After 40 days and 40 nights of its latest lockout, the NHL lowered the boom Friday on the 41st day with the cancellation of regular-season games for the entire month of November.
There also was speculation the Winter Classic will be scrapped next week, which makes sense. According to the contract the league signed with the University of Michigan to use its stadium for the outdoor game on New Year's Day, the NHL would recover all but $100,000 US of its $3-million rental fee if it was to cancel the event by Nov. 2 or sooner.
What was the aim of these latest developments? After all, everybody knows that if there is a miraculous turn of events in the next few weeks and a new collective agreement is consummated, the league would be up and running a week to 10 days later, and all those cancelled games would be back on the docket.
So why did the NHL make such a manoeuvre on Friday? Because league commissioner Gary Bettman hopes this move applies more pressure on the players and they'll eventually wave the white flag. Don't be surprised, too, if down the road the league also makes a proposal worse than the 50-50 split of hockey-related revenues it put forth last week.
But those are my thoughts. We wondered how player agent Ian Pulver viewed the current messy situation.
Pulver knows labour disputes between the NHL and NHLPA well. He worked for the players through the 1994-95 lockout and the second one in 2004-05 that cost the NHL an entire season.
We asked Pulver which group is under the most pressure?
"Based on the most recent exchange, when the parties were together in Toronto [last week], it appeared to me that that the parties were coming together and speaking the same language, but the league pulled out after 10 minutes," he said. "You begin to wonder, what are the motives of the league? Are they attempting to break the union?
"The pressure, at this point, is on everyone to negotiate a collective agreement. The one thing that is clear is the league continues to lead the four [North American] professional leagues in games cancelled because of lockouts in the last 20 years. It's not a lead that anybody should be proud of."
If the NHL does lose the entire month of November off its schedule, the number of games cancelled because of the three lockouts and the 1992 players' strike would surpass 2,000 - or 600 more regular-season games cancelled due to labour disputes than Major League Baseball (938), the NBA (504) and the NFL (0) combined in the last 20 years.
Pulver has been surprised that the NHL is engaged in another lockout.
"I really thought Gary Bettman would want to show the world that he had the ability to get a deal done without locking out the players," Pulver said.
"Based on him raising revenues to record heights since the last lockout, and based on the fact that the game has never been more exciting, I thought that it would have been a perfect way to leave his legacy with this sport and not have three consecutive lockouts."
But here the NHL is, once again, in another heated lockout with no end in sight.
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