The NHL is flirting with disaster right now, and if the league and its players continue on the present course, hockey will suffer unneeded and unnecessary harm.
There are several changes that the league must make to ensure that lockouts are a rarity rather than an expected occurrence for every decade going forward.
Let's look at five changes that must be made.
The NHL has dealt with a lockout for three straight decades, and to prevent this trend from continuing the league must make an effort to have the new CBA be 10 years in length.
With the current rate of growth in revenues that the NHL has, both the owners and players should be able to construct a CBA that allows each sport to prosper for more than five to seven years.
The NHL has lost 1,698 regular season games to lockouts since 1994, which is more than the other three major North American sports leagues (NFL, NBA, MLB) combined in that same time span.
The number of games lost could climb to 2,000 before the current lockout concludes, which is one milestone the NHL must make an effort to not reach.
The NHL is not going to win the public relations battle with the players for a number of reasons, one of which is fans aren't going to be sympathetic to billionaires in a poor economy.
The players were willing to work under the current CBA, but the owners made a choice to lock them out, reminding everyone that the lockout is a choice by the owners.
After locking out the players two times in eight years, the owners have no chance to win the PR battle this time around.
If the owners continue to fight this battle with the NHLPA, the fans are going to begin resenting the league even more.
The NHLPA has tried partnering with wealthy franchises to help expand revenue sharing so teams that are losing money can be financially healthier in the long-term.
If the current revenue sharing system isn't fixed soon, teams won't be able to invest in their market to help build a fan base. In turn, this will hinder teams in non-traditional hockey markets create and maintain financial success.
Teams also need money to promote minor and youth hockey league programs that will help grow the sport in areas where hockey isn't popular yet.
The players should not be solely responsible for helping struggling teams who made bad decisions that put them in a bad shape financially. The owners from teams with the highest revenues must help out their fellow owners for the good of the sport.
The reason why many of the struggling teams have not been financially healthy in recent years is because of mismanagement, and that's not the players' fault.
Gary Bettman promised that ticket prices would drop after the last lockout, but unfortunately his promise was not kept.
As an apology to the fans for putting them through three lockouts since 1994, teams should either drop ticket prices this season, or at least keep them the same as last year.
Lowering or freezing ticket prices must happen to give fans an incentive to come back to the sport when the league opens its doors again.
The NHL needs to ensure that most of the fans, especially the ones who have only begun to follow the league closely since the previous lockout, come back to the sport when the work stoppage ends.
Helping fans by lowering ticket prices and making it easier for families to enjoy NHL games is one good way to do this.
Some of the reasons we have a lockout at the moment is because NHL commissioner Gary Bettman is unwilling to correct some of his mistakes.
When you look at recent statistics, Bettman's mission to put teams in southern United States markets has proven to be, for the most part, a failed plan.
The Dallas Stars, Tampa Bay Lightning, Florida Panthers, Nashville Predators, Anaheim Ducks, Carolina Hurricanes and Phoenix Coyotes are all in southern markets, and all of them finished in the bottom half of the league in revenues during the 2010-11 season, according to Forbes.
That same Forbes report shows that 18 of the league's 30 teams lost money during the 2010-11 season, and all of the teams I mentioned above were among the 18 teams that lost money. All of the seven teams listed also finished in the bottom third of attendance percentage for the 2011-12 season.
Revenue sharing would probably not be a major issue that the two sides cannot agree on right now if more than half of the league wasn't losing money. Since so many teams are not profitable, the players, owners or both parties have to craft their CBA proposals to help these struggling teams. This makes negotiating more difficult.
The number of mistakes and poor decisions that Bettman has made as commissioner since 1993 outweigh the number of good things that he's done for the game.
For the NHL to challenge the NBA, MLB and NFL in popularity and relevance, it needs a new commissioner.