With the NHL lockout now at the two-month mark, there are rumblings that an independent arbitrator may be the only way to settle the 61-day dispute.
After talks broke down over the weekend, concerns grew that NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and NHLPA executive director Don Fehr may be too narrow-minded, bull-headed or egotistical to get a deal done.
Former Caps veteran Mike Knuble says that was certainly the case in 2004, when Bettman and Bob Goodenow spent so much time taking swings at each other they allowed an entire NHL season to go up in flames.
But Knuble's not sure he sees the same dynamics at play this time around.
“There’s not the animosity I felt from Bob and Gary way back when,” Knuble said from his home in Grand Rapids, Mich. “Those guys, you felt like it was personal. They just hated each other and couldn’t even stand to be in the same room.
“Don’s style is way less bombastic. He’s a little more quiet about it and they [Bettman and deputy commissioner Bill Daly] can’t get a rise out of the guy, and that’s probably bothering them too a little bit. [Fehr] is just real steady and real methodical about what he’s doing and you can’t get him irritated.”
It is no secret that the NHL and its players have made the most progress in their negotiations when Daly and NHLPA special counsel Steve Fehr were conducting private sessions. The same scenario occurred in 2004-05 when Daly and union assistant director Ted Saskin crafted the CBA that was eventually agreed upon by Bettman and Goodenow.
Knuble said he believes Daly and Steve Fehr have the negotiating personalities to find the common ground essential to getting a deal that saves a shortened season.
“I guess like any duo, you need to have the ying and the yang,” Knuble said, referring to Daly and Betman. “One’s a good cop and one can come in and be the bad cop. Bill [Daly] seems to be a reasonable guy. His counterpart, Steve Fehr, seems to be the same way, a pretty calm and rational guy.”
That said, Knuble acknowledged that the owners ultimately hold the leverage in the form of the paychecks they are witholding. Thursday marked the third payday missed by the players. The next will come on Nov. 30.
“The fact is the league is ultimately in control of the whole thing,” Knuble said. “I feel like when they want to make a move they’ll make a move.”