The NHL-NHLPA CBA negotiations took a weird turn this weekend. With the two sides meeting for the fourth straight day on Friday there was a sense of “cautious optimism” among the media and fans. But Friday night something very odd happened, Michael Russo of The Minneapolis Star Tribune reported that the NHL was willing to go to 50/50 while honoring all existing contracts. It has long been thought that if the league honored existing contracts that the players would be willing to go to a 50/50 split of hockey related revenue (HRR). In that article Russo implied that the league believes Donald Fehr is holding out this type of information from the players. As Elliotte Friedman puts it, the gloves are off in NHL labour talks and we could be headed down a very dangerous road if games are not started by December 1st.
Taking a look back at the past two NHL lockouts we can learn a few things as to where the two sides currently stand and where they might be heading.
The lockout of 1994-95 ended on January 11, 1995. That year the regular season started back up on January 20th and ended on May 3rd with each team playing a 48 game schedule. The 1994-95 lockout tells us that the league needs about nine days from the time a deal is agreed upon to when the season will start and that May 3rd is a reasonable date for the end of the regular season. That year the Stanley Cup finals ended on June 24th after Detroit beat New Jersey in a four game sweep. The league is adamant about not playing games in July, although it is possible that they could change their mind. The 48 game schedule was played over 103 days, which was an average of one game every 2.15 days. This allows us to estimate how many regular season games we can expect when a deal is finally agreed upon.
In 2004-05 the NHL cancelled the entire season on February 16, 2005 when the two sides could not come to an agreement. If they had reached a deal on that day, the league would have been looking at a 30-32 game schedule based on the precedent set in 1994-95 (one game every 2.15 days). But the feeling among many is that the NHL would not play a regular season less than 40 games. If that is the case, it means that they would have been willing to play one game every 1.68 days.
To put these dates and numbers into perspective, the 2012-13 NHL season was supposed to start on October 11th and wrap up on April 13th. That gives 184 days to play an 82 game regular season, or one game every 2.24 days.
When the lockout began, many people pointed toward a couple dates that appeared to be potential triggers for the league: November 23rd and January 1st. November 23rd happens to be Thanksgiving Friday in the United States and the first day of games on NBC. While January 1st was to be the biggest Winter Classic to date, which was to be held at the Big House in Ann Arbor, Michigan between the Detroit Red Wings and the Toronto Maple Leafs. With the league already cancelling the Winter Classic, Thanksgiving Friday appears to be the only real pressure point between now and the potential league cancellation date of February 16th. But to have hockey starting on Thanksgiving Friday we would need an agreement by November 14th. Based on where things stand this seems impossible.
If we consider the December 1st date that Friedman sees as critical, the two sides would need to come to an agreement by November 22nd, which is 10 days away. If for some reason they do, we would be looking at a 70 game schedule based on the 1994-95 averages. However, to get a full 82 games season, which would benefit both the league and players financially, they would have to play on average one game every 1.87 days. This is less than what they were prepared to do in 2004-05, but with twice as many games. Saying that, it is plausible that we can still see a full NHL regular season if the two sides can figure this out. Here’s to hoping, but history suggests otherwise.
Follow Tony on Twitter: @TheDailyBites