NHL Lockout Updates: Leverage vs. Leverage

Sometimes Kim Jung Il looks at things, and sometimes Gary Bettman rides escalators. - Bruce Bennett

The NHL would love the NHLPA (and you) to believe they will cancel the season without a deal. The NHLPA would love the NHL (and you) to believe they'll file for disclaiming interest.

If I were looking out for your best interests I would say stop paying attention to NHL lockout news and we'll wake you when it's over ... if it ever ends.

But since you're here, I'll just offer what keeps me sane through all this: This is a negotiation. The posturing, the back-channel bad-mouthing, and the venting are all sadly part of the process when two sides are trying to leverage every last ounce from that turnip.

So yesterday (Thursday, Jan. 3) was a bit of an ugly, stalled day ("embarrassing to worse," Pierre LeBrun called it) because the players were pissed about a change in a minor clause in the offer they received a week ago, and the league was trying to keep things moving in their direction without ticking the players off.

Nakedly, you can see two leverage or "hammer" tactics at work, clear as day:

Unfortunately, neither side trusts the other enough to stop resorting to these hypothetical hammers -- in part because they're certain the other side is purely intent on exploiting every weakness. (They're even fighting out part of that in court, with the PA shooting some solid holes in the league's pre-emptive home-court strike.)

But as long as the sides keep inching closer together, it would be insane for a deal not to be done. Here's a detailed look at one of those real issues that's actually being negotiated: the question of limiting contract "variance" to prevent back-diving contracts.

Of course, if anything could sabotage the whole process this close to the finish line, it is the sheer force of will possessed by both Gary Bettman and Donald Fehr. Their strength in representing their sides is also the weakness that threatens to destroy the entire enterprise.

(Among the many, many differences between sports labor disputes and real-world labor disputes is that seldom do people outside of the business or workers' families care about normal labor disputes, so there is not nearly the same outside pressure and appeal to the customer. The attention paid to sports disputes seems to feed their insanity.)

Fehr and Bettman are going to push it as far to the brink as they can, and they'll appeal via the media to the fans and to perceived moderates on the other side every time they think their momentum has stalled. Their constituents, hopefully, will tell them when to say enough.

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