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Tuesday, February 15

Paging Harry Sinden  

Is Harry Sinden now advising the NHL on its negotiating tactics? Old Harry liked to use this strategy with Bruins free agents he didn't want to sign. He'd go back and forth with the agent for a while and then right before the player was eligible to declare free agency, he'd throw down a take-it or leave-it offer that he knew was unacceptable. Once the player had spurned to offer and declared free agency, he'd start a full PR blitz to blame the player for abandoning the fans of Boston. It worked a few times. It will be interesting to see if it works for the NHL here. Dan Duquette also used this tactic in negotiating with Roger Clemons and Mo Vaughn, among others. There's really no way to respond to such bad faith tactics except through the media. Hopefully the NHLPA is prepared to control the message starting tonight because you can bet the NHL is going to pound away that it's the players who've killed the season.

The league bumped its salary-cap proposal from $40 million to $42.5 million Tuesday and gave the players' association until 11 a.m. Wednesday to accept. If they reject it, the season would be canceled two hours later, according to a letter sent by commissioner Gary Bettman to players' association executive director Bob Goodenow.

"This offer is not an invitation to begin negotiations — it's too late for that," Bettman said in the letter obtained by The Associated Press. "This is our last effort to make a deal that's fair to the players and one that the clubs (hopefully) can afford. We have no more flexibility and there is no time for further negotiation."

In the final bargaining session between NHL chief legal officer Bill Daly and players' association senior director Ted Saskin, the league dropped its longstanding demand for a link between revenues and player costs.

In return, the union came off its reluctance to a salary cap — and proposed one.

The cap the players offered was a soft cap of $52 million, a source close to the negotiations told the AP on condition of anonymity. Teams would be allowed to spend up to 10 percent above that three times in six years but would be subject to an escalating luxury tax on anything above $40 million.

The league knows their offer is unacceptable, but they've structured their final offer to provide some simple talking points.

  1. The players rejected the league's offer and forced the cancellation of the season. It's the players' fault.
  2. The league and the players were less than $10m apart when the players forced the cancellation of the season. The players are greedy.
  3. The owners were willing to negotiate until the last minute, but the players spurned those offers. The players lack good faith.

I'm sure there are a couple of others that I've missed here. I had read the NHL's intent wrong before. I had thought they'd cancel the season over Superbowl weekend to take the heat off such an announcement. I had forgotten that it's far better to blame the other side than admit to mutual failure. So the NHL simply built momentum during the NFL playoffs for this announcement, but wanted to wait for the dead time between NFL and MLB seasons to make the announcement in an effort to smear the players when sports writers have nothing else to talk about (except the NBA). It was a shrewd decision, and we'll see if the players are ready to push back. Already they've botched things by allowing so many media outlets to refer to the lockout as a strike, we'll see now if they're ready for some real mud slinging.



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