NHL Manipulators (Mount Up!)

Photo courtesy of latimes.com

On Monday, Deadspin revealed that the National Hockey League had hired a PR team to lead focus groups with the intention of skewing the public’s image of the league and team owners in a positive direction.

Now, the idea of a company employing this tactic isn’t anything new. Every organization wants to be painted in the best light possible, and would pay good money to make that happen. But that really isn’t the biggest issue that lies within this action taken by the league.

The issue is, among others, that the NHL spent an arm and a leg for this PR team’s services in the middle of a lockout where they’re claiming that they’ve lost money (they haven’t). Not to mention the fact that they’re trying to manipulate their fans. (Insert argument about how, if the league cared so much about what their fans thought, they’d just end the lockout already, here.)

Obviously, the news of the NHL’s dealings didn’t sit too well with the fans (and probably didn’t sit well with the players, either). So was it really any surprise that they proposed a new offer to the NHLPA the day after Deadspin broke the story?

At first glance, the proposal sounded good. They wanted to institute a 50/50 split of hockey-related revenue between players and the league (currently, the players get 57% and the league gets 43%; the league’s initial proposal had those numbers flipped so that they’d be getting the 57%), and said there would be no rollbacks on current players’ salaries. But the nicest thing? If this deal was made, there would still be an 82-game season. No hockey lost! Awesome, right?

Well, you have to dig a little deeper to learn the full scope of the league’s newest offer. There are changes to the length of entry-level contracts, limits on current long-term contracts, changes in terms surrounding unrestricted free agency, salary variances, and salary arbitration, among other clauses.

Now, I’m no CBA expert — we already have one on staff — but this deal, as shiny as it may seem on the outside, just screams “damage control.” The NHL knew that the Deadspin story painted them in a bad light and so they tried to make themselves look like the good guys – and, in turn, make the NHLPA look really bad if they didn’t go for the offer. “Hey, fans, we tried to get you an 82-game season, but the players weren’t having it!”

In the grand scheme of things, if the NHLPA accepts the offer, does it really matter if it came about as means of making the NHL looking good? No, not really. But it leaves a sour taste in the mouth, and it certainly continues to leave the fans siding with the players instead of the league itself.

If a deal gets done, the NHL will pat itself on the back and Gary Bettman will be pleased that the fans have returned. It won’t be because of the league, though; it’ll be because people love hockey, not the puppeteers controlling everything from high up.

*Be sure to check out Kevin Christmann’s piece on how the latest NHL proposal could hurt the Flyers.