NHL labor dispute is about nothing more than Jacobs vs. Fehr

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NHL labor dispute is about nothing more than Jacobs vs. Fehr

Well, we finally got to the crux of the NHL labor problem. Actually, we were always there, but Thursday just cemented it.

This is not about money, or contract length, or any of the other minutiae that collective bargaining creates. It is about Boston Bruins owner Jeremy Jacobs and NHLPA head Don Fehr, and it always was.

The owners demonized Fehr the day he took the job running the NHL Players Association because they were sure he wanted to destroy them – a neat trick since he’d never tried to do that in his years in baseball, and that sport has had labor peace for the last 17 years, most of which he was there for.

The players already demonized Gary Bettman, and by extension the hardline owners who had kept him secure as commissioner, and the hardest of the hardliners was, is, and will always be Jeremy Jacobs.

So it was Jacobs v. Fehr from the start, and negotiations are not done over personalities. They are destroyed over personalities.

And for this parlous state of affairs, we can actually ask a question: Why do the moderate owners in the league never step up and say, “We want to be the ones in the room”? Why did they do what they always do – sit back and expect the hardliners to get them the best deal possible? Why do they end up being the ones complaining the deal doesn’t work for them when they’ve done so little to craft the deal themselves?

We ask this because baseball learned that lesson 17 years ago, while Fehr was still in charge of the union. They realized that the deal is more important than the personalities, and the deals got done. Then Fehr moved on, replaced himself by a moderate figure in Michael Weiner, and the players and owners are now closer to actually being partners than ever before. There is now labor peace, the game has grown dramatically, and everyone seems quite happy.

Is this Fehr’s doing alone? Of course not. Owners had to realize that beating the union shouldn’t be the goal. Getting the deal should be the goal. And when baseball’s owners figured that out, Fehr no longer had to be the iron bar in everyone’s spokes.

Why then, you ask, did the NHLPA hire him? Because they’d been hammered in the previous deal when Bob Goodenow was their boss. He let it be about personalities, too, and the owners were only happy to oblige in kind, and with superior firepower. That cost a season, and a television contract. And that deal turned out to be bad for some owners too – not because the union crafted it so brilliantly, but because the owners circumvented it so often that it became not a contract but a footpath.

There is a reason why the distribution of wealth in the NHL is so top-heavy, after all. The few teams that can make money do, and don’t really like distributing it -- not to the poorest franchise who are in some cases beyond redemption, and definitely not to middle-class clubs who are trying to operate on the square and still gets their hats blocked year after year.

But come CBA time, they all unite around a common theme – hating the guy who runs the NHLPA. It is the hardliners’ song of choice, and it is so now.

It is interesting that talks allegedly went well when Fehr and Bettman were out of the room – although, bafflingly, Jacobs and Murray Edwards of Calgary, another fierce hardliner, were allowed to stay in. Then when the players wanted Fehr to return, owners said that could be a deal-breaker. And, as events showed, it was. A voicemail rejection is essentially saying, “We didn’t need your proposal to reject it. We needed only to know you would make one.”

And who handled that presser? Bettman. The designated bad-news-deliverer-for-hire. The money is that good that he would rather be equated for all time with the worst part of the sport than not do it.

So it goes. This season seems deader than dead now, because the hardline owners would rather kill Fehr than run their hockey teams. And the players cannot abandon Fehr without losing face and being worse off than they were after the Goodenow fiasco. This is indisputably true, and leaves us with the true issue dividing these two sides.

One side has Jeremy Jacobs. The other side has Don Fehr. Fehr isn’t leaving the room if Jacobs isn’t, and Jacobs is never leaving the room. Impasse-by-ass.

And the moderate owners– screwed again, by their own disinterest. They deserve it, too, because there are more of them than any other faction, but they don’t want to bother enough to crash the room and make the deal that can potentially enrich them all. They’d rather let the hardliners deliver them a contract, and then let the wealthiest clubs steamroll their way around it.

