A layman's view of the impending NHL lockout | Hockey | CBC Sports

Hockey Night in Canada A layman's view of the impending NHL lockout

Posted: Friday, September 14, 2012 | 12:03 PM

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 The relationship between the NHL and the NHLPA is different today than it was when Bob Goodenow was director of the NHLPA.   (Brad White/Getty Images)  The relationship between the NHL and the NHLPA is different today than it was when Bob Goodenow was director of the NHLPA. (Brad White/Getty Images)

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Saturday is when the CBA expires, but it is NOT the 11th hour. Gord Stellick says he doesn't know exactly when that moment will arrive, but not this Saturday.  
While I stop short of Ron MacLean's thoughts that there definitely won't be an NHL lockout, I do remain on the glass half filled side of the equation. Maybe naively, but I will stay there for now, for the following reasons.

Saturday is when the CBA expires, but it is NOT the 11th hour. I don't exactly know when that moment will arrive, but not this Saturday. Both sides will work "harder" when it actually does arrive.

There are worries that none of the issues raised by the NHL have been dealt with. Things like free agency, the abolition of salary arbitration, front-loaded contracts, capping the length of contracts. These can't be touched until the financial picture is solved. How much of the financial pie will be part of the new salary cap? Since the majority of NHL teams spend at or close to the ceiling of the cap, that money might end up distributed in a different manner with other changes in rules. That exact amount has to first be determined.

It is as simple as the owners expressing their need for a larger percentage of that revenue pie. Similar to what occurred last year in the NBA and NFL. When the owners gave their first proposal that the players share should go from 57% of hockey related revenue (HRR) to 43%, the players contend that would mean a simple transfer of $450 million US from the players' side to the owners' side. That simple! If the owners are at 49%, as some have reported, that would reduce that transfer to $240 million.

Elliotte Friedman wrote an excellent piece about why the owners wanted to restructure how HRR is to be determined. One positive I see is that the owners have now backed off that stance and are willing to let the current system continue.

Court challenges no big deal

I have heard criticisms of "dirty pool" towards the NHLPA for filing legal procedures in Alberta and Quebec. That seems to indicate a hard line and bitter edge to what is going on. Relax!  Court actions have been part of all major sports for decades.

Curt Flood took the major league baseball reserve clause all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. John Mackey won a big court battle to open up free agency in the NFL. It was Sonia Sotomayer, a federal trial court judge in the United States, who ended the biggest baseball labour dispute in 1995. Even last season, Drew Brees and Peyton Manning led a group of elite NFL players who filed anti-trust legislation against the NFL when they were locked out.

Players get good PR

This is the best managed public relations strategy that I have seen by the players. Bob Goodenow made the fans feel like they didn't matter, like they weren't an important piece of the NHL puzzle. Fehr has articulated things extremely well and has been bolstered by a strong show of support and strength from his players.

There is nowhere near the personal dislike between the two leaders as in previous labour stoppages. Goodenow had former NHL president John Ziegler for breakfast in how he bullied him in the 1992 players strike. Gary Bettman and Goodenow took their mutually differences (or dislike) to a higher level during the 1994 lockout and it evolved into something personal by the 2004 lockout.

The players are smart by not making statements that they aren't prepared to back up.  Goodenow misread his constituent's solidarity in 2004 when they said they were willing to miss at least a season and a half to prevent any form of a salary cap. The players gave their support but common sense said they couldn't really follow through. And they didn't.

Getting a deal done

The big concern is the perception of a strategy by 12 U.S.-based NHL teams. They are mostly the weakest financially (a few exist in false hockey markets) but may also include Ted Leonsis in Washington. The NHLPA feels that this group has told Bettman to grind the NHLPA down as much as they can. Grind them and keep it going. Most of these teams struggle to sell tickets in the first part of the NHL season as they compete with baseball playoffs and the NFL. The argument is that these folks don't genuinely want to make a deal, they would rather blow off these weaker home games to get a great deal.

This is where the top 12 financially solvent NHL teams (including most Canadian teams) need to exert more influence in getting a "fair" deal done.

One easy solution for teams get to the new salary cap (whatever it is) will be to allow the teams to buy out NHL contracts without it counting towards the salary cap, which happened in 2005. Buying out a player like Scott Gomez, for example, will free up a lot of room for the Montreal Canadiens.

Here's one of my questions. Who will take a comparable role to what Bob Kraft of the New England Patriots did in the NFL Lockout? A "good cop" will emerge to help soften Bettman playing the "bad cop" for the time being on behalf of his NHL owners.

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