How did the NHL get here again?
Posted September 16, 2012
Updated September 17, 2012
The NHL has locked its doors for the third time in less than 20 years. Every one of these work stoppages has been on the watch of commissioner Gary Bettman, who this past season ran around telling everyone the league has never been stronger.
If everything was great, the previous collective bargaining agreement would have been extended and the NHL season would start on time. There is still a chance of that happening, but with Bettman at the helm, it is highly unlikely.
To me, it is a commissioner’s job to make sure his game is played, not stopped. Call me crazy, but a commissioner should be bringing both the owners and players' sides together and make them see what is best for their league, not trying to help one side get over on the other.
During Bettman’s time on the job as commissioner, it has seemed like the main goal has been to make sure the owners and, to a lesser degree, the richer owners, get what they want. That cost comes not only at the expense of the players, but also other owners, and no one in the NHL’s swanky New York City offices has taking the time to think about the people that need the games, the ones that have the smaller jobs for the teams or vending and security positions that count on those pay-checks to help their families get by.
Making sure the owners keep him in power seems to be Bettman's number one interest, and that is not looking out for the best interest of the league as a whole. Putting the wants of the few over the needs of the many leads to three lockouts and begs the question – What CEO can stop production of their product that many times and still be allowed to run the company?
The heart of this dispute is the point that the NHLPA (the players) take home 57 percent of all hockey-related revenue, a figure that is extremely out of whack with the other professional leagues. The players should understand that and be willing to take a reduction, but once you are given something by management, how eager are you to give it back?
Bettman questioned the players, asking where they got this sense of entitlement to the majority of the HRR.
Well, Gary, could it be from the last deal that you agreed to on behalf of the owners – a deal that is eight years old, one that took so long to hammer out that it cost us the 2004-05 season?
I don’t blame Bettman fully here; the NBA and NFL that just went through this process and have deals where the players make less than 50 percent of the sports-related revenue. So he does have to try to line up the money that comes in that will keep teams viable, but this is something that the League should have been prepared for.
The players took a 24 percent salary reduction eight years ago and agreed to a salary cap, and current union chief Donald Fehr wasn’t involved in those negotiations. It’s been chronicled how Fehr is the man responsible for the cancellation of the 1994 World Series when he ran the MLB Players Union. People want to pin an equal blame on Fehr, and he isn't without some responsibility in this, but the majority of the blame lies at the offices of the NHL, which will be locking out and missing games for the third time in 20 years. Fehr and the players shoulder the blame for not wanting to truly negotiate sooner, but the PA has been far better spinning which side has brought this on, in particular one person has been the main reason for games being missed for the third time in less than 20 years. The common thread is Bettman.
Fehr has given the players something they have never had at these kinds of talks, a man who knows what he is doing. Fehr is looking for a deal for the players, and if that means games are missed, so be it. I don’t blame Fehr for it getting this far, he is doing his job. The players feel they are better informed on this negotiation than the last, and they know they can play overseas if need be. The NHLPA has generally been forced to take a deal the owners want, but this time Bettman isn't the smartest guy in the room, and the players are squarely blaming the top dog of their game for yet another lockout.
There is one more piece to this puzzle that is being underestimated – the fans.
Depending on who you read, there is the thought that a lockout will only have a minimal effect on the fans of the NHL. Here is the problem, in the United States, the NHL’s fan base is minimal and any hit to a number already that small is no minor thing.
Another round of cancelling games, or worse yet, a season, will damage the fans' trust in the NHL. Markets like Columbus, Nashville, Los Angeles, Dallas and yes, Carolina, are going to be hurt by this.
How many people will leave the game for a few years? The fringe fans or the younger fans coming up aren’t going to have the game, and while fans will come back – look at baseball – they don’t come back as passionate. Bettman fails to understand that the NHL is no longer filled with traditional hockey markets, and even those places will take a hit.
Carolina was one of the fortunate markets after the last lockout. The Hurricanes went on an amazing run, filled with exciting hockey that ended up with the team hoisting the Stanley Cup. It is safe to say, without that Cup run in ’05-’06, hockey would be in real trouble in the Triangle. A smart business just can’t expect fans to miss parts of or an entire season every time the CBA comes open, but the NHL seems to think its fan base will not notice that hockey is gone.
There are things that need to be fixed in the current NHL deal. The players need to take a pay cut, but the league’s first offer was to have the players go from 57 percent to 43 percent, hardly a good faith offer.
Now that a lockout is here and the NHL has said that the players need to take the last offer or no deal, one thinks that hockey won’t be here soon. If the NHL scraps another entire season, it wouldn’t be too farfetched to think that there might not be a league to return to at all.