“The hard part about playing chicken is knowin’ when to flinch” – Captain Bart Mancuso in the Hunt for Red October

All labor negotiations are like a game of chicken. The players, to their credit, didn’t flinch.

At long last, the NHL has finally accepted that the player’s union stands squarely behind its leadership. In an unprecedented display of solidarity, last week the NHLPA voted 706 to 22 to dissolve and potentially pursue legal action against the league.

After coming close to an agreement after American Thanksgiving and earlier in December, the NHLPA threw up its hands and threathened a final recourse, dissolution. The owners and governors only sat up and took notice when the NHLPA showed, by vote, that they wouldn’t back down and would rather dissolve then play for these NHL owners.

Why didn’t they do it sooner? The answer is simple. They had to explore every avenue open to them to bring the league to the table and bargain in good faith. The league continued to remain intransigent.Last week, the time had finally come where the NHLPA felt they had exhausted all avenues.

Since their first draconian offer in July, the league has been trying to fracture, neigh, break the back of the NHLPA. Using every means at its disposal, primarily the media and the court of public (fan) opinion, the league attempted time and time again to show that it was the players who were greedy, who were stalling, who were unwilling to compromise after the NHL’s “Make Whole” offer.

Truth be told, percentages of HRR and “Make Whole” turned out to be less important then the real sticking point in every offer and counteroffer the NHL put on the table. What really mattered to the players most in these negotiations was the NHL’s unwillingness to budge on their ridiculous demands regarding changes to restricted and unrestricted free agency.

Apparently, the latest offer the league has made includes the same terms for RFAs and UFAs as under the expired CBA. When threatened with the loss of the season and dissolution of the NHLPA, many desparate owners must have put the screws to the hardline owners to cave in about player RFA/UFA eligibility. Why did it take the league so long?

The NHL pushed the NHLPA’s back to the wall. The NHL forfeited a whole season once before. They thought the threat of doing so again would make the players cave. What they didn’t count on was the model recent labor disputes in the NFL and the NBA were able to provide the NHLPA. Those precedents emboldened the NHLPA to go to the mat to get the best deal possible.

If the NHLPA comes out of all this with a fair deal, then all the missed games were worth it. I’ll go to games and watch them on TV because I love the New York Rangers. I love our players. I hope the lockout has provided all of the boys the rest and healing they needed after last season’s playoff run. In fact, the lockout may have done Ranger players and fans a favor.

I can’t wait to go to the Garden and see that 2011-2012 Atlantic Division Championship banner.


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