL isn’t growing at the rate it once did and although general revenues are increasing, the fundamentals in a lot of US markets are very poor. The NHLPA may want to play the poor boy Oliver asking for more porridge, but the pot may be getting smaller and its contents might be getting cold. There’s also the undeniable fact that a lot of NHL owners south of the border would love the chance to defer the expense of the first four months of the NHL season to try and repair their bottom line. If the PA decides to get ugly, the lever of a work stoppage won’t be nearly as effective as it would be in other pro sports, and the solidarity of the membership in the NHLPA has a history of being fractious. History has been unkind to NHLPA bosses that have tried to play hardball with the NHL, and at the end of the day if Fehr decides to play tough he may end up without a chair when the music is stops.

The CBA war is definitely under way. PR hacks across North America are sharpening their knives and the sides are positioning their pieces. Unfortunately the cannon fodder in this war is going to be the fans first and foremost. The people that actually dump money into the pockets of all these clowns are ironically the ones who are going to suffer in the most significant way. Someday the tipping point will come and the average hockey fan will simply start voting with their dollars elsewhere. But until that day arrives the millionaires will squabble with the billionaires over the right to pick the pocket of the moms, dads and kids that simply want to watch their heroes play hockey. Until that day arrives, the Donald will bang his shoe on the table and ask for more, more, more.

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