How long will the NHL lockout last, and why can't the NHL and the NHLPA simply meet at a 50/50 split of revenues? Those are the two most frequently asked questions I hear from people about this labour dispute.
You should know that I'm not good at the prediction game. There has been only occasional success on my field trips to Woodbine, and I was horrible in my Stanley Cup predictions last spring, with only seven of 15 series correctly forecasted.
But maybe, if this trend continues, my horrible record as a prognosticator is a good thing, because I've always felt this lockout will be a lengthy one. I'm in the camp that envisions something like a mid-December startup date so the New Year's Day outdoor game in Ann Arbor, Mich., would not be missed. It's a $30-million windfall for the league.
After listening to the sermons
in New York from NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr and NHL commissioner Gary Bettman last week, nothing has changed my mind. In fact, if the entire season is once again cancelled, I would not be surprised.
The two sides are firmly entrenched in their positions. There hasn't been much negotiating since the Stanley Cup Final concluded three months ago, just different versions presented of what each side would like to see the next collective agreement look like.
The biggest issues to be settled remain how to divide the hockey-related revenue
pie between the two sides, and the players' desire to see a more meaningful revenue sharing system so this lockout cycle - now three in 18 years - can be broken.
Plenty of people believe the simple solution is for the two sides to meet in the middle at a 50/50 split of revenues. After all, in each of the NHL and the NHLPA's latest proposals last week, both sides were inching closer to that 50 per cent mark.
But looks can be deceiving. What has become apparent is that the NHLPA is willing to reduce its share to close to 50 per cent, but only if revenues continue to grow and the players can gradually slide back to that magical middle ground.
The players feel they gave back too much after the 2004-05 season was cancelled. They also want the owners to honour the current contracts, and that's a big reason a gradual slide is a must for the players. According to capgeek.com, the 30 teams have shelled out $1.67 billion in new contracts to 179 players since July 1. Wonder how many of those teams are shocked there is an NHL lockout?
Fehr mentioned last week that he was bullish on the league's potential and proclaimed it's ready to take off financially. Bettman doesn't exude the same confidence in his league, at least not publicly.
The NHL commissioner wants to see a swift and significant reduction in salaries. He doesn't want to see a gradual slide to 50 per cent.
That's why we have this stalemate and the outlook is not rosy. The cancellation of some pre-season games
, including the Kraft Hockeyville game, and the inability of the sides to restart talks this week is proof this will be a lengthy dispute and that there is no appetite for the two sides to meet in the middle.
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