Labor deal not owners' priority


Labor deal not owners' priority

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

NFL disregards domestic violence, as Giants extend its tolerance scale


NFL disregards domestic violence, as Giants extend its tolerance scale

The National Football League has been reminded yet again that it neither understands nor cares to understand about domestic violence.

But it will do better, you may rest assured. They’ll have a week where all the on-field personnel wear purple to commemorate the bruises.

That’s what the NFL does when it can no longer ignore its own tone-deafness – they turn their stupidity into a marketing opportunity. After all, every social problem can be solved in the league’s eyes by figuring out a way for the league to monetize it.

The latest example of the NFL’s slack-jawed world view comes from New York, where the Giants could not and still cannot figure out what to do about kicker/serial domestic abuser Josh Brown except not let him go to London for the weekend.

This means the league has learned nothing from the Ray Rice incident, even as Rice of all people is showing on a regular basis how to learn from it. More than that, it means it has no interest in learning anything about it, and will never prioritize it beyond crisis-management level – “Uh-oh, something bad just happened. Quick, put it behind us.”

Then again, the league has been so relentlessly ham-handed on so many things that, as convenient as this may be for it, we should stop expecting it to do so, to the point that when someone from the league wants to explain some social issue to us we should simply say with one voice, “Oh, shut up, you yammering frauds.”

It is difficult to prioritize the number of ways the Giants failed to comprehend the problem currently smacking them between the numbers, although owner John Mara’s “He admitted to us he'd abused his wife in the past. What’s a little unclear is the extent of that” may summarize it nicely.

Put another way, one could make a case that the Giants extended the universal talent-tolerance scale (if you have the talent, anything can be tolerated until it can’t) to include placekickers.

That seems less likely, though, than the more obvious point that the league doesn’t regard domestic violence as something worth concerning itself with, while bloviating all the time about all the things with which it is concerned. The league is the beat cop who never gets out of his car to see what is happening on his beat, and is shocked when something does.

And while it will be handy to pile this atop the list of reasons why Commissioner Roger Goodell doesn’t get it, the truth is he is merely the painful rash that reveals the league’s case of shingles. The league’s 32 constituent elements are culpable here because ignorance in the face of so much evidence becomes willful, and Goodell’s skill is not in guiding the league but in figuring out where his 32 bosses want him to go, and avoiding all the places they don’t.

Hence, domestic violence. This is not an easy problem to solve, as any expert will say, but Mara trying to decide how many punches are enough isn’t it. The league’s six-game suspension guideline that is now four years old has never been imposed on any player. It wants the power to use the talent-tolerance scale at whim to do what it wishes when it wishes to do it.

Or in this case, not do anything at all until it has to, and then in as minimal a fashion as it can manage.

So, Josh Brown loses a week in a foreign country on the company dime as a trade-off for continually terrorizing his wife. The league says it punished him for a game but was powerless to do anything else while knowing all along how severe the problem had become.

In short, it did the minimum. Now that everyone knows the fullest extent of Brown’s abuse, and how much the league knew without doing anything, it will now extend the minimum out to what it thinks is a new minimum.

So we now know that the NFL is looking for some metric that will determine the transactional “extent of that,” as John Mara so eloquently put it for us. When it comes up with that formula, it will surely ignore that standard, because the real standard is still “talent-tolerance,” and the world is made up of concentric circles surrounding the people who make the league and its members a dollar more tomorrow than it made today.

And spouses are a long way from the center.

Silent but effective Sharks look to be an under-the-radar power

Silent but effective Sharks look to be an under-the-radar power

The National Hockey League began its 685th season (or whatever the hell it is; the other reason to know is for the yobs who have to authenticate the shoulder patches), and apparently is going to belong to Auston Matthews and Connor McDavid and the new focus on speed and attack and goals.

At least that was the talk after Night One of 179, in which the first three games of the new season featured some mid-‘80s level run-and-run play. The Ottawa-Toronto game gave us Matthews’ first four NHL goals in a game his Torontos lost, 5-4. The Edmonton-Calgary game finished 7-4, with the nonpareil McDavid scoring twice. Even the St. Louis Blues and Chicago Blackhawks engaged in some fun-time up-and-down play in a 5-2 St. Louis victory.

But here, we get cold, hard sanity – the discipline and territorial integrity that is the hallmark of the new-ish and ever-so-slightly improved San Jose Sharks. They opened their defense of the Not-Quite-Stanley Cup with a very grind-y 2-1 win over the allegedly declining but still obstinate Los Angeles Kings.

[KURZ: Instant Replay: Couture, Burns push Sharks past Kings]

Guess which game won’t be talked about come the morning’s national rehashes. And guess who won’t give a farthing’s worth of damn.

Matthews and McDavid will of course dominate – Matthews, because he is a Toronto Maple Leafs and all things Leaf trump all things anything else in this still-defiantly Canadian league, and McDavid, because he helped usher in the brand new civic boondoggle . . . err, arena in Edmonton with two goals and the quote of the night.

“I don't think I touched the puck four times in my first game,” McDavid said, telling what is clearly a monumental whopper because he knows a good story when it is thrust upon him.

That will get run.

The Sharks, on the other hand, have resumed their plan running silent and running deep. Despite having the territorial and chance edges, the Skating Selachimorpha needed to stay true to their truth, which is that 11-goal games are not to their advantage, and that the sum of the whole must exceed its parts.

That’s how they got to hang a new banner from the rafters of The Old Grey Girl on Santa Clara Street – by keeping their heads when all about them are scoring theirs off.

Then again, the Sharks have older legs in key positions, greater expectations than Get The Puck To The Young’uns and Try Not To Finish 13th, and a coach in Peter (Chuckles) DeBoer who has the pressure of taking last year’s stealth success and finish the job the Pittsburgh Penguins prevented them from doing a year ago.

In short, the Sharks are likely to be just as under-the-radar this year as they were last, and assuming health and focus, they are still one of the two or three best teams in the Western Conference.

It’s just that they can’t run hither and yon chasing whatever puck looks tempting to them. Their first duty is to maintain defensive integrity, which they did with fervor and purpose Wednesday night, and their second is to see to it that goaltender Martin Jones is not oppressively treated by the opponent (San Jose outshot Los Angeles 31-22, and totally outshot the Kings, 73-58).

There was, in short, relatively little to make anyone wax euphoric about this team off one game, and in fairness, Kings coach Darryl Sutter knows how to keep games into the race-to-three stage, which may color the judgment some.

But the Sharks are playing the way they have learned works best for them, and that means gumming up passing (15 takeaways) and shooting lanes (21 blocked shots). They are like the Kings – well, the Kings of a couple of years ago – than they are the newest incarnations of the Oilers or Leafs, and based on history, that shall be considered a good thing.

Of course, the game, she is a’changing, and at some point in the next couple of years the changes that every season brings will become substantive ones, the old core will give way to a new one, and the current orthodoxy that speed is the most important component to happy-happy-win-joy will overtake San Jose.

DeBoer, though, showed against last night that is perfectly comfortable dancing with who brung him, as the kids no longer say, and making the most of what Providence has offered him. And Wednesday, as it did for most of the past year save the lost fortnight in Pennsylvania, that philosophy once again came up trumps.

Well, maybe that’s a saying we should probably forgo for awhile. Let’s just leave it at “Sharks, twice as many as Kings.” That’s a good enough result to get paid off in this league, and until DeBoer is asked for style points, that will more than suffice.