NHL Cancels Games: Will the Reality of the Lockout Hit Both Sides Now?

Steve SilvermanFeatured ColumnistOctober 4, 2012

The NHL has canceled its first block of games as it continues to lock out players.
The NHL has canceled its first block of games as it continues to lock out players.Eric Hartline-US PRESSWIRE

The violent storm that hung over the NHL throughout the offseason has touched down and caused significant damage.

Technically, the lockout started Sept. 15 when the NHL and the Players Association could not come together on a new Collective Bargaining Agreement.

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman warned the NHLPA that he would lock players out of their training camps and he did that.

Now he has taken the next step, as the league has cancelled the first two weeks' worth of games in the regular season (source: NHL.com).

This is reality. Even if the cancellation of these 82 games was enough to spur both sides to get back to the negotiating table and come to an agreement in 24 hours, there would not be any regular-season games before the final week of October.

That doesn't mean that the schedule couldn't be altered and that the cancelled games couldn't be rescheduled, but there will need to be some semblance of training camp before players can go out on the ice and play meaningful games.

This is awful news for the NHL, players and the sport's beleaguered fans.

However, it is not the end of the world and it does not mean that the 2012-13 season will be destroyed the way the 2004-05 season was.

The NHL had a similar lockout that year, with the two sides not able to reach an agreement at any point in the negotiating process and there were no regular-season or Stanley Cup playoff games.

There were no games played until the start of the 2005-06 season.

It was a nightmare for all parties.

This time, there is hope that the reality of cancelled games will serve as shock therapy for both sides.

Bettman has to realize that his reputation continues to take hit after hit from the players, fans and media as a result of this lockout (source: SymmetryPublicRelations.com).

The players were forced to endure a major salary rollback in the last labor dispute and Bettman is trying to impose another rollback, even though league revenues have gone up significantly since 2004 (source: ESPN.com). Since there will be no income from ticket sales and local television revenues, perhaps Bettman is willing to move off of his position.

On the other hand, Donald Fehr has tried to maintain a reasonable demeanor throughout the dispute and he has even acknowledged that the revenue increases have not solved all the NHL's financial ills.

He has proposed a revenue sharing plan (source: USAToday.com), but he doesn't want the players to bear the majority of the financial changes the league is trying to impose.

However, his players will not be getting paychecks. Perhaps he is willing to offer a bit more.

It may take one or two more rounds of cancellations before anything substantive happens at the negotiating table.

It may also take some kind of outside intervention before anything important happens to get the game back on track.

NBC has said it will pay the NHL (source: Canada.com) its annual share of funds from the 10-year, $2 billion contract that the network signed with the league in 2011.

Perhaps it needs to rethink that policy. That may involve lawyers, lawsuits and courtroom procedures that hockey fans are not interested in. However, it may be the huge hammer that is needed to break up this stalemate.