While the calendar continues to turn month by month, one thing has been consistent: a lack of NHL hockey. Since the second lockout of Commissioner Gary Bettman’s tenure in the 2004-2005 season, hockey’s popularity in North America has grown exponentially. The average attendance in the NHL last year was 17,455, higher than the rival NBA, and up 1.8% from two seasons ago, while the total attendance for the season ranked second in American professional leagues, behind the MLB. So with all of this raging success and record revenue (over $3 billion, a new record), why have we not seen players on the ice this season?
Gary Bettman became commissioner of the NHL in February of 1993, and although the popularity has increased marginally every year, he has done nothing but destroy the league three times now. The lockout of 2004-2005 was the first cancellation of an entire season in American pro sports history. Every time Bettman appears to speak publicly, whether it is at the NHL entry draft annually, or presenting the Stanley Cup to the winning team, he is booed collectively for his mistakes and controversial time at the head of the league. As humans, we are supposed to learn from out mistakes. But now, in mid-November, we might be looking at another cancellation of a season, one the NHL may not be able to recover from.
Knowing the current Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) was set to expire during the offseason, the NHL and it’s Players Association (NHLPA) began to meet over the summer. On June 29, the two sides met to begin talks in hopes of coming to an agreement on a number of issues, such as the share of Hockey Related Revenue, contract specifics, and entry level deals, among other minor issues. After a two-week period of meeting, the NHL offered a new CBA in which the players would receive 46 percent of HRR, well below the 57 percent that they were currently earning under the previous CBA. Naturally, Donald Fehr and the NHLPA rejected the offer, and used it as a base for bargaining.
Negotiations continued into the beginning of August without a counterproposal being made. The first counter was made on Aug. 14, and was immediately rejected by the NHL, in which Bettman criticized the lack of understanding of the situation at hand. The back and forth negotiations continued until they were put on a hiatus because a lack of progress was being made. The league was officially locked out on September 16, marking the third time this has happened under Bettman’s tenure.
Until Oct. 16, no progress was made until negotiations spontaneously opened up again. Now, it seemed as if the two sides were not necessarily trying to win the Public Relations battle, but rather decided that they wanted to strike a deal. The league proposed an offer that was declined, followed by a series of three Players Association proposals that were all denied as well. The two sides met continuously for four days in a row shortly after which created optimism around the players, the league and fans. But then, completely expectantly, Bettman recently called for a two-week break in talks, on Nov. 15. New York Rangers’ winger Ryan Callahan called the break a “waste of time.”
The unrest around the league is growing, with players starting to open up. On Saturday Nov. 17, defenseman for the Detroit Red Wings Ian White openly called Bettman an idiot. He said that he has done nothing but “ruin the game” in a USA Today interview. Through Nov. 30, the league has cancelled 327 total games, making a large dent in potential league revenue. It was just released on Saturday night that labor talks will resume on Monday, however.
Players have already exported to Russian, Canadian, and European leagues to play. Superstars such as Alexander Ovechkin, Rick Nash, Zdeno Chara, Patrick Kane, and Evgeni Malkin, among plenty of others, have already left.
With fans’ patience growing short, it appears as if the NHL may not be able to recover from it’s third strike, something that all fans are praying will not happen.
Brad Richards of the Rangers and Scott Hartnell of the Philadelphia Flyers are making strides in attempt to bring hockey to American fans and help rebuild the East coast after the storm two weeks ago. “Operation Hat Trick” is a charity game that will be taking place at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City, N.J., one of the areas affected the worst by Hurricane Sandy. The game will feature stars from the Flyers and Rangers and all of the proceeds will go to Hurricane Sandy relief. The game will be played on Saturday, Nov. 24, and tickets can be bought online at increments of $20, $40, or $100 at ticketmaster.com
Information from the Associated Press was used in this article