NHL Somehow Finds Itself A Model For Reason, Labor Civility In Sports

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It’s hard to believe a league run by Gary Bettman isn’t experiencing labor strike, but here we are.
It’s hard to believe a league run by Gary Bettman isn’t experiencing labor strike, but here we are.
Image: Getty Images

It’s still impossible to say exactly when the NHL will be able to resume its season, or where it will happen, but the league and the NHLPA are doing their best to answer the question of how they’ll do it.

In a week that has seen labor-management acrimony in baseball over similar questions — including Major League Baseball, including the league trying to use friendly media to leak information it hoped would make the union look bad — it’s fascinating to see relative harmony in hockey, which has the worst record of all major sports on owner-player relations over the past quarter-century.

Nothing is finalized, as the NHLPA continued voting Friday on the NHL’s latest proposal for a restart format, but that’s how it’s supposed to work. Consider again baseball, where all of the public tumult has occurred without the league having even made a proposal. As Craig Calcaterra astutely pointed out at NBC Sports on Thursday, “All of the demands in the press that the players compromise, fueled as they have been by anonymous sources affiliated with MLB, are, essentially, demands that the players bid against themselves.”


It would be naive to assert that simply negotiating in good faith is a sign that hockey has figured things out when it comes to handling difficult situations. It was less than a month ago that deputy commissioner Bill Daly declared, somehow: “One positive test, even multiple positive tests, wouldn’t necessarily shut the whole thing down.”

The players will have their own voice about safety protocols as the NHL edges closer to putting its restart plan into motion, and there should be some friction when that time comes. While the owners’ desire to turn the money spigot back on aligns with the union’s desire to do the same, the sides are far out of step on related issues, like player and family safetythe sides’ levels of concern about the safety of players and their families is markedly different.

The NHL’s proposed plan has some problems. It’s silly, for instance, that there’s no plan to re-seed teams following the “play-in” round of the Stanley Cup tournament, meaning that the worst team in the field, seeded 12th in its conference, could get a conference quarterfinal matchup with the No. 4 seed instead of the No. 1. But the basics, a 24-team setup, split across two “hub cities,” makes enough sense.

“Not everyone loves this,” Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman wrote. “It is possible, a couple of sources suggested, there will be a push for modifications or further clarifications.”


That’s fine. It’s the reason to negotiate and work together in good faith. There also will be issues ahead, like figuring out what happens if there’s a coronavirus outbreak among one or more teams. While nobody would want to stop playing hockey for a second time this year, it must at least be accounted for, and there’s a lot that goes along with that.

The entire history of the NHL under Gary Bettman, when it comes to dealing with the NHLPA, suggests that all of this will blow up at some point — but for now, hockey is a glowing example of the right way to proceed amid this ongoing crisis. We should all enjoy it while it lasts.