Bully [bool-ee] verb (without subject) - to be loudly arrogant and overbearing.

Insanity, according to Albert Einstein is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

Generally, labor disputes in professional sports are very complex and difficult to explain.  Not only the “whys,” but the “whats” are near impossible to pinpoint whenever anyone asks the inevitable: “Why can they not agree,” and “What will it take to get an agreement?”  I just summed up the NHL vs. NHLPA, Act 3 in just two words.

Yesterday, as the NHL owners and NHLPA concluded their meeting for the day, we saw an end to the cliché answers and responses of “we are continuing to have open dialogue” blah blah.  For the first time, the word “lockout” was officially used, and to no surprise here, it was uttered by the commissioner of the league, Gary Bettman.

“I re-confirmed something that the union has been told multiple times over the last nine to twelve months.  Namely, that the time is getting short and the owners are not prepared to operate under this collective bargaining agreement for another season, so we need to get to making a deal and doing it soon.”

Bear in mind, this all comes without even having a proposal from the players, which is expected to be handed to the league next Tuesday.  Those are some awfully damning words from the commish, considering he hasn’t even received anything from the players to reject.  So, Bettman has resorted to empty threats…bullying.

I can’t help but wonder if Mr. Bettman is a baseball fan and if so, does he remember the strike-shortened season that wiped out the World Series?  Not to re-hash what occurred, but a Donald Fehr-led MLBPA voted to strike when the owners insisted on a salary cap.  Even with the use of a federal mediator, Major League Baseball voted to implement a cap, but held off enforcing it to see if they could entice striking players back.  The following month, the league revoked the cap.

Talk them moved to replacement players being used to play the 1995 season.  There were several teams such as Baltimore and Toronto who didn’t even agree to this conclusion and the state of Maryland even took steps to prevent replacement players being allowed to play games at Camden Yards.

In the end, despite the fact the players looked like asses, it was the owners who got taken to the cleaners.  No salary cap was imposed.  MLB was ordered to pay damages to a certain number of players and probably the largest blow was a partial repeal of baseball’s antitrust exemption.

So, how does that relate to the NHL and the looming lockout?  The only consistent here is Donald Fehr.  In a twist, however, it’s Fehr who’s playing the “good guy,” as he stated even before the off season got into full swing, the players would play the 2012-2013 under the current agreement; an agreement that was drafted by the league when they cancelled the 2005 season in its entirety. 

Unfortunately, because the owners practically got absolutely everything they sought in the 2005 lockout, there is little doubt and reason for the board of governors to want to expel Bettman from his leadership post.  To them, the ship isn’t broken from that stand point.  But, as Einstein pointed out, if Bettman remains and things continue as status quo, then nothing will change and even if an agreement is agreed upon to save 2012-13 season, look for hockey to return to this point again in 5 to 7 years.

However, I do see a change in the league offices on the horizon.  There are two outcomes possible with this dispute.  The first is a repeat of seven years ago.  The owners vote to wipe out the season and there is no hockey…NHL version, anyways.  The difference this time (and I pointed this out in my open letter to the NHL in a previous article) is there are so many more options available to hockey fans.  American Hockey League has expanded.  The Central Hockey League has expanded to where Denver, CO will have a new team play their inaugural season.  The NAHL (North American Hockey League) is an amazing league full of the best young talent who are about to enter either college or juniors.  Of course, more and more players are being lured overseas, in particular, the KHL.  In my opinion, all these available options will drive a wedge between fans and the NHL if/when they return from any work stoppage.  If there are no fans to bring a league back to, then ultimately, Gary Bettman will be gone.

The other outcome, which I believe will be the final result, is regardless if there is a lockout or not, and no matter the time frame, an agreement is reached.  However, with Donald Fehr at the helm for the players, the NHLPA get their concessions met just as the baseball players did 18 years ago.  Fehr has already asked the NHL, “One more year…we’ll play one more year under the agreement YOU drafted in 2005 just so we don’t have another stoppage.”  Clearly, that’s the kind of thing that will garner the support of the fans, and should it come down to it, Congress (which don’t even begin to think I know how a league based in New York with roots in Canada would incorporate law-makers). 

“Under the law, if an agreement expires, that may give someone the legal ability to go on strike or impose a lockout,” Fehr said.  “There is no requirement that they do so…so if there is a lockout, somebody has to choose to do this.”  Talk about tossing up one’s hands and quickly saying, “Hey, it’s not us…they said lockout.”  And NHL fans are a very smart, unique group.  We, just as Fehr does, can see the league picking up their toys and going home.  That’s ok, NHL.  We’ll make new friends.