NHL Lockout: 10 Reasons to Believe We Will Have Hockey in 2013
For the second time in eight years, Gary Bettman and the NHL owners have locked out their players because of labor disputes. The entire preseason and the first two weeks of the regular season have already been cancelled.
More is expected to come.
The NHL Players Association, led this time by Donald Fehr, is standing up for the players and their hard-earned money.
There’s a significant gap between the owners and the union, though. Negotiations seem to be moving quicker than they did in 2004-05, which is a good sign.
The owners and the players association better hurry up and get dug in though. Here are 10 reasons to believe we’ll have hockey in 2013.
The Salary Cap Is Already in Place
The salary cap was easily the most controversial issue in 2004-05. The player’s association vehemently opposed the salary cap until the threat of losing a second season came close to being a reality.
Now the issue is money. The owners want to, once again, reduce the share of hockey related revenues given to the players. Gary Bettman’s original proposal would see the players’ share reduced from 53 percent to 46 percent.
Contract nuances are also a talking point. Bettman’s new CBA proposal includes a five-year cap on contracts, changes to what defines an unrestricted free agent and eradicating arbitration, among other things.
These issues are very important to both the players and the owners. However, they’re considered relatively minuscule compared to the issue the salary cap presented eight years ago.
Small Market Teams Hurt the Most
The reasoning behind Bettman and the owners proposing a cut in the players’ share of the hockey related revenue is that some teams are struggling with increasing operating costs.
If teams are struggling, it should be on the owners to divide their share of the revenues to make sure the struggling teams stay afloat. Cutting the players’ salaries is not the right way to ensure that struggling teams stay in business.
Regardless, these franchises won’t be struggling any less when they aren’t earning any money because their teams aren’t playing.
A former assistant general manager for the Toronto Maple Leafs sounded off on the possibility of the NHL using replacement players:
It’s not something the NHL has tried before but I can guarantee you they have the capability and wherewithal to do it. There are lots of players out there willing to play and there will be lots of players not playing that will run back. No one is talking about it yet but you can guarantee it’s on their list.
But could the NHL pull it off?
If the owners are desperate enough to be dressing free agents, they may as well work with the union to decide a more neutral CBA.
The use of replacement players was probably much more likely eight years ago when the stakes were much higher.
Losing Players to European Leagues
Washington Capitals captain Alexander Ovechkin went on record and said that he would consider staying in Russia’s Kontinental Hockey League if the new CBA slashed player salaries too much.
Now will Ovechkin really stay overseas? Probably not. His sponsors aren’t paying large sums of money to have a KHL superstar wearing their gear.
But who’s to say other players won’t leave the NHL for good? If a player loses too much money under the new CBA, who would blame him for seeking employment elsewhere?
The top tier players might have to stay put but others won’t have to. If the owners get what they want and cut the players’ share of hockey related revenues, bread-and-butter players might leave and some teams might begin to fall apart.
The Roles Are Reversed This Time Around
In 2004-05, plenty of fans sided with the owners and their belief that the players receiving a 76 percent cut of the revenues was ridiculous. Then NHLPA leader Bob Goodenow was seen as the villain of the last lockout.
This time around, Bettman is the antagonist. NHL fans across the board criticize him and the owners for being greedy.
In 2004-05, Goodenow was rigid in his stance against the salary cap. Now it’s Bettman and the owners that are refusing NHLPA leader Donald Fehr’s concessions like continuing to play during CBA negotiations. Bettman, however, was steadfast in locking out the players.
In 2012, Gary Bettman is the bad guy and Donald Fehr is the good guy.
More Meetings Between the Owners and the Players Association
The players association and owners have come a long way since 2004-05 when it comes to negotiations. While no formal proposals have been submitted since Sept. 12, there are signs of life.
Andy Strickland of 590 The Fan notes that the players association is working on a proposal to be submitted to Bettman and the owners.
— Andy Strickland (@andystrickland) October 4, 2012
Back in 2004, the first negotiations that took place after the players were locked out were in December.
Furthermore, labor talks are expected to resume this week, according to the Washington Times.
The continued formal and informal meetings, as well as the supposed NHLPA proposal that is in the works, are certainly a great sign.
The Owners Aren’t as Unified as Gary Bettman Wants Us to Think
Of course the owners want more money. It’s in their nature.
But are the owners willing to lose an entire season and all the money that comes with it? Is an 11 percent increase in the revenue split worth it to all the NHL owners?
Allan Walsh had an interesting report on an informal meeting that would lead us to believe Bettman doesn’t have 100 percent support from the owners.
Why did Bettman/Daly sneak into Toronto for secret meeting w/ the NHLPA? He's feeling heat from owners. Being told, "we can't lose season."
— Allan Walsh (@walsha) October 6, 2012
The players, on the other hand, seem to be completely unified. Jarome Iginla has said that he is willing to sit out for the entire season so long as the players get a fair deal.
The Owners Have More to Lose
Between the television deal with NBC Sports and the installment of the annual Winter Classic, the owners have much more to lose than they did in 2004-05.
According to Sports Illustrated, the NHL garnered a record $3.3 billion in revenues this past season–a 33 percent increase from the 2005-06 season. If the owners are as greedy as many perceive them to be, they won’t pass up another possibly record breaking season.
Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly said the NHL already lost $100 million in the preseason alone. The owners wish to reduce the players’ share of revenues to help out struggling franchises.
Is canceling games and losing out on large sums of money really the best way to go about helping these struggling clubs?
The Stanley Cup
It’s no secret the NHL has had labor disputes in the past. However, the 2004-05 lockout was the first time an entire season was lost.
That lost season marked the first time the Stanley Cup wasn’t awarded since 1919. While the owners and players willingly let the 2005 postseason go, they might be less inclined to do so in 2013.
To some extent, it’s understandable why the two sides let the 2005 playoffs come and go. After all, the issues they debated over were crucial to the future of the sport.
Compared to the core issues behind the last lockout, the core issues being debated now are hardly enough to prevent the crowning of a Stanley Cup champion for the second time in eight years.
The Winter Classic
The Winter Classic is the wild card. When the owners locked out the 2004-05 season, they didn’t have the gold mine that is the Winter Classic.
From the HBO 24/7 special to the television rights to the ticket sales, the Winter Classic has quickly become the biggest event of the NHL’s calendar year.
The NHL is set to break records this year, too. The current attendance record for a hockey game is the Big Chill game that pitted rivals Michigan and Michigan State against one another. This season’s Winter Classic game between the Detroit Red Wings and Toronto Maple Leafs is scheduled to take place in the same stadium.
For the owners, it’s all about money. It always is. The Winter Classic is too big a payday for the owners to pass up.
Also take into account the fact that two of hockey’s biggest franchises, the Red Wings and the Maple Leafs, are this season’s competitors. While they’re only two teams, they still have a good deal of leverage in the labor disputes.
The Winter Classic may be a game changer for the lockout. It’s hard to imagine that the owners will let Bettman and his lockout cancel the season’s biggest game.
Give it a few months and we’ll see.
Michael Prunka is a Bleacher Report Featured Columnist and Sports Writing Intern. To stay up to date with his WWE and NHL commentary, you can like his Facebook page, follow him on Twitter and follow him on Tout.