With just a month remaining until a lockout becomes official, the NHLPA and owners are still duking it out to create a new CBA. At this time, both parties appear to be nowhere close to nailing down a deal and a work stoppage seems imminent.
Here we go again.
For those counting at home, this would be the third lockout in NHL history, spanning the last 18 years. The 1994-1995 season saw a cancellation of 468 total games -including the All-Star Game- and the eventual departure of the Quebec Nordiques and Winnipeg Jets. The biggest issue was over the salary cap which Gary Bettman and the owners wanted, while the players did not. Some of the large market teams eventually caved understanding that a lockout would be more damaging to revenue than a cap-free league.
The lockout in 2005 was obviously the big one. A complete season without hockey turned off a large sports fan base and the league also lost their TV deal with ESPN. To dig out of a hole this deep, the league decided to become stricter on hooking, holding, and interference, placing skill in the spotlight. The Sidney Crosby-Alexander Ovechkin rivalry, Winter Classic, and exciting playoff finishes led to a rejuvenation of the sport. Since 2006, the salary cap has risen from $39 million to $70 million per team.
Now, that may all be for not. The NHLPA submitted a proposal to the league earlier this week and it was quickly rejected. According to Michael Grange at Sportsnet
, the disparity could be as high as $1.74 billion. When you factor in how that money is supposed to be distributed as well as other concerns in the CBA (player safety, participation in the Olympics in Sochi 2014) and we may just be getting started.
Both sides need a reality check because here is the biggest problem they face: losing fans.
What is the point in arguing how to spread billions of dollars in revenue when the people who supply that revenue refuse to show up? There should be extreme desperation from both sides to get a deal in place. We're talking Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals desperation.
At the same time, that could be the problem. Both sides face immense pressure to get a deal in place and they both want to make sure they aren't left in the dust by the other side. If Gary Bettman locks out the players, it will be the third time he has done so as commissioner. He already owns the prize for being the only commissioner to lock out and NHL season, let alone three. But the smaller market teams need a reform in revenue sharing before they collapse. Teams like the New Jersey Devils and Florida Panthers face serious financial problems due to a lack of revenue. At the same time, NHLPA representative, Donald Fehr, is very effective at getting what he wants. He had no issues forcing a work stoppage, and eventual cancellation of the 1994 World Series, in baseball. The players feel they're the ones who brought this league back to popularity and they want a fair shake.
The league definitely has more pressure, especially when fans tend to side with players on these matters. However, both sides need to come up with an agreement and fast. If there's another lockout, the NHL could face extinction. European players will not hesitate to head to the KHL to play and you would have to assume some North American players would follow them. Who would blame them? They just want to play hockey.
Both sides need to reach an agreement and fast because if they don't, the fans may leave. And this time, they may not be coming back.