The 2012-13 NHL season is teetering on the edge of cancellation, a feat that would shamefully mark the second full-season work stoppage in the history of major North American sports—and the second time the NHL has done it in eight years.
This poor precedent leaves hockey fans wondering not only when they will see their sport again, but whether or not there is any guarantee that they won't relive this pettiness the next time a collective bargaining agreement expires.
In fact, one of the major focuses of this eventual CBA will be ensuring that future owners and players will not have to repeat these mistakes, yet again. But truly guaranteeing that work stoppages will be a thing of the past will take some creativity.
In this piece, we'll look at 25 different stipulations to the next CBA that could end these silly lockouts once and for all. Some are unrealistic, some are sarcastic, and some might actually be just a little bit plausible.
But most of all, each and every one of them is better than anything the NHL and NHLPA came up with last time.
One huge bit of leverage the NHL holds over players is the virtual monopoly they have over a player’s fate once a contract is signed. As per an agreement made through the International Ice Hockey Federation (detailed in this New York Times blog post), a player may not violate a contract in one hockey league to sign a deal in another.
As a result, while players may temporarily play in the KHL, Swedish-Elite League and others due to current contracts being suspended, all those players must return to the NHL the moment a deal is signed. Thus, threats from players like Alex Ovechkin to stay in Europe as a response to the lockout are entirely empty (story via Pro Hockey Talk).
What if the NHL determined in the next CBA that any player who loses even a single paycheck via work stoppage may have his contract deemed void, giving him the option to play anywhere else in the world? There would certainly be incentive to work out a deal much more quickly. Not only would big-time Euro stars rush across the pond, but even a handful of North Americans may find they prefer the wide rinks and no-touch icing of hockey overseas.
Television networks enter into deals with sports leagues trusting that the sport will continue to put a high-quality, watchable product on the airwaves to create demand for advertisers.
When valuable air-time can no longer be devoted to the NHL due to the lockout, the owners are violating that trust with the networks.
Exposure of the sport is incredibly important, and putting legalese in the CBA that flushes even the most airtight TV deal down the toilet would be a huge threat to the status of the sport once a future lockout ends.
NBC will not suffer monetarily during the lockout this season (according to Sporting News, a lost season in 2012-13 would be added to the end of the current 10-year deal free of charge), but future lockouts should come with the knowledge that the sport may once again be relegated to a time slot between bull riding and reruns of fishing lessons.
There seems to be no end to the list of issues that the NHL and NHLPA are arguing over, but in work stoppages like this one, much of the pressure comes from the fact that teams in the sport are failing financially.
Here’s a built-in solution that neither side is willing to put on the table themselves: work obligatory contraction into the next CBA.
You want to cancel an entire season? Fine. The bottom two money-earning teams get contracted automatically. That should ease some financial pressure for negotiations and throw a monkey wrench into Bettman’s refusal to downsize the league.
He might think twice if procedure called for the elimination of St. Louis and Phoenix when a full season goes down the drain.
Philadelphia's Kimmo Timonen could miss out on the final year of his contract.
When a work stoppage occurs as a result of a lockout, it means that the collective of the owners are refusing to let the players play, as opposed to a strike, where the players choose to stop working.
If a full season is lost, so is that year in player contracts. A five-year deal is reduced to a four-year deal by default.
The next CBA should include a stipulation that all player contracts are put on hold until a deal is reached. This way, players in the last year of their deal have a chance to play out the contract before negotiating a new one, and owners will not be able to skirt around big payout seasons.
The most effective way to fight the power of the NHL is to hit them in the wallet, but fans cannot refuse to show up to games that don’t exist.
However, season ticket holders have the power to take money from the owners the moment a lockout starts, by canceling their plans. In fact, a new CBA should take this a step further by making the process automatic: all season tickets are automatically refunded the moment the work stoppage begins.
Of course, they would be given back after the end of the lockout, but the owners would get an immediate reminder just what kind of impact the fans can have if they are displeased with the failure to negotiate a deal.
By and large, this lockout has centered around the distribution of hockey-related revenue, the split of money between the owners and players’ association.
Here’s a bold idea for the next CBA: The next time there is a work stoppage, the side causing the stoppage (the NHLPA if it is a strike, the NHL if it is a lockout) may not negotiate for more than 49% of HRR. That should simplify the nonsense behind this year’s strike, when it took more than a month for one side to offer a 50-50 split (via ESPN).
