Tag Archives: NHL

Who is the smartest of them all?

So this is one of the coolest posts I’ve seen in a bit.

In it blogger Ben Fry maps the IQ of football players to their role on the field – apparently, the closer you are to the ball, the higher your IQ. (see below).

Three comments.

1. Who knew the NFL had every player fill out an intelligence test? Glad to see that my New England Patriots are above average in intelligence – no surprises there. Does anyone know if NHL players fill out a similar test? (Willing to make a small wager that defencemen are the smartest – cause they have to read the plays the best)

2. I would LOVE to see similar test results plotted against the org chart of a ministerial offices. Does IQ increase as you get closer to the minister? Or is it by role? (chief of staff vs. policy adviser vs. communications director). They of course may all be the same, but if there was a spread… it be fascinating to figure out why.

3. I hope Audrey M. is reading this post… I’m not sure I’ve ever linked to something he’d appreciate more.

NHL Players put global warming on ice

My friend Karel Mayrand, who is possibly one of the smartest and nicest people on the planet, has been doing everything he can to save the planet since I met him in 2005.

Most recently, his organization, Planetair has been selected as the exclusive supplier of carbon offsets for the NHLPA carbon neutral challenge, in partnership with the David Suzuki Foundation.

Perhaps our government, which is busy in Bali embarrassing Canada and Canadians by doing everything it can to sabotage the negotiations on Climate Change, should look to our hockey stars to see which way the winds of change are blowing. Isn’t Stephen Harper writing a book about hockey? I suspect that this particular initiative won’t make the final draft.

The NHLPA carbon neutral challenge lists the hockey players who have registered. Check it out to see if your favourite player has signed up.

Before I looked I knew Trevor Linden – my favourite player and the most stand up guy in the league would be on the list. I was not disappointed. When/if he ever retires (hopefully many seasons from now) Vancouver city council should give him the keys to the city. His been tireless in supporting Vancouver through numerous charities and, as a person, is pure class.

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?

Anatomy of a Positional Negotiation (redux)

Back in March I wrote this post about the breakdown in negotiations between Ryan Smyth (a hockey star) and the Edmonton Oilers. Because things fell apart despite the fact that Smyth, the Oilers and their fans all wanted an agreement, this negotiation remains my favourite example about how process, and not substance, can torpedo agreements and destroy relationships. Indeed, the case is so good, it has become a key teaching tool in my negotiation workshops (when in Canada, of course…).

Interestingly, recent events have added to the important negotiation lessons that can be drawn.

When sharing the case some people contended that Smyth and the Oilers didn’t fall out but instead cut a secret deal, one that would bring Ryan back to Edmonton once he became a free-agent. The fact that, after being traded, Ryan stood crying in the Edmonton Airport while awaiting his flight to New York didn’t dissuade these doubters. This was of course, all part of the act.

Well, on July 2nd, on the first day of free-agency, Ryan Smyth signed a contract with the Colorado Avalanch for $31.25 million. A bad outcome for Oilers fans, but a good outcome for my credibility as a negotiation consultant.

So why didn’t Smyth go back to Edmonton?

I can think of two reasons – both of which spring from the positional negotiation process Smyth and the Oilers adopted.

Firstly, the previous negotiations permanently damaged relations between Smyth and the Oilers. A haggling process never builds a stronger relationship. It generally involves the parties slugging it out as they tell one another why the other’s current offer is insulting. Of course none of it’s “personal.” But isn’t it is telling that the Oilers broke off negotiations and traded Smyth without notifying him (I believe he learnt he’d been traded by watching TV). Moreover, as I mentioned before, Smyth was distraught enough to cry during the interview in the airport. You don’t have to be a negotiation consultant to know that when one person makes another cry, the agrieved party is looking for ways to work with them again. In this case, Smyth probably wasn’t receptive to any new offers from the Oilers. Their prior negotiation burnt that bridge.

Second, the Oilers painted themselves into a corner on the issue of price. I’ve maintained that Smyth probably wanted to be in Edmonton or Calgary. In the above linked to YouTube video Smyth says his heart is in Edmonton, and he probably wants to be close to family, community, charitable work, etc… I suspect he might have accepted a marginally reduced salary in order to stay there. But with other teams now offering over $31 million, the Oilers probably needed to offer $29-30 million in order to compete. Given their previous “best” offer had been $27 million, any new higher offer would be an admission that they’d undervalued Smyth. That left them with two options. Option 1: Eat humble pie, offer $30 million and admit they’d been lowballing Smyth. In the testosterone world of hockey I suspect the Oilers GM’s ego couldn’t stomach that choice… Not that it would have mattered, any such an offer would have been tainted. It would be like saying “sorry we tried to screw you in our previous negotiations, but we hope that you’ll come work for us now that we’ve been forced to offer you more.” That left option 2: Save face by walking away and claiming the Avalanch over-paid.

