The NHL players and owners finally appear to be making progress towards a collective bargaining agreement. Although no formal agreement, public reports indicate that the two sides are having meaningful and productive discussions around many of the critical issues. You might be surprised, though, that this was not thanks to Gary Bettman or Donald Fehr, the lead negotiators for management and the union respectively.
The latest set of meetings was held between six owners and eighteen players – that is between the actual clients and the real parties-in-interest. This, in an effort to build trust and find common ground and perhaps to demonstrate that the players were united. This could be the necessary breakthrough and has appeared to help the parties build some common understandings and develop some of the trust necessary to settle the dispute.
Trust, here as in other negotiated settlement, is the sine qua non of settlement. If the two sides do not trust each other, getting a deal done is going to be very difficult. Meeting without Fehr and Bettman may have given each side enough of an unfiltered understanding of the other side’s needs and interests; enough, in other words, for each party to sense that it understood the other party’s true interests and where that party could – and could not – move. This understanding can give each party a sense of control over the process and remove the public gesturing and posturing from the equation.
There is no agreement yet, but the talks are ongoing; which is half the battle. Hopefully, the ongoing talks and the development of trust will result in a settlement.
At this point, a settlement, almost at any settlement, will benefit the stakeholders, especially those stakeholders not at the table and avoid the train wreck of the loss of an entire season.