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Silverman: Work Stoppage Looms As Bettman Sets Lockout Date

By Steve Silverman
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The New York Rangers are preparing for what should be the most memorable of seasons.

Instead of sulking and feeling sorry for themselves after getting eliminated in the Eastern Conference Finals by the New Jersey Devils, the Rangers have taken steps to get better.

Specifically, they danced around with the lowly Columbus Blue Jackets for weeks before finally trading for high-scoring Rick Nash.

Adding Nash to a team that already includes Brad Richards and Marian Gaborik should change the Rangers' on-ice persona dramatically. Instead of needing a sensational effort from goaltender Henrik Lundqvist on an every-game basis, they should be able to fill the nets on occasion and blow opponents out.

Not every night, but often enough to show that the Rangers are no longer a one-dimensional, defensive-oriented team.

They are not going to be given anything, and they will have to battle the Pittsburgh Penguins, Philadelphia Flyers and Boston Bruins to get to the Stanley Cup Finals. However, if all of those teams play their best games, the Rangers have a good chance to be the leaders of the pack.

But there's a growing chance that the Rangers won't get a chance to show their fans and the rest of the NHL how good they are.

A work stoppage is looming over the league.

While the league and its players' association have been coming up on the end of the current Collective Bargaining Agreement, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said yesterday that if a new CBA is not in place by Sept. 15 then players would be locked out of training camp.

That's a rather aggressive and cantankerous stance, especially when you consider that NHLPA boss Donald Fehr was not threatening any work stoppage by his players, and had previously said that Sept. 15 was "just a date on the calendar."

Bettman's pronouncement puts a new edge on the negotiations. Perhaps it will make the negotiations take on a more serious tone, but it's more likely to have a negative impact.

Fehr is a veteran of labor talks and work stoppages. He learned from Marvin Miller, the best sports-labor negotiator in modern history. Miller negotiated on behalf of the Major League Baseball players for decades, and he helped them become the most powerful union in sports.

During his early years with the MLBPA, Fehr was something of a hot head as he attempted to impose his will on negotiations. Now he is much older and a more mature man, and he is not given to hostile attitudes and language.

He has not been threatening the NHL. He has been focusing on getting the pulse of his players as he prepares a counteroffer to the NHL.

He wants to go to the negotiating table with the moral authority to negotiate wholeheartedly on the players' behalf, knowing what they want and understanding what is most important. Fehr said that he will have a new proposal for the league on August 14.

It seems that the NHL wants to see if it can hammer the players in a second consecutive set of negotiations. After the 2004-05 strike season in which the league lost an entire year, the NHL won major concessions from players. Salaries were rolled back 24 percent.

In the first proposal, the NHL is seeking a similar salary rollback this time around. The NHL has acknowledged that revenues have increased to $3.3 billion and the league has never brought in more money. However, while some teams like the Rangers are making a profit, other teams are losing money.

It's not likely that Fehr will go along with the NHL's proposed salary rollback because some teams are not making a profit.

He is likely to propose a new form of revenue sharing that will lessen the severity of the financial blow that some teams are taking.

Fehr will not be intimidated by Bettman, and he will not roll over for him. If Bettman tries to push Fehr around, the talks could get ugly and a work stoppage seems likely.

Bettman needs to realize that he is negotiating with an experienced and intelligent individual, and must act in a mature manner. That's what would keep this season on track and prevent another painful work stoppage.

What is your prediction for how all this will play out? Do you think there will ultimately be a work stoppage? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section below...

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