As things stand on November 14, it’s hard to feel any kind of optimism about the NHL and NHLPA reaching any kind of a deal to salvage any part of the 2012-13 season. In all honesty, it should have been predictable – but way too many people put way too much faith in the ability of both sides to compromise. Some famous guy once put out a definition of insanity; some of you may know how it goes. It applies just as much to the current situation and the continued faith in Donald Fehr and Gary Bettman to actually reach a deal.
The problem at this point is that both sides have negotiated into positions that are largely no-win proposals (in the sense that neither side’s proposal truly fixes the problems in the 2005 without creating new problems), but which they can’t back out of for fear of being overrun by the other side … and yet, neither side’s proposal can be easily synced up with the other. It’s like planning to build a road between Kansas City and St. Louis, and finding out over halfway into the process that one side went NE toward Des Moines and the other side went SW toward Springfield; you can’t just say “well, let’s pave a road between and things will be fine.” Throw in the egos of Fehr and Bettman, and the reported push from Bruins owner Jeremy Jacobs to stick it to the players no matter what, and you have a perfect scenario for seeing the ’12-13 season get scuttled.
This is probably the best time for arbitration to be introduced as a means of reaching a deal, but would it really be effective? Again, given the positions taken I don’t see how arbitration bridges the gap – and certainly it’s difficult to see how either side accepts anything suggested.
So … if both sides are really interested in a 2012-13 season (which is a dubious assumption at this point), what should each side do?
Simple: start all over. Drop all of the offers that have been suggested and exchanged, and drop all of the “we have to have ___, we’re not giving up ____” ultimatums that have been put forth, and start from scratch. Go back to the beginning, put emotions aside, and lay out “this is what we want, this is what we’re willing to give up” and start looking at how to reach a solution that works for both sides and actually fixes the problems that exist without creating new ones going forward. That may mean changing who leads the negotiations on each side; that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Having fresh eyes look at things can be helpful, and may help find compromises that the current leaders are unwilling to make.
Will that happen? Probably not – at least not in the short-term. It’s much more likely each side digs in even more on principle and we lose the ’12-13 season within the next few weeks. However, much like the talks that finally led to the resolution of the 2004-05 lockout, at some point someone is going to have to say “let’s try to find another way to get this done."