Let there be no confusion about the NHL lockout that is now less than 48 hours from its official launch: This is about cash and who gets more of it.
Just as when a player claims his new contract "isn't about the money," when Donald Fehr says his NHLPA stance is about growing the game, or when commissioner Gary Bettman says the dispute is about ensuring stability for the league, they are -- all of them -- just spinning their side.
It's about the money.
If these sides were purely interested in "growing the game" and maintaining league "stability," they'd have arrived at a deal in the spring. The NHLPA would have begun negotiations before mid-summer. The NHL would have made a halfway reasonable first offer rather than an outright money grab.
Every painful, arduous step this summer has been a "reasonably calculated" -- one of Fehr's favorite phrases -- negotiating tactic designed to get the other side to blink first.
For the owners, Bettman can cite how unanimous his group is, but the reality of their self-imposed gag rule is it exists so that Bettman can provide a front over owners who aren't much interested in helping each other. Bettman can act like revenue sharing is but a minor discussion around a bigger problem. But he knows the league would not be both profitable and filled with several money-losing teams as it is now if the big-market owners had any interest in helping the small-market owners whose losses help make their teams look so damn good.
Better to take from the players than to sort out uncomfortable issues with each other.
For the players, Fehr can feign "surprise" and "disappointment" at the owners' strategy, and he can pretend that because the owners "won" in 2005 they shouldn't request changes now even though the economics have changed over the past seven years, but the reality is Fehr is an experienced negotiating tactician -- one with many work stoppages on his resume -- who knows damn well why the owners want to change a system they agreed to in 2005.
Fehr knows the players wouldn't be so willing to continue under the existing system if it didn't already reward them quite handsomely as salaries escalate while half the league loses money. Fehr knows the owners wouldn't be so interested in a lockout if the players didn't have their own hammer, a pre-playoff strike, available to them if the season began on time.
There is a logical middle ground here, but the two sides are too distrustful of each other's moves -- and too invested in their own gains -- over the last 20 years to seek it.
So now the two sides, headed toward an almost orchestrated lockout both knew was coming, hold their press conferences and frame the above issues in their own self-pitying way. Fehr gave a dour, almost eulogizing 25-minute press conference where he asked reporters to see things his way as if he were a cherub sent to save the league from itself. He was flanked by players to show just how united these average joes (heh) in flip-flops are.
Bettman gave his standard labor catastrophe speech, mourning another stoppage in his sport by saying, "This is very hard and I feel terrible about it." Which is certainly true, but no one will empathize because everyone knows why it's so hard. His only PR mistake Thursday was to describe the current CBA in a self-effacing way that plays well live but looks horrible in print: "We made what we thought was a fair deal ... It actually turned out to be more fair than perhaps it should have been."
Yes, the name of the game here isn't "fair." There is no "fair" here. There is only money.