Allen: NHL, players must find way to mend fences

9:37 AM, Jan 7, 2013   |    comments
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The 10-year deal, with a reopener option after eight years, is a benefit for both sides because it ensures there won't be another management-labor battle anytime soon.

The next time we talk CBA, NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr and Commissioner Gary Bettman likely will be retired, a prospect that undoubtedly pleases many hockey fans.

The official position of the NHLPA was that it desired a shorter CBA because it's difficult to predict what will happen beyond five years and because within five years the majority of players will be new and deserving of a say in their future.

Yet most players older than 26 or 27 are probably thrilled that they might not have to go through another CBA battle.

But having a 10-year CBA doesn't change the basic underlying problem: The relationship between the NHL and its players isn't as friendly as it should be.

That issue won't change simply because there's a signed agreement. They are going to have to work at it. They have to stop talking about a partnership and actually form one, not in the legal sense, because players don't want anything to do with shared risk.

They need to form a partnership in the sense of building the sport together.

It needs to start with realignment and NHL participation in the 2014 Olympics. The NHL and players' association need to talk about those issues like people who have mutual interests and not differing agendas.

The NHL has previously opened the doors toward player participation in rules changes, but it needs to swing that door open wider.

I don't believe either side enjoys or wants the combative nature of their relationship. In my 27 years of covering the NHL, I've observed that owners, as a rule, genuinely like the players they employ.

It was laughable during the lockout to hear players suggest they were being treated like "animals" or "cattle," because probably every owner has been accused, at one time or another, of giving a player more than he deserved. When they are not in the throes of negotiating, the majority of players would say they are treated well by their teams.

In the modern game, coaches usually talk with captains, or senior players, about scheduling and rest.

NHL officials actually like the men who play their game, and they always have. At one point during the lockout, an NHL official and I were talking about a miscommunication issue after a bargaining session.

He told me he was sure it wasn't the fault of the players in the room "because NHL players don't lie."

That doesn't sound like someone who doesn't respect players. He clearly viewed players as men of character, even in the midst of a heated negotiation.

It really wouldn't take much to grow a fertile relationship from what now seems like scorched earth. It just requires players to be more respectful in their comments about the commissioner and the league.

It requires the NHL be open to the idea that inviting players into the tent could help turn the league into a better show. It needs to talk to more players, beyond the competition committee - about rules, equipment and safety - among other issues.

It requires the NHLPA to stop looking at every move the league makes as another chance to gain leverage or get the lawyers involved.

Finally, it will require Bettman and Fehr to act a little less like adversaries and just a little like guys who understand there is reward in working together.

The last requirement might be the most difficult to achieve.

(Copyright © 2013 USA TODAY)

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