Another Reason Not To Hope
If you imagine that as soon as the paycheques for NHL players aren't arriving that the hints of mutiny will begin to appear, you might be right. This is, after all, the flimsiest of unions that turned inwards upon itself in a spectacular civil war just seven years ago.
The fact players in increasing numbers are fleeing the fight and heading to Europe every day tells you all you need to know about NHLPA unity.
But this fact is also true; there won't be a mutiny this time.
Not because the players are any more dedicated to each other or the cause.
There's just no way to make it happen, or no easy way, at least. Why? Well, because in attempting to establish a democracy within the NHLPA, an iron-fisted dictatorship has been created.
They toppled Bob Goodenow last time, tore down his statue in city square. Don Fehr, who knows Goodenow well, won't be letting that happen to him.
Fehr, you'll recall, consulted the union when it was going through the process of instituting internal structural change after the political decapitation of Paul Kelly.
Back in the '04-05 lockout, the NHLPA gave responsibility to a seven-man negotiating committee, which worked with Goodenow. After the shocking proposal to give back 24 per cent of player salaries went out, one most players weren't aware of when it was proferred, the negotiating committee led by Trevor Linden started feeling the heat. The body was small enough that eventually it was turned, albeit not until after the season was lost.
Then came the Ted Saskin affair, and then came the disastrous imposition of a structure in which Kelly was made boss and surrounded by people dedicated to his ouster, like Eric Lindros and Ian Penny. After Kelly was fired, a new effort was started to organize the union, and ultimately Fehr was brought in to help.
Now he's benefitting from that which he helped organize. No more ombudsmen and player reps and internal counsels to bring down an NHLPA executive director. And no more chance of mutiny because there's no small negotiating body dealing with the owners.
Now it's 30 team reps to work with Fehr, and that's it. That's why over the course of the summer 72 different players participated in the "bargaining," frustrating to the league since very few had a solid grasp of the issues because they were in and out so often. Steve Montador has been the most committed of the players, but he has no more power than any other player, really.
Power has been diffused to such a great extent within the union that no individual but Fehr has muscle now. So this standoff - blame the owners if you want, but neither side is negotiating - will go on for as long as Fehr believes it must.
The owners have proposed drastic change, the players have basically proposed little or no change and for the owners to solve their problems by reaching into each other's pockets. The union's position is basically to say "no," and while that is understandable against the very, very questionable demands of owners who care not a fig for the sport itself, it doesn't advance the process much. Not only will there not be any 24 per cent rollback offers, right now it appears the union won't be offering anything, period. Not for the forseeable future.
At some point, if weeks turn into months, players will start grumbling. But they'll have nowhere to go with their grumbling, outside of their own player rep. Then that rep, if he were like-minded, would have to convince another 15 player reps that change was required before a serious movement could start. Individuals can take to Twitter, but it won't get them anywhere.
Last time, pressure could be brought to bear against Linden and the negotiating committee by various superstars. Now? The NHLPA structure is basically mutiny-proof.
For those players who never want to repeat the collapse of 2005, that's good news.
But for anyone who believes the end to this lockout lies in the union cracking, there's almost no chance of that happening. Fehr helped set this union up the way its set up, and as the person now in charge, it's made him bulletproof. This negotiation is about Fehr and his brother, Steve - believed by many to be his hand-picked successor as agreed to by the union as a condition of Fehr's hiring - as much as it is about commissioner Gary Bettman.
The owners won't turn on Bettman. And the players can't turn on the Fehr Bros.
So there won't be hockey in October and November. Maybe none at all.