Work stoppages would become a thing of the past if offenders knew they would end up with the short end of the stick financially.
How about this idea for the NHL and NHLPA: you have all the time in the world to negotiate a new CBA before the old one expires. Once that clock hits zero, disputes automatically go to a federal mediator.
The sport didn’t have much luck with federal mediation last week (via Puck Daddy), but one wonders whether or not negotiations would have been more successful if the process had begun before the opposing sides had stubbornly dug in for a long battle of wills.
There seemed to be little urgency between the NHL and NHLPA leading up to the Sept. 16 deadline to negotiate a new CBA, and while neither side was interested in appearing weak by kick-starting the process, valuable time was lost and the season is now on the verge of cancellation.
NHL/NHLPA meetings should be a requirement in the next CBA. Once there is one year remaining on the agreement, the sides must meet weekly, for at least three hours at a time, recording everything that is said in the negotiations.
Progress before the expiration of the current CBA should be a required so that a lockout stops being a bargaining tool for the NHL. There is no excuse for either side not to work diligently to see that the impending end of a collective bargaining agreement does not derail the sport.
While some NHL players flock to Europe, a handful of youngsters remain with their organizations via the AHL.
Players on two-way contracts (via USA Today) are eligible to play in the minors, but perhaps the NHL would feel more pressure to get a deal done if AHL rosters were better stocked with NHL-caliber talent.
What about extending the AHL invitation to players who have never been unrestricted free agents (currently applicable to players under age 27)? The resulting minor-league rosters would be more impressive, bringing in more attendance and directly showing the league a segment of the money they are missing out on.
In addition, it would appease the fans by keeping a larger portion of the roster together, even if the team is playing far away from the NHL city the players normally call home.
Maybe all these technical ideas are not the way to go.
How about instead, the home address of Gary Bettman is released to any fan of the Vancouver Canucks who is interested in obtaining the information?
Something tells me that it won’t take more than a few fires, overturned vehicles and decapitated lawn gnomes to motivate the NHL to find some common ground with the NHLPA.
If this lockout has taught us anything, it’s that neither the owners nor the NHLPA seem to have extensive motivation to meet and get the job done. Both sides seem to think that playing the waiting game is a show of strength.
What if Pierre McGuire had unlimited access to the owners during the lockout? He would be handed a microphone and allowed to follow the owners everywhere, free to interview Jeremy Jacobs about his ability to get “down and dirty” immediately after a shower or complimenting Ed Snider on his “big body presence” from the adjacent bathroom stall.
HBO’s 24/7 documentary show proved to be a huge hit in preparation for the past two Winter Classics, and methinks that the skills of the filmmakers can be put to greater use than catching Bruce Boudreau dropping the f-bomb on camera.
What if HBO, and as a result the fans, had no-holds-barred access to the negotiation process? Every deviously-orchestrated proposal, every stall tactic, every well-crafted public statement could be seen for exactly what it is.
While money is the name of the game, neither side wants to be totally vilified by the public, either. Even though Bettman may be immune to boos, a season-long documentary could be the key to showing just how greedy both the owners and players can be during these ludicrous procedures.
Chalk this one up as a personal pet peeve.
While the fans wait around for the chance to don their favorite jerseys and fill the stadium, the NHL and NHLPA posture themselves to turn their petty money disagreements into a necessary part of providing the fans with the best possible product on the ice.
Somehow, as each side does its part to keep hockey arenas dark, they constantly refer to their fans as “the greatest fans in the world.”
This practice needs to be put to rest. As long as the league and union disrespect the fans by keeping the sport locked out, they need to stop referencing the fans in a positive way. Any such mention of the people who are losing their beloved game should result in a massive fine.
According to this CBA stipulation, before a lockout can truly begin, all 30 owners must play a full-length hockey game against the likes of Todd Bertuzzi and Matt Cooke.
Since there is no CBA at the time, any actions taken by Bertuzzi and Cooke that would otherwise be punishable by fine or suspension will, of course, go without consequence.
Negotiations under these terms would go much, much faster.
What better way to torture those who are causing the lockout than putting them in the shoes of the average hockey fan?
