NHL Offseason: Will Gary Bettman and the NHLPA Have Another Lockout?
On June 11, the Los Angeles Kings won the Stanley Cup in six games. The awarding of the Stanley Cup signified the beginning of the offseason, which holds the NHL Draft, the start of Free Agency and when a majority of teams go through a face lift for the next season.
But the start of the season is a big question mark.
The majority of hockey fans have been alive for the 2004-2005 NHL lockout. The NHLPA and owners took an unbelievable 310 days to sign an agreement. The entire season was lost, and it nearly killed the sport.
Many players went overseas to play hockey or signed with an amateur team for the season. The NHL lost a majority of its sponsors—the biggest hit coming from ESPN. With ESPN no longer carrying games, the NHL had to settle for the Outdoor Life network, which became Versus—now the NBC Sports Network.
Over the seven years of this current Collective Bargaining Agreement, the NHL has fought tooth and nail to become relevant again in the sports world. Attendance in games has gone from the single thousands to sold out crowds in the majority of the markets.
Even in some cities, it has become the biggest sport.
To lose out on another season with popularity being its highest in years would surely kill the sport. Fair-weather fans will again leave for a different sport, most likely basketball, the NHL's biggest competitor. The die-hards may also leave because of the inability to come to a new CBA when the old one expires.
To lose the next season would show that the owners show absolutely no regard for the fans or the players—all they want is their money.
How long will a potential work stoppage last?
There are two major concerns that the new CBA needs to address. The first is re-alignment.
The Winnipeg Jets played in the Southwest division of the Eastern Conference. That's right: The team that is farther west than half of the Western Conference teams played in the Eastern Conference.
The league needs to fix this problem immediately.
The four teams that travel up to Canada for divisional away games probably travel more miles than any other team does, save for maybe the Colorado Avalanche or Dallas Stars. It's unfair for the Jets or any other team that has to travel that distance.
The league tried to correct this issue with a four-conference re-alignment, but that idea was shut down by the NHLPA on January 6, 2012.
The second concern is the head injuries. Concussions have been a hot topic all season. Brendan Shanahan came down hard on hits to the head this past season, and the league saw a drop in concussions.
However, Raffi Torres hit on Marian Hossa, and the lingering effects on Sidney Crosby throughout the season showed that maybe the problem isn't the players, but the game itself.
Fans and executives are saying the game is too fast and the players are too big to continue to play the game the way it is. Ideas thrown around are removing the two-line pass, or introducing hybrid icing as an alternative to the current icing format. The league needs to address this problem to keep players safe for the next seven or 10 years, or however long this next CBA will last.
The NHL needs to realize that the offseason is the time to get this deal done. The fans and the players may not stand for another work stoppage. The costs of having a work stoppage would greatly outweigh any benefit for waiting to get the deal done.
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