Last time NHL owners cancelled a full season it was expected. NHL players and executives were privately telling me for months there would be no season the following year. Players knew what the owners wanted and they were prepared for the long haul.
I’m not going to suggest it was the right thing to do but it didn’t take long for both sides to be forgiven. When the NHL returned the following year there was a celebration of the NHL. You had new rules that promised to make the game faster and more exciting. A salary cap that would give owners “cost certainty” and provide all teams the opportunity to compete for a playoff spot. You had the introduction of superstars Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin, not mention Wayne Gretzky was the Head Coach of the Phoenix Coyotes. Even the goaltenders shrunk which was designed to give the shooter the advantage and result in more scoring. You had new uniforms that were met with positive reviews by fans and media alike. Again the return of the NHL was celebrated as the NHL game promised to be better than ever.
And I think most would agree the hockey was great. Outside of some early hiccups with the way the game was officiated I heard very few complaints in regard to what was happening on the ice. A few years later the Winter Classic was introduced and the NHL was back, the lockout of 2004 was a distant memory.
At least we thought. Here we are, after record revenues, attendance, television ratings, and popularity, we’re back to square one.
Which leads to one question…what the hell are we doing?
If the NHL and the NHLPA thinks all will be forgiven this go around you better think again. This isn’t the NFL and there will be no celebration this time.
The owners and the league have done a great job of confusing the hell out of everybody by sending mixed signals. One day you’re bragging about record growth and handing out $100 million contracts, the next day you’re saying we can hardly survive.
NHL owners certainly know how to give fans attention deficit disorder.
There’s little harmony between one owner and the next. All you have to do is be reminded of the Philadelphia Flyers signing Shea Weber to a 14-year offer sheet north of $100 million. This was after Nashville GM David Poile alerted all NHL clubs that the Predators would match any offer given to their franchise D-man. So what does Philadelphia do? They try to structure a deal that would screw a fellow owner as much as possible. In the end Nashville agreed to match a contract they can’t afford. Does Philly care? Nah.
How many owners made their money owning NHL hockey clubs? I would say very few, if any, as most made their fortune outside of hockey. Since when did owning an NHL club become trying to squeeze every dollar they can out of the players even if it means killing the sport in the process?
At some point we’re going to have to ask if the people running either side are truly working towards getting a deal done? Are the egos so big that this has become more about winning the CBA than what’s best for a sport many already place behind the PGA and Nascar? Now that we’ve cancelled games who is truly winning?
I’ve heard from several people that Bettman’s approach to bargaining has done nothing more than strengthened the player’s stance. If you know hockey players, you're aware they don’t like to be pushed around. The “take it or leave it” approach, along with the embarrassing first offer, and the way certain owners have conducted themselves in bargaining sessions has done little more than make the union stronger. Sources say Boston owner Jeremy Jacobs is a big part of the problem here. If the NHLPA could reach across the table and grab somebody there’s a decent chance they would grab Jacobs before Bettman.
You would think some owners would tell Bettman to change the way he’s acted during this lockout. Bettman has done little to help the perception of NHL owners as a whole. Sure I’ve heard from some players who are unhappy with their union but for the most part the players have given little indication they’re prepared to cave, which if you love the NHL is a scary proposition. Hockey players take a team-first attitude on the ice and have carried that over into these negotiations. In other words I’m not sure any player is ready to undermine the NHLPA. This could always change in a hurry.
Part of being an NHL owner is to be a guardian of the league. I’m not suggesting they accept a deal that sees them hemorrhaging money but you would think their experience as successful business leaders would prevail in these negotiations. For the most part we’re talking about billionaires taking on inexperienced 26-year old athletes. I’m not saying players aren’t smart enough to grasp the process but they lack experience in these types of fights and are leaning on people like Don Fehr for guidance. Whether that’s a good thing I’ll leave up to you.
Would a more cordial approach from the NHL negotiating team do wonders in reaching a resolution?
Few NHL owners purchased teams believing the NHL is a money-making venture. I understand the concept of limiting losses and that’s where NHL owners and Commissioner Bettman need to step in and help one another out. There are promises Bettman made to some owners that he’s yet to fulfill in any of the current proposals made by the league.
As for the players….
People ask me almost daily if I’m pro-owner or pro-player? Considering I don’t play in the NHL nor do I own an NHL club I’m neither. I am pro hockey and therefore will continue to support the game once it returns.
The players have been confusing as well, although not to the extent of the owners. The NHLPA has suggested the previous CBA was bad for the players yet Don Fehr said they were willing to continue playing under the same agreement. I have a hard time understanding how the previous deal was bad for any player when you see salaries increase and how much cake these guys bring in every two weeks. If it was so bad then why would you be willing to continue to operate under the same terms?
Do the NHLPA conference calls allow for players with an opposing view to speak up. Hard to lash out with over 100 other players on the same call.
The players believe the deal will only get better the longer they wait. I know of several retired players who lost a full year’s pay in 2004 who would disagree. Then again those players have no skin in the game today so it’s easy for them to say that now.
I do think the NHLPA would benefit by some of the games more visible veterans, such as Chris Pronger, Martin Brodeur, and Jarome Iginla to take the lead here. All these guys were around in 2004 and have experience having been in this position before. It may be hard for a guy like Pronger who is being paid his full salary this year because of his concussion he suffered last season. These guys bring a certain level of credibility even a youthful Crosby or Jonathan Toews is missing.
Plan in Place….
Many wonder if there is a target date in place to get the season going. Are we headed towards a 48 game season like we saw in 1995?
Sources say Fehr has told players he doesn’t believe the owners are truly willing to cancel another full season and there will be hockey sometime in the next two months. We obviously hope he’s right.
So far we’ve seen a group of pit-bull owners unable to move the needle which leads me to wonder if more owners need to get involved here.
Two things need ot happen...
First the players can't set the ground rules or the framework for a deal. This needs to be done by the owners as long as they're negotiating in good faith.
Secondly the owners should honor all contracts signed before september 15th. How do you not honor a contract signed less than 50 days ago? it makes little sense.
Again as I’ve written before, sources say the Winter Classic as a whole is not a major money maker. In the big picture it actually pales in comparison. From an exposure standpoint it can’t be duplicated and this is where the NHL will truly miss out. There’s no doubt the winter Classic along with HBO’s 24/7 has assisted in growing the game.
Several Blues staff members including head coach Ken Hitchcock will be working with several charities during the lockout. This includes wounded soldiers and their families. Hitchcock has also been out to schools and visited with special education students.
Personally I think every organization should be doing this with the free time on their hands. It’s the least they can do. This shouldn’t be about trying to earn special bonus points from the fans and media.
More to come,
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