So for once it isn’t about the money. And at this point, the only way to save the season is to bring the hardline owners led by Jacobs and Fehr together, lock them in a room – and then negotiate somewhere else.

You do that, you get a deal. You don’t do that, and celebrity curling becomes the new hot TV property.

Ray Ratto is a columnist for CSNBayArea.com

A sports-related pie-fixing scandal? Hell never felt so fun

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AP

A sports-related pie-fixing scandal? Hell never felt so fun

I’m liking this 2017 so far. Then again, after 2016, nearly any year would be an improvement.

Just this last weekend we got a flat-earth scandal that turned into a mock-up about media self-importance and fake news (yay Kyrie Irving and his impish sense of satire!).

We got the overblown Russell-Hates-Kevin narrative, and the faux Russell-Secretly-Loves-Kevin counternarrative, all because we are stunningly attracted to meaningless and utterly contrived drama (yay our ability to B.S. ourselves!).

We got the NBA All-Star Game ripped for having no defense even though last year’s game was, if anything, worse (yay short attention span!).

We got the Boogie Cousins trade and the national revulsion of all the thought processes the Sacramento Kings put into this perpetually rolling disaster (yay making Boogie and Vivek Ranadive household names!).

And now we got the Great Sutton United Pie-Fixing Scandal. Yeah, pie-fixing. Hell never felt so fun.

So here’s the deal. Sutton United, a very small fry in English soccer, got to the fifth round of the FA Cup, a competition in which all the clubs in England are commingled and play each other until one team remains. The big clubs almost always win, so any time a small club goes deep, it’s a big deal.

Anyway, Sutton went deeper in the competition than nearly anyone in the last century, a charming development given that it is such a small club that it had a stadium caretaker, goalie coach and backup goalie all in one massive fellow, a 46-year-old guy named Wayne Shaw. Shaw became the globular embodiment of the entire Sutton Experience, a jolly lark for everyone involved and especially when he ate a pie on the bench in the final minutes of Sutton’s Cup-exiting loss to Arsenal.

And now he’s been eased into resigning his jobs with the club, because – and this is so very British – there were betting shops taking action on whether he would in fact eat a pie on the bench, and he either did or did not tip off his pals that he was going to chow down on television.

He did eat the pie. His pals collected on their bets. The sport’s governing body opened an investigation into market manipulation by gambling – which is hilarious given that no fewer than 10 gambling establishments have advertising deals with English soccer clubs. Shaw was invited to quit to kill the story, and he took the hint.

Hey, dreams die all the time. But it’s still pie-fixing. Let that rattle around your head for a minute. Pie-fixing. Not match-fixing. Not point-shaving. Pie-fixing.

Now how can you not love this year?

Sure, it sucks for Shaw, but it serves as a series of cautionary tales for athletes around the world.

* Gambling is everywhere, and every time you inch toward it, you dance on the third rail.

* If you want to help your friends, give them cash.

* This is a horribly delicious way to lose your gig.

* And finally, fun in the 21st century isn’t ever truly fun because someone in a suit and a snugly-placed stick is going to make sure you pay full retail for that fun.

But it is nice to know that something that has never happened before is now part of our year. Pie-fixing is a thing now, as silly in its way as Irving’s flat-earth narrative was. And as we steer away from normal games as being too run-of-the-mill-fuddy-duddy entertainment, we have replaced them with sideshows.

Or do you forget how many people complained Saturday and Sunday that the dunk contest wasn’t interesting enough? How stupid is that?

Lots. Lots of stupid. But against pie-tin-shaped planets and pies turned into betting coups, how can it possibly compare?

We chase a lot of idiotic narratives in our sporting lives. The great What Will The Patriots Do To Roger Goodell story died like the old dog it was. We still try to flog Warriors-Thunder as a rivalry in search of better TV ratings when all the obvious evidence is that it is no such thing unless you think a couple that broke up nine months ago is still a solid story. We have Bachelor fantasy leagues, for God’s sake.

This would leave most normal folks in despair, thus matching their everyday experiences, but yin meets yang, and every time it looks like we are all barrel-rolling into the sun, we get Irving, and then we get Wayne Shaw.

