What We Learned: Spin it all you want, but Don Fehr won the lockout (Puck Daddy)

Hello, this is a feature that will run through the entire season and aims to recap the weekend’s events and boils those events down to one admittedly superficial fact or stupid opinion about each team. Feel free to complain about it. I understand that we're obviously not at the point where we can start lining up for tickets outside our local NHL rinks just yet, but now it's becoming pretty clear who won the lockout. Yeah, the NHL is going to get nothing but givebacks from the players in just about every way — a rollback of the salary cap, length of the CBA, contract term limits, and so forth — but if you're sitting there thinking that this was, in any way, a win for the league, in a symbolic sense, then you're kidding yourself. It's been said a million times that this was always a takeaway deal for the owners because the players were always going to get nothing, and Donald Fehr's job was not to make sure that they didn't bleed, but rather that they didn't bleed out. Where Fehr succeeded, and where his predecessors failed, was that Fehr was able to marshal the troops. The NHL leaned on these guys hard, and played a lot dirtier pool than they did the last time there was a lockout (at least insofar as I don't recall them offering the players a deal contingent upon their union's top executive not being in the room when it was signed). But Fehr said the same thing in mid-December as he had been saying in September and October: "There's a better offer coming." And he was, of course, always right. No matter how many times Bettman swore on a stack of bibles that this was the league's best offer, anyone with a functioning brain knew it wasn't. When Bill Daly crossed his heart and hoped to die on a hill that five-year term limits for contracts were the only acceptable thing in its eyes, most people knew that wasn't the case. But nonetheless, it must have taken a lot of wrangling for Fehr to get hundreds of players, many of whom weren't collecting paychecks, to hold firm. All the theater of getting Bettman and Fehr uninvolved in those owners-and-players only meetings, and the comical letters that followed from owners considered moderate about how obstinate Fehr was in all this, could have broken the union's will to get in line behind its leader. It didn't. Rather the opposite. At some point, and maybe this was the league's plan all along, the focus shifted from, "Boy don't you hate these greedy players," to, "Hey this BASEBALL guy is trying to deprive you of hockey!" The league insisted it couldn't do much better than what came out of those meetings, because of course it did. Fehr insisted the deal would do exactly that. Then came the leaked idea from a league executive to ESPN, which lines up very nicely indeed with the shocking brand-new offer the league extended to the NHLPA late last week. Funny how that works. And what do you know? The league made several steps toward what is now, laughably, referred to as the players' position because it wasn't trying to take a pound of flesh, but closer to, like, 14 ounces. Much fairer that way. But as we learned from Bettman in September, they don't want the CBA to come out being "too fair" this time around too. The owners are right about one thing: Fehr is obstinate, but wisely so.

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