NHL Cancels Regular Season Games: Who Is Most Affected?

Dan KelleyCorrespondent IIOctober 4, 2012

Image via latimes.com
Image via latimes.com

NBC Sports is reporting that the NHL has announced that it will cancel the first two weeks of the regular season, a total of 82 games.

The cancellation seemed to be a foregone conclusion after more than 100 players migrated to European leagues since the NHL lockout began on September 16. The entire preseason had already been cancelled last week and face-to-face meetings over the weekend produced no optimism.

For the players, the cancellation of regular season games marks the first moment that the lockout will truly have an economic impact on them. The two weeks forfeited represent the first two weeks of pay for the players, all of whom are bringing in significantly lower salaries in the AHL and other leagues, and many of whom are not playing professional hockey at all.

Of course, the players as a collective knew the monetary consequences of not getting a deal done, and many of them lived through the 2004-05 lockout that cancelled an entire season. The players steadfastly believe that surrendering money in the short-term will allow them to avoid taking a huge economic blow in the long run.

The cancellation of regular season games may also be enough motivation for the league's more optimistic players to give overseas leagues serious consideration. The announcement deals a blow of reality to the NHLPA, and players who delayed signing European contracts in the hopes that a deal would get done quickly will have to start considering alternative options.

The NHL owners, led by commissioner Gary Bettman, made a surprisingly conservative move in cancelling only two weeks of the regular season to start.

The move could be viewed as a warning shot, a direct reminder to the players of the consequences of a stalemate in negotiations. CSN Philly is reporting that NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr has no intention of initiating the next round of negotiations.

Two sources told CSNPhilly.com that NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr asked the players if he should make another proposal. They said, “No,” in hopes that the league would make the next move with concessions.

The stubbornness is consistent with the players' philosophy of ensuring that they aren't taken to the cleaners for a second-straight labor dispute. Weakness could set a precedent that results in excessive demands from ownership each time a collective bargaining agreement expires.

The owners are also affected by the cancellation of games. The aforementioned CSNPhilly.com article claims that the Philadelphia Flyers stand to lose $6 million should the entire month of October be cancelled.

This may not be a dramatic loss for the Flyers, who are one of hockey's more wealthy teams and whose owner Ed Snider certainly isn't hurting for money.

But with every cancellation, the owners must know that the $3.3 billion pie the NHL and NHLPA are fighting over begins to shrink. Not only is the sport directly impacted by the loss of games and the revenue those games bring in, but each extra day that the sport remains out of the spotlight takes a bite out of the casual fan base that helped the sport achieve record growth in the last seven years (via sportsmedianews.com).

If we are to believe what we're told, this lockout centers largely around the fact that those record revenue numbers made the owners take a close look at the 57 percent of hockey-related revenue they were giving to the NHLPA.

Fifty-seven percent of a $2.2 billion pie is approximately $1.3 billion. Fifty-seven percent of a $3.3 billion pie is close to $1.9 billion, meaning that the players got a $600 million revenue increase in seven years of the sports' growth.

The NHL knows that, while they want to cut into that additional $600 million, forcing a stalemate that would bring revenue back down would completely defeat the purpose.

That, perhaps, is why this first round of cancellations came nowhere near the beginning of NBC's televised games (set to begin Black Friday) or the 2014 Winter Classic, both major milestones in the NHL season.

The owners themselves have more to lose than in 2004-05. The players, thanks to the rise of the KHL as a second big-league option for players whose contracts expire soon, could be said to have less to lose.

And as always, the fans are the ones who are already losing.


Dan Kelley has been a Bleacher Report Featured Columnist since 2011. Follow him on Twitter: @dxkelley