In short, 2017 is going to be fun of grand surprises for us all. I look forward to the day President Trump tries to fete the Patriots and only gets to Skype with Bob Kraft and the equipment guys who midwifed DeflateGate, and Mark Davis in Las Vegas, just to see if he can get a P.F. Chang’s into the Bellagio.

Why not? This is sport’s year-long tribute to sketch comedy, and evidently everyone is signing on enthusiastically to replace lessons of morality and honor and equality and dignity and sportsmanship with slackened jaws and belly laughs.

So yay sports! Or as it is clearly becoming, A Night At The Improv.
 

Patriots win one for the ages, but where does it rank?

Patriots win one for the ages, but where does it rank?

The price of watching Roger Goodell being booed back to the Bronze Age is a subtle but real one, and one that people will feel very dearly soon enough.

The last great cathartic Super Bowl is now done, with the New England Patriots winning the brilliant and decisive battle to be sports’ new evil empire. In doing so, it rendered Goodell a permanent and risible punch line in National Football League history, the mall cop who wanted the death penalty for littering, and in the words of the song “got what he wanted but he lost what he had.”

True, $40 million a year can make the dissolution of your public persona a reasonably decent tradeoff, but we lost the argument about who won his windmill tilt with the Patriots. It’s done, and he is now permanently and irrevocably a figure of ridicule.

But that’s not the only debating point America lost Sunday night, and while you wouldn’t think it given how much time we are willing to shouting at each other, quality arguments are not easily replaced.

We have almost surely lost the mindless debate about the best quarterback ever, because there is nothing anyone can bring up that the words “Tom Brady” cannot rebut except calling his own plays, and since that is no longer allowed in football, it is a silly asterisk to apply.

We have almost surely lost the equally silly shouter about the best coach ever. Bill Belichick is defiantly not fun, but he has built, improved and bronzed an organizational model that is slowly swallowing the rest of the sport. That and five trophies makes him the equal if not better of the short list of Paul Brown, George Halas, Vince Lombardi, Bill Walsh and Tom Landry.

Plus, Belichick locked up the most absurd response to a question in coaching history Monday when he said, “As great as today feels . . . we're five weeks behind the other teams for the 2017 season.” Even allowing for Gregg Popovich in-game interviews, the so-grim-he-could-make-a-robot-cry worship-the-process response has now become a cliché. If 2017 prep was so important, he should have skipped yesterday’s game, and he definitely should have chosen not to waste so much time on the trophy stand after the game when training camp drills needed to be scheduled.

Oh, and DeflateGate died. Dead. No zombie possibilities here.

We do have a meatheaded argument ahead of us about which championship in the last year is the best, which can be settled here.

1. Leicester City, because 5,000-1 is 5,000-1, and the whole world understands that. Plus, there was invaluable three-month buildup that engaged non-soccer fans.

2. Chicago Cubs, because 108 years is 108 years.

3. New England Patriots, because . . . well, I don’t have to explain it unless you have no useful memory span. “Down 25 In The Third Quarter” is the new “Down 3-1.”

4. Cleveland Cavaliers, because they slayed the first unbeatable Warrior team by coming from 3-1 down, and even as a silver medalist, it will always be an internet meme, which is what passes for memorable in our decrepit culture.

5. (tie) Villanova basketball and Clemson football in a tie, because they were essentially the same great game.

7. The Pittsburgh Penguins, because the Stanley Cup Final was devoid of drama or high moments, and only 14:53 of overtime. Feh.

But everything else is settled, and this Super Bowl will not be topped for a long time. Our current cycle of absurd championships is almost surely going to end soon, because “Down 3-1” has happened twice in eight months (three times, if you count Warriors over Thunder), and the bar has now been placed well beyond reasonable clearing.

Indeed, the only thing left is for a championship team to spontaneously combust on the award stand. But if they do so and ignite Roger Goodell along the way, that would be an ending America would cheerfully endorse.

But that also isn’t an argument any more, and yes, that includes Gary Bettman.