Football is only on a few days a week, and baseball is long over by the time the lockout really sinks in. That leaves only basketball on the airwaves when hockey is locked out, and I don’t think many NHL owners really want to spend their time subjected to the commentary of Charles Barkley and a final minute of the game that last half an hour any more than we do.
I don’t think there are many fans out there who would disagree with the idea that those who tune into games and fill the seats in arenas deserve a little compensation for these ridiculous work stoppages.
If everything on NHL.com suddenly became free of charge the moment the lockout began, the league would get an abrupt look at the financial ramifications for angering a passionate fan base. Owners would certainly think twice about using work stoppages to get more money from the players if it was going to hurt merchandise sales in the process.
Even the world's biggest Flyers fan could stand to order one of these sharp Winter Classic jackets that Tortorella is sporting here.
The last lockout gave us the ridiculous trapezoid rule, where goaltenders are not allowed to handle the puck outside a designated zone behind the net.
Here’s a better trapezoid rule: put all owners, NHLPA reps and other key figures in a similarly-sized trapezoid when the lockout begins, and don’t let anyone out until the new CBA is agreed upon.
Even using the bathroom is off-limits.
The lockout has a tendency to make NHL fans feel like fools as we try to defend our sport to NFL, MLB and NBA fans mocking hockey’s history of labor disputes.
NHL owners should share a similar embarrassment. If any time is lost due to a lockout, all 30 owners must wear the old-time hideous Vancouver jerseys for an amount of time equal to the work stoppage.
Owners tend not to know who they are affecting beyond the players when they initiate a work stoppage, and it’s about time they found out.
Once the new CBA is signed, it should come with a clause that owners no longer get to spend time in private suites and press boxes. Instead, each owner can only attend home games if he or she sits in the upper bowl, with the true fans.
You know, the guys who have season tickets but can’t afford seats against the glass; those are hockey’s true fans. Spending time with them could enlighten an owner intent on endorsing a lockout, and it could also have some ugly consequences if he does have the stones to have games canceled.
No one in hockey has better chemistry than the twins, Henrik and Daniel Sedin.
If these guys were the NHL commissioner and union head respectively, a deal would be done in no time.
The sport of hockey may be a business, but the plight of the players should not be forgotten simply for the sake of profit.
Each ownership group should be required to have at least one former player on board, someone who understands the sport and can speak for those who play. A little more diversity among ownership groups would create a more open-minded negotiating mentality.
Most players simply want to play the sport they love, and someone needs to convince other owners that it isn’t worth trying to bleed them dry.
The real Gary Bettman has done little to save the season, why not leave everything up to one of his fake Twitter accounts?
In this stipulation, any negotiations that take place after the lockout has begun will be done in 140 characters or less. That shouldn't take too long to work out a new, shorter CBA.
As sports become more global, the notion of the best teams in the best leagues facing off for a world championship has become more plausible.
If the new CBA can include language that explores the possibility of NHL-KHL matchups, including a tournament for a world championship, then there may be a built-in incentive for labor disputes to be avoided.
An international tournament of this kind would be huge, and owners would seldom risk losing out on big money in order to renegotiate an NHL collective bargaining agreement. If the sports gets bigger and bigger than just the NHL, work stoppages will cease to exist.
The biggest strength against another lockout is a long CBA. Once both sides reach a fair deal, a longer CBA means more hockey played before the morons in charge get back to the bargaining table.
Neither side will go for a 15-year CBA because both will be too afraid of losing money in the unforeseen future, but a long agreement is a must. If the sport has 15 years to grow, these petty money arguments will be less impactful once the time comes to negotiate again.
When you truly research the subject and take away your personal biases as a fan, you’ll find that, on the whole, Gary Bettman has been good for the sport of hockey.
But three lockouts in 18 years, including losing a full season and the impending possibility of losing a second, are all Bettman needed to secure his legacy as a true threat to the sport.
For all the good he has done, including expansion and increasing the marketing of the sport in the United States, Bettman will forever be remembered for his lockouts, and until he is ousted from his post, the threat of yet another will loom large.
Thus, the final corollary to the new CBA, whenever it should be signed, is to remove Bettman from his position. Put fresh blood in the commissioner’s office. Allow a brand new dialogue to be opened between the NHL and NHLPA.
A new commissioner may wind up bringing no change to the office. But as long as Bettman is manning the helm, we all have a sinking feeling about what happens when the next CBA runs out.