Why relationship management matters – even in the NHL

So a few months ago I wrote this piece and this piece hypothesizing what went wrong in the hockey negotiations between Ryan Smyth and the Edmonton Oilers. It’s been a favourite example in negotiation workshops because it symbolizes how frayed relationships and poor process can scupper a deal that both sides would like to close. It has all the dynamics of a great business case.

What I’d love to know is if there was something Ryan Smyth felt the Oilers organization did that frustrated him, or left him feeling disrespected. One possibility – or at least a symptom of a larger problem – is the press conference the Oilers allegedly held before the negotiation in which they announced they would not reward “emotion.”

One can imagine the message the franchise sought to send: We intend to protect the franchise’s financial viability, and not yield to unreasonable demands.

The message Smyth likely received?: We don’t value the intangible leadership qualities that make you an important part of this team.

Is it any wonder the negotiation got off to a bad start and faltered over 100K a difference (out of $5.4M).

Rather publicly devalue the players that work for you, and with whom you negotiate salary, it might pay to manage relationships effectively.

Take a look at the Ottawa Senators general manager Bryan Murray. He recently re-signed centre Mike Fisher to a five-year contract extension worth US$21-million. According to the National Post:

Fisher’s new contract represents a huge increase over the US$1.5-million he will earn this season, but he may have left some money on the table. If he had tested the market next summer, he might have attracted an offer worth another US$4-million to US$5-million.

Fisher, however, wanted to stay in Ottawa.

“I want to be here and I want to show the team this is where I want to play, and I’m very happy with the contract and being here for another five years.”

Is Bryan Murray carefully managing the Senators relationships’ with its players? I don’t know. But I do think it is interesting that Dan Heatley, another Ottawa player who could command a big pay raise recently commented that “Communication has always been open.” Maybe that’s why he’s gone on record stating he isn’t opposed to taking a “hometown discount” to stay in Ottawa.

It would appear that at least some managers, even in the macho world of NHL franchise management, are dragging themselves into the 21st century and taking seriously the benefits that managing relationships can have on negotiations, morale, success and, the bottom line. Interesting, eh?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s