Here we are, just about three weeks before the September 15th expiration of the NHL's collective bargaining agreement. If you listen to the Canadian press and the hockey media all across North America, an owner lockout is almost a guarantee.
I am in the minority. I say not so fast.
Sure, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman has stated that there will be no training camp if there is no CBA by the drop-dead date of the 15th. You hear Bettman making statements about the gap between the NHL and the NHLPA. "We believe we're paying out more than we should be. It's as simple as that," Mr. Bettman told TSN.ca.
NHLPA head Donald Fehr is aware that the owners don't want to pay any more money than they have to. This is no surprise to Fehr, who is also the former head of the Major League Baseball Players Association. Fehr told TSN.ca. "From the players' standpoint, they want a fair agreement, they want one that is equitable, they want one that recognizes their contribution."
Looking at both leaders' comments, it looks like both sides have conflicting opinions about what's best for the league and the players. If you look a little deeper, though, there is a bit of optimism.
Both Bettman and Fehr, while in disagreement, haven't resorted to any name-calling. The interaction appears much more professional than in the last lockout.
Back then, Bettman and NHLPA head Bob Goodenow acted like they were engaged in a heavyweight championship fight. Words and accusations flew in every direction.
These 2012 bargaining sessions just don't have that feel, at least not yet anyway.
The first and possibly most important reason for optimism is that the players union's first proposal included that dreaded word, salary cap. While the economics of the proposals need to be worked out, the fact that a cap was included surprised the owners.
While it may seem like that was not a big deal, that is a major concession by the NHLPA. Don't forget, Fehr is very much against a salary cap, but he's already conceded that point. That can only be a good thing.
I truly believe both sides don't want this to drag on longer than necessary. When the league shut down seven years ago, that didn't help either side. In terms of who won the war, well, the owners got their cap.
Then again, the owners always win these negotiations. It's a matter of how much the players union will eventually budge. While the owners are certainly greedy at times, we don't feel bad for the players either.
Let's face it, no matter what deal the the players agree to, they will be making much more money than 95 percent of us will ever see. That's why the only ones who are really hurt are the fans.
But this time around, it shouldn't be as bad for us, the fans.
Bettman and Fehr both have reason to get a deal done sooner rather than later. They both have something in common.
The two counterparts each had a hand in shutting down a season: Fehr during his tenure as MLBPA leader, and Bettman, who put a closed sign on all NHL arenas during the 2004-2005 season, as well as heading an owners' lockout in 1994. That season was shortened to 50 games.
To be fair, both men must do what is best for their employers. For Bettman, it's the owners. For Fehr, it's the players. Each, though, doesn't want to be known for work stoppages.
The NHL commissioner also realizes (at least I hope he does) that his league can't afford another work stoppage, especially in the current economy. Football, baseball and basketball could deal with another delayed start. Not the NHL.
It is nowhere near those three other sports in terms of revenue, interest and TV ratings in the United States. Bettman needs to look no further than the disappointing Stanley Cup ratings on NBC and its cable sister, NBC Sports Network.
If you look closely, Flyers owner and Comcast chairman (which owns NBC) Ed Snider already went off-script. Bettman and the NHL owners are pushing for a five-year limit on the length of player contracts. All the owners should be on board, right? Not really.
According to Yahoo! Sports, Snider and his Flyers just signed Wayne Simmonds to a six-year, $23.875 million extension. While it wasn't a blatant stepping on the toes of the commissioner and fellow owners, it can be seen as a lack of solidarity within the league.
While nobody really knows what will happen next, I wouldn't panic just yet. Is a lockout possible? Of course.
Will it be half a season or a repeat of 2004? I very much doubt that.
I think we could see a two-week holdout in training camp, with the regular season played as scheduled.
The NHL players are a different breed. They want to play. They don't want to take a chance of 2004 repeating itself. They will budge.
Hey, it's just my feeling. I know it's more optimistic than what everybody else has been predicting.
But you might as well get on my bandwagon.
It can't hurt.
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