The NHL and NHLPA are set to resume negotiations this Friday in New York City. While “core economics” won’t be discussed, it is a welcome relief to hockey fans to hear that finally, the players and owners are face to face again. This is the first time in 16 days both sides are getting together. So when will get a deal done? No one knows that answer. But there are people in a position of power that could heavily influence these negotiations. Here are five possible candidates that could break the stalemate, and get an agreement in place.
1. Mike Illitch
The longtime owner of the Detroit Red Wings, Illitch has plenty to lose if the 2012-13 season is wiped out. The Red Wings are slated to host the Winter Classic on January 1, 2013 at the 100,000 seat University of Michigan Stadium. The revenue generated from that event will greatly enhance Illitch’s bottom line. There is no way Illitch wants to lose that game. A master negotiator, Illitch is also the owner of the Detroit Tigers and has previous experience working with NHLPA head Donald Fehr. Illitch has also pushed for re-alignment which would put the Red Wings in the Eastern Conference. One of the few American owners that truly cares about the sport, Illitch could very well lead the charge for an agreement. Keep your eye on him over the lockout.
2. Ted Leonsis
The owner of the Washington Capitals, Leonsis is considered a moderate amongst the owners, especially compared to the hard-line stances taken by Ed Snider and Jeremy Jacobs. Leonsis could lose much more than revenue if an entire season is lost. He could very well lose his best player and meal ticket. Alexander Ovechkin has threatened to bolt to the KHL on a permanent basis if salaries are sliced. Leonsis doesn’t want to lose his best player, so he’ll be pushing for a settlement very soon. Also, Leonsis has political ties to the Democratic Party, while the majority of owners support the Republicans. Could Leonsis use his ties to President Barack Obama to further negotiations? It is something to think about.
3. Mario Lemieux
The co-owner of the Pittsburgh Penguins, and one of the best players in the history of the sport. There is no doubt the players respect Lemieux so his influence is wide-reaching. It is important to note that Donald Fehr has brought in Penguins superstar Sidney Crosby as the face of the NHLPA so that in turn could put Lemieux on the hot seat. Mario loves the game and doesn’t want to the season to be cancelled. Plus he wants to keep his superstar happy. Don’t be surprised if Lemieux becomes a major player in these negotiations.
4. Steve Yzerman
The Vice-President and General Manager of the Tampa Bay Lightning and another all-time great. Yzerman has massive respect amongst the players and could be seen as a potential deal maker. It has been reported that the Lightning are one of the teams that are in trouble financially, so Yzerman does have the owners backs as well. While not an owner, Yzerman could get involved in the negotiations if things get desperate. He knows both sides of the ledger and is a calm, level-headed figure which is what is needed in this madness. It wouldn’t surprise me if Yzerman does get involved in this procedure, while making his imprints on a new CBA.
5. Brian Burke
The President and General Manager of the Toronto Maple Leafs, Burke has plenty of experience in labour negotiations. While he is a strong supporter of Gary Bettman and the owners, Burke does love the game and would like to see the season saved. Yes he is a loudmouth. Yes, he is arrogant. Yes, he says things that he shouldn’t say in public. But he does know the inner working of the CBA, as he is a former player agent, and worked with Gary Bettman as NHL Executive Vice President of hockey operations from 1993 t0 1998. During that time the NHL locked out its players in 1994. Many credit Burke for saving the season and getting a deal done in early 1995. Burke likes to have teams that show truculence, pugnacity, testosterone and belligerency. It might be time for Burke to show some truculence against his NHL counterparts in order to get a deal done.