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Bettman, Fehr piloting sinking ship of fools in NHL dispute

Posted by Steve Silva, Boston.com Staff  December 7, 2012 11:17 AM

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Tell you what: Whaddaya say we just kill hockey now?

Without picking sides, without talking about maximum length contracts and revenue-sharing, without getting into Gary Bettman and Jeremy Jacobs and the Fehr siblings -- The Brothers Grim? -- let's just join hands and collectively pull the plug on a league that clearly does not recognize a good thing when it has one.

If you feel that way this morning, you certainly have the right.

Because that is the response NHL owners and players are evoking across North America, particularly in Boston, where we should be in the midst of yet another quest for the Stanley Cup during the Renaissance Era of Bruins hockey.

Instead, we get the childish banter of Agent 86 commissioner Bettman and the bitter-beer face of Donald Fehr, the current director of the NHL Players Association and the former head of the baseball players union who is halfway to the work stoppage Grand Slam.

You fools.

You complete and utter fools.

For those of you who have not been keeping abreast of such things, let's give you an admittedly simplistic overview of the current dilemma. Coming off a season in which the league generated a record $3.3 billion in revenue, NHL owners sought to cut the players' share of revenue upon the expiration of the last bargaining agreement. Citing losses for several teams, the teams proposed to cut the player revenue from 57 percent to -- get this -- 43 percent. For the players, that represented a pay reduction of roughly 25 percent, which seems like a rather illogical amount for a business that was, relatively speaking, booming.

Of course, the NHL made no mention of the fact that, according to people like former NHLPA director Paul Kelly, the Toronto Maple Leafs turned an annual profit of somewhere near $125 million. (The Bruins, according to a recent Globe story, made $14.1 million.) Further, the NHL has done little to publicize the fact that, according to the Globe, league owners share only an estimated 11 percent of revenue as compared to roughly 30 percent in the NBA.

Understand? The successful NHL teams are making plenty and the failing ones are losing. And rather than increasing revenue sharing to the levels of the most similar league -- that is to say, tripling it -- NHL owners opened negotiations by putting almost the entire burden on the players, sending a message from the very start that has set the tone for these entire negotiations.

Let's fight.

Hockey players being hockey players -- and the Fehr Brothers being the Fehrs -- the boys dropped their gloves and engaged, which has done what it often does: load the proverbial penalty box with players who should instead be on the ice.

Did the owners start this mess? You bet they did. But Donald Fehr, in particular, has since engaged in public gamesmanship and posturing, proving once again (as he did with baseball in 1994) that his ego often gets the best of him. Few could ever forget the site of Fehr obstinately resisting Congress -- Congress! -- during baseball's steroids era, and one can't help but get the feeling that he reacts to every slight personally, that he looks at Bettman, especially, with the disdain of Col. Nathan R. Jessup.

You messed with the wrong Marine.

Whatever, dude.

Put your gun back in the holster. Your job is to get a deal done. Not prevent one.

Here in Boston, the passions may be running especially hot for a very obvious reason: The Bruins are back. Or at least they should be. The last time the NHL had a work stoppage, Jacobs and his management team so badly botched the process that Bruins ended up in the Stone Age. Jacobs and his team needed years to recover, their fortunes turning during the 2010-11 season. In one year, the Bruins secured the No. 2 overall pick in the draft (Tyler Seguin) and won the Stanley Cup, and they assembled a roster that was built for the long haul.

Seguin. Patrice Bergeron. David Krejci. Tuuka Rask. Milan Lucic. Nathan Horton. Brad Marchand. Dougie Hamilton. The list goes on and on. Add in a cast of solid veterans that includes Zdeno Chara, Dennis Seidenberg and Andrew Ferrence, among others, and what you had was a team built to contend for championships for a succession of years.

But once again, Jacobs can't seem to get out of his own way.

Indeed, according to some reports, Jacobs was prepared to get up and leave the negotiating table on Wednesday night, at which point other voices intervened and cooler heads prevailed. At least for a succession of hours. Ultimately, of course, NHL owners and players pushed apart on Thursday night, unable to agree even on what they had agreed upon in an avalanche of words and finger pointing.

In the process, they unknowingly joined forces.

And they spit directly in your face.

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Updated: Mar 1, 07:24 AM

About Mazz

Tony Massarotti is a Globe sportswriter and has been writing about sports in Boston for the last 19 years. A lifelong Bostonian, Massarotti graduated from Waltham High School and Tufts University. He was voted the Massachusetts Sportswriter of the Year by his peers in 2000 and 2008 and has been a finalist for the award on several other occasions. This blog won a 2008 EPpy award for "Best Sports Blog".

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