With the collective bargaining agreement set to expire at midnight or September 15th, the National Hockey League (NHL) is set for what looks to be a long and drawn-out lockout that does not look like there will be an end in sight.
Two players are involved in this fight. In the right corner, you have NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr and the NHL players, and in the left corner, you have commissioner Gary Bettman and the owners.
Doing my best Don King, this fight will be one for the ages, and only one person is going to come out of this alive.
Bettman, who has driven the NHL boat the past 18 years, will likely see his third lockout in his tenure. To put it simply, each time the CBA expires under Bettman, a lockout happens.
Since the 2004-05 lockout, the NHL has been steadily improving their profit, making over $3.3 billion last season, a $1.1 billion increase from last season.
However, the one thing not mentioned by most NHLPA supporters is that 18 of the 30 NHL teams in 2010-11 all lost money.
The major hockey markets like Canada, the New York Rangers, Chicago Blackhawks, Boston Bruins, and Philadelphia Flyers all made lots of money. Meanwhile, teams like the Buffalo Sabres, St. Louis Blues, Carolina Hurricanes, Nashville Predators and New Jersey Devils, amongst others, all lost money.
In 2009-10, 16 teams lost money as a result of high operating costs. Those high operating costs are player salaries which the owners are trying to dwindle down to something more manageable.
Sounds pretty grim, right?
To make matters worse, if a lockout does in fact happen and another year is potentially lost in the NHL, expect a few of the profitable NHL teams to lose money when the NHL is back up and running at full steam.
Should the NHL even risk having another lockout? For the long-term health of the league, they should avoid it at all costs.
But by the sound of things, a very weary and distraught Bettman these days seems to be firm on his beliefs and there's no knocking him off those beliefs.
The average cost of buying an NHL team is roughly $200 million; however, teams like the Buffalo Sabres and Atlanta Thrashers (now the Winnipeg Jets) were each recently sold for roughly $165-170 million. The outliers, the Maple Leafs, Canadiens and Rangers, amongst others, are worth well over $450 million each, making that average NHL team cost a little skewed. That is where the revenue sharing comes into effect, and how the high-profit teams are saving the low-profit teams.
The fact of the matter is, the NHL can survive easily on say the NFL's 48 percent CBA model, or the NBA's 50/50 split. However, you have one penny-pinching side wanting 43 percent while the players think 57 percent is just peachy for them.
Saying all this is well and good, but in reality, Bettman's stance on expanding the game within North America has quickly hurt the long-term viability of the league.
Hockey teams such as the Florida Panthers, Phoenix Coyotes, Nashville Predators and Tampa Bay Lightning, amongst others, are nearly always found at the bottom of the NHL salary cap.
The New Jersey Devils, who were at one point nearing bankruptcy, just lost Zach Parise to the Minnesota Wild after he signed a long-term offer there simply because the owner decided signing Ilya Kovalchuk to a ridiculous long-term contract was in the Devils' "best interest."
The Dallas Stars were sold in a court-supervised sale. The fact of the matter is, the NHL cannot survive in the southern markets of the United States.
For example, the Winnipeg Jets rose from the ashes of the Atlanta Thrashers (who were sold for a mere $170, including a $60 million re-location fee) and saw the franchise value grow upward of 30 percent in the first season in Winnipeg.
That kind of economic growth likely won't be sustained in Winnipeg because the initial fanfare of the Jets returning will leave, and the the team may struggle and miss the playoffs. But hey, you never know, they could just as successful as the other six Canadian teams.
The NHL's latest offer to the NHLPA involved a 51.7 percent share of hockey-related revenue with a steady decline in the years following. Bettman wants to limit player contracts to five years in length, wants to set the salary cap at $58 million for the 2012-13 season and, lastly, wants unrestricted free agency to start for a player after the player has played 10 years in the NHL.
Gary, where do you draw the line?
Even in his short stature, Bettman is trying to play the bully. Not only asking for your lunch, but asking for your milk money and cookies, too, as Flames forward Mike Cammalleri put it.
The honest truth of the matter is, this deal is going to get messy. For the NHL fans' sake, let's hope this gets resolved quickly, and that Bettman is shown the door.
Three Lockouts in 18 years, with more than half the NHL teams are losing money, and Bettman's thought of expanding the NHL to so many markets that the NHL can't survive financially gives me the OK as an owner to get rid of him.
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