The NHL can’t afford to make the same mistake twice
Glenwood Springs, Colorado CO
A new season is approaching with yet another lockout looming.
Say it isn’t so.
We just went through this nonsense with football and basketball during the past year and now the hockey season is perilously close to going over the edge and into the abyss as well.
The dissimilarity that sets hockey apart from the other major sports is that the NHL is the only North American professional sports league in history to actually cancel an entire season because of labor issues.
With the “lost season” of 2004-05 fresh on everyone’s mind, the stage is set for a nail-biting game of “chicken” between the players and owners who are currently trying to strike a deal on a new collective bargaining agreement (CBA) before a league-mandated Sept. 15 deadline.
The million dollar question: Would they really cancel a whole season again … twice in the same decade?
Fool me once, shame on you, NHL. Fool me twice, shame on me for being a fan.
As with most labor disputes and pending lockouts, there are several core issues on the table such as: free agency, arbitration, contact limits and signing bonuses. But make no mistake about it, the main obstacle in this stalemate is all about revenue sharing.
Under the current CBA, players receive 57 percent of the total revenue pool, which is a 24 percent rollback from their previous contract. The league (team owners) would like to reduce that percentage down to 43 percent, according to their latest proposal.
On the surface, it might seem rational for both sides to split the difference and meet at 50-50, which is exactly where the NBA ended up after a work stoppage canceled the first two months of their season.
Sounds like a no-brainer, right?
Not so fast.
NHL Players Association (NHLPA) executive director Donald Fehr is quick to point out the huge gap in revenues when comparing hockey to basketball, or even hockey to football for that matter. Fehr (you might recognize the name from the ’94 baseball strike) is also challenging the definition of “hockey related revenue,” a sure sign of a long, drawn-out negotiation, and possibly an even longer winter ahead.
There are some in the hockey world that think another lockout is a necessary evil because the league stuck it to the players pretty good on the last go-around. They’re quick to point out that the problem lies in how ownership divvies up their portion of the pie, unfairly rewarding the rich while hurting the middle class and the poor.
Sound familiar during this election year?
The truth is, there are teams dying on the vine right now – New Jersey, Phoenix, Tampa Bay, Florida and Columbus all come to mind. Maybe the NHL would be better off without teams in these markets if they’re constantly trying to prop them up and protect them. After all, the NHL is relatively healthy as a whole. TV revenues are solid, and the game is playing to strong ratings, primarily because of increased viewership on NBC.
I’m with the players on this one, for the simple reason that they’ve suggested playing the upcoming season on the terms of the old agreement to avert another lockout, at least for another year. If the NHLPA and the NHL can’t finalize a new CBA by next season, both parties get what they deserve.
The NHL is at a teetering point, the Oct. 11 season opener is in jeopardy, and the entire season on thin ice.
Be afraid, hockey fans. Be very afraid.
Jeff Sauer is a longtime western Colorado resident and former Roaring Fork Valley resident. He can be reached at email@example.com.
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