While I have limited expertise in economics and law, I cannot help but express how I feel about the upcoming potential lockout, which will occur should the National Hockey League and its Players Association fail to come up with a new Collective Bargaining Agreement by the September 15 deadline.
Since the last lockout, which ultimately wiped out the 2004-05 season, there’s been a sense for more optimism. After all, while it wasn’t the only issue, convincing the players’ union to implement a salary cap was a major reason why the previous lockout lasted as long as it did. So, naturally, I wasn’t as concerned this time being that there was already a cap in place. In addition to that, the consensus from most players indicated that there would be a new CBA in place without anyone missing a beat.
Another plus is that the two sides are talking, which is actually a lot more that can be said from eight years ago when both sides were so stubborn (not to mention moronic) for not going to great lengths to salvage a season. But that doesn’t seem to be enough.
Just a few weeks ago, the owners made a ridiculous proposal to the players where their revenues would nosedive from 57% to 46%. Although it’s been fairly steady negotiating since then, there are more and more fans concerned about the upcoming season. I don’t know if that concern is completely justified at this point but to think that if worse comes to worse, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman will be entering his third lockout – the third since 1994. In the previous 77 years of their existence, the NHL never experienced a single lockout or strike. I know player salaries weren’t as significant an issue before the 1980’s as they are today but still, it really makes you wonder.
Major League Baseball has had three strikes since 1972 and while the latter one forced them to cancel the post-season and the World Series, MLB was fortunate enough not to have an entire season canceled. In fact, no professional league in North America has ever had to cancel an entire season – that was until 2004-05 when Gary Bettman and company decided to pull the plug on the NHL’s regular season and playoffs.
I’m not inclined to go on a tangent on how I feel about Mr. Bettman. After all, this isn’t all his fault. Since Bob Goodenow resigned shortly following the signing of the current CBA, the NHLPA has gone through what seems like a carousel of leaders (even though it was just two before they settled – and I emphasize “settled” – on Donald Fehr).
While I don’t know his life story, Fehr has the stigma of being the union leader for the MLBPA during Major League Baseball’s infamous strike in 1994. Sure, it was 18 years ago but, like then, this is another case of millionaires versus billionaires where both sides, especially the players, risk alienating themselves further from the general fanbase. My fear is that for a union which has had a shoddy track record at best in terms of leadership lo these past seven years, the players’ association may crack under the pressure. Of course, for all I know, I could be just simply making mountains out of molehills. I’d ask why the NHLPA just didn’t hire Marvin Miller instead but I guess I can wait to discuss that one.
While I’m not happy with either side, I’m especially disappointed in some of the more committed owners like Detroit’s Mike Illitch and Philadelphia’s Ed Snider, who has owned the Flyers since the team’s birth in 1967. I’m sure I don’t know half the story but it just seems to me like these owners who are so committed to making their respective clubs competitive year-in and year-out would roll up their sleeves and do whatever it took to avoid another work stoppage. If it wasn’t so painfully cliché, I’d simply ask how millions is enough?
From the perspective of a Los Angeles Kings’ fan, some have argued that delaying the season would be beneficial as it would give their team enough rest to fully recuperate from their Stanley Cup hangover. While I agree with the latter statement in principle, I think I can safely assume that most hockey fans in general dread a lockout if it just lasts for a few weeks.
Forget trying to persuade more Americans to start watching, this isn’t about injecting new life into the game. This is about getting on the ball and doing whatever it takes to make sure the 2012-13 season can start on time with no problems whatsoever. I’d rather have a less-rested Kings team entering a full season than a fully-rested Kings team beginning the season sometime in the New Year? I’d like a fully-rested team who shows up to training camp next month but hey, you can’t have your cake and eat it, too.
As asinine as the NHL side has been lately, I hope they’re all bright enough to realize that of all the fans who buy tickets to attend games in any of the 30 NHL markets, not a single one of those fans pays to see an owner.
It goes without saying that the next six weeks will be the most critical for the National Hockey League. As fans, all we can do at this point is hope that the two sides are big enough to reach an agreement by the mid-September deadline. Frankly, I don’t care who does it, how it gets done or whose to blame for whatever hasn’t been done thus far – just get it done. It’s as simple as that – at least it should be.
Photo: Courtesy of Sitthixay Ditthavong/AP