NHL Lockout: Why the NHL Owners Are to Blame for the Lockout

Steve Silverman@@profootballboyFeatured ColumnistSeptember 16, 2012

Gary Bettman and the NHL owners have locked out players again.
Gary Bettman and the NHL owners have locked out players again.Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

In the end, there’s plenty of blame to go around. Especially on the management side.

Gary Bettman is the mouthpiece who appears to have orchestrated the business of locking out the NHL players (source: NHL.com).

He seems to be quite good at it. His league locked the players out in 1994-95 and teams played just 48 games that season.

The league locked its players out in 2004-05 and that time they did more than shorten the season (source: USA Today). They missed the entire season and the playoffs. After the 2004 Stanley Cup Final, there were no meaningful games until the start of the 2005-06 season.

But can it really be all Bettman’s fault?

Of course it can’t.

He works for the owners. They employ him. He works at their pleasure.

That means he must do what they want him to do. Or he must convince them that his plan is good for them. Meaning good for their bottom line.

There’s no question that this dispute is about money. While some of the high-end teams in the league are succeeding and making a solid profit, there are too many of the so-called small-market teams that are not making money (source: NHLNumbers.com). They are losing money.

These owners want to cut the players’ share in order to help the teams that are losing money either lose less or become profitable.

Apparently, these owners don’t think they should have to sacrifice to make the game successful and profitable.

That’s pig-headed, selfish and stupid.

The owners are trying to bully the players through their angry little terrier of a commissioner.

The players are trying to work things out through their chief negotiator, Donald Fehr.

Fehr, of course, served as the head of the Major League Baseball Players Association for many years. Baseball was noted for its labor disputes in the 1970s, '80s and '90s. For many of those years, Fehr was an aggressive union rep who regularly played nasty with baseball’s management.

But after the 1994 labor dispute knocked out baseball’s playoffs and World Series, the two sides started to take a more reasonable tone with each other.

Fehr helped put together baseball’s revenue sharing program that has prevented any more work stoppages since ’94.

Hiring Fehr was a brilliant move by the NHLPA. They knew that he was quite familiar with revenue sharing and could put together a workable proposal for the NHL.

So far, the owners are not willing to give it much consideration (source: Forbes.com).

They want to bully the players and make them pay the freight.

It seems likely it’s the richer owners who are behind the work stoppage. The struggling owners want to become whole. They don’t care where the money comes from.

But the profitable owners don’t want to “share” their bounty. They understand the other owners need to become profitable also, but they don’t want to give up their share.

So they will want to make the players pay. Again.

That’s selfish, greedy and shortsighted.

The NHL owners are willing to play that hand as the lockout begins.