NHL Labor Issues: Will an Owner Battle Help the Players in CBA Talks?

Steve Silverman@@profootballboyFeatured ColumnistAugust 29, 2012

Gary Bettman's hard-line stance makes a work stoppage seem likely.
Gary Bettman's hard-line stance makes a work stoppage seem likely.Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Gary Bettman has been walking a hard line in the NHL negotiations with the NHL Players' Association as September approaches.

With just a bit more than two weeks remaining until the league promises to lock players out (Sept. 15), NHLPA chief Donald Fehr is considering all his options as he attempts to negotiate a new agreement with the high-strung Bettman.

While the NHLPA prepares its latest response to Bettman's "new" proposal delivered to the NHLPA Aug. 28, it appears that a work stoppage of some duration is quite likely (source: NHL.com).

However, the NHLPA may be able to force the owners' hands if it can come up with an answer that a high number of owners believe they can live with.

Just a couple of months before the end of the season, the league bragged that it had record revenues once again in the 2011-12 season. The league said it had $3.2 billion in revenues, the seventh consecutive season that it had increased to that record total (source: SBNation.com).

Shortly after making that announcement, the NHL told the NHLPA it had to change the framework of the Collective Bargaining Agreement because a number of teams were not making money.

While that seems to be at odds with the $3.2 billion in revenues, it is not. Teams like the Montreal Canadiens, Detroit Red Wings, Boston Bruins, New York Rangers and Vancouver Canucks are making a profit. However, other teams like the New York Islanders, the Phoenix Coyotes and Columbus Blue Jackets are not.

In its first proposal, the NHLPA made revenue sharing between the clubs a significant portion of its proposal (source: New York Daily News). By forcing the highly profitable teams to share revenues with the struggling teams, the players would not have to make as big a salary concession as the owners are asking.

This type of agreement is used by Major League Baseball teams and it makes sense. However, selling it to the NHL owners won't be easy.

The lower-revenue clubs will like it, but the richer clubs may not. However, the money making enterprises don't want to lose games due to a work stoppage. That would clearly cut into their profit margin and would make it more difficult to have a thriving business.

So, a work stoppage may look like Bettman is flexing his muscles to show the players who is boss, but that kind of show won't sit well with the owners (source: Montreal Gazette).

The owners who are making money will lose a good percentage of their profit as soon as they start losing games and don't have sold-out arenas and high-end local television money. They may start to stamp their feet as soon as the work stoppage means that season ticket money will have to be returned (in one form or another).

This may be the ace in the hole for the players. Bettman may have forgotten that when he was hired in 1993, one of the requirements of the job was to avoid work stoppages. However, owners who don't get to make big deposits into their bank account will quickly remind him of his job.

Fehr may want to bargain and work out a fair deal with the league, but he may not have his best chance until angry owners start arguing with each other and assert that they don't want any part of a work stoppage.