Of course, the Oilers’ GM may genuinely believe that Smyth isn’t worth $30 million. Who knows, he may be right. Only time will tell. But, the negotiation process he adopted – and not the substance – destroyed an opportunity for getting Smyth at a much lower price. Most people believe negotiations succeed or fail based on substance (can buyers and sellers agree on a price), sadly that is only sometimes the case. All too often, the determining factor is how we conduct negotiations.

The Smyth Deal: The Anatomy of a Positional Negotiation Gone Wrong

A classic negotiation challenge is when parties lock into positions. Both sides articulate a demand – usually followed a threat such as “take it or leave it” – and then hopes the other side blinks first.

In the case of Ryan Smyth and the Edmonton Oilers’ I can almost imagine each parties’ statement. Smyth’s agent probably declared “my player is worth $6M dollars not a penny less – take it or leave it.” While the Oiler representative said “we can afford $5M and not a penny more – otherwise, we’ll go to the trading block.” Then, with both sides locked into a price, two things probably happened. First, the negotiation was restricted to a discussion about money to the detriment of the parties numerous other interests. Second, any change in either parties’ position would cause them to lose credibility and/or face. Consequently, any progress in the negotiation would have paradoxically increased the level distrust by confirming each party’s suspicion that the other could and would bend more.

And of course, this is what happened. Smyth was willing to accept less, and the Oiler’s were willing to pay more. A fact made evident as they managed to haggle their way to a difference of $5.4M and $5.5M per year. But getting closer probably had the perverse effect of making the negotiation harder. Each concession made the subsequent ‘demands’ appear less credible and firm. So, to prove that this was indeed ‘their final offer’ each side had to appear more and more inflexible. The result? A negotiation that collapses over a disagreement of $100,000 a year or $500,000 over the life of the contract – about 1.8% of the deals’ monetary value. Oiler’s GM Ken Lowe’s statement this was “a hockey decision and not a financial decision’ is laughable. This was neither a hockey or a financial decision – it was en ego decision.

Indeed, a tearful Smyth was more honest. While getting on a plane at Edmonton International Airport he summed up the process by virtually pulling the definition of positional negotiation out of a textbook: “We were stuck in our concrete, they were stuck in theirs.” (Edmonton Journal) Interestingly, the very fact that Smyth was crying indicates that, while both parties were arguing over money, financial concerns probably only made up a small fraction of each party’s numerous and complex interests.

To contrast against their positions I’ve quickly brainstormed the following list of each party’s core interests:


Ryan Smyth’s Interests


Oiler’s Interests

  • Maximize (or receive fair?) compensation
  • Set precedent for future negotiations
  • Stay close to/not have to relocate, family
  • Maintain links to community
  • Play on winning team
  • Play on Stanley Cup contender
  • Profitable franchise
  • Increase franchise’s marketability
  • Increase personal marketability
  • Increase interest in hockey
  • Play in a market where hockey is a major sport
  • Minimize (or pay fair?) compensation
  • Set precedent for future negotiations
  • Profitable franchise
  • Field a winning team under the salary cap
  • Field a Stanley Cup contender
  • Increase franchise’s marketability
  • Increase Smyth’s personal marketability
  • Increase interest in hockey
  • Maintain/improve morale of team and fans
  • Strong positive presence in the community

As you can see, money makes up only one (albeit important) piece of the puzzle. But in both cases numerous other issues whose value cannot be easily quantified also factor importantly.

For example, one wonders if $100,000 a year (our of $5.4M!) was worth forgoing if it allowed Smyth’s to keep his family in Alberta and stay close to them (especially given the after tax value of the $100K). Smyth probably also had an interest in maintaining/continuing his community work in Edmonton, a place he likely genuinely considers home (unlike Long Island). Smyth probably also had an interest in ensuring that the Oilers have enough money under the cap to acquire other key players that would have given him the chance to hold up a Stanley Cup.

Meanwhile, the Oiler management likely have an interest in players that are marketable and increase the profile of the team in the community (which Smyth is uniquely positioned to do). One wonders how much the lost revenue from merchandising will cost the Oilers. In a small market a local town hero can be worth their weigh in gold (and then some).

The point is that Smyth and the Oiler’s had relatively few conflicting interests compared to those that were either common or simply different (but not conflicting). Had both parties looked at their full range of interests, and not focused almost exclusively on money, it’s hard to imagine that some creative value-increasing options were not possible. For example: the difference of $100,000 could have been donated to a charity of Smyth choice every year – thus helping Smyth’s marketability, improving both his and the Oiler’s standing in the community all while not contributing to the salary cap. Or the $100,000 could have been converted into bonus pay contingent on Smyth’s performance. Ultimately, two negotiators thinking creatively about this negotiation as a collective challenge, and not locked into an ego-driven game of chicken, could have found a deal. But then Smyth’s agent is probably rewarded based on the money he pulls down and the Oiler’s manager on how much money he saves, so in the end money drove the negotiations… right over the cliff.

[tags]NHL, negotitation, negotiating, Ryan Smyth, Oilers, Edmonton, mozilla, sports, hockey [/tags]