It is Saturday morning and I am sitting here reflecting on what should have been a great season for the NHL. Coming off a Los Angeles Kings Stanley Cup win the popularity of the game appeared to be at an all time high. The league was set to embark on a new 10 year television deal with NBC and the Winter Classic format, which has been the crown jewel of the league, was going to be the biggest one yet, featuring the Toronto Maple Leafs and Detroit Red Wings facing off at the Big House in Ann Arbor Michigan in front of nearly 110,000 fans. Instead, it is day 91 of the lockout with no end in sight.
I have felt all along that the NHL and the NHLPA would get a deal done that would allow them to play hockey this season, but as the lockout clock ticks my projected start dates of American Thanksgiving, mid-December and New Years Day are no longer feasible.
I still think that these two sides will get together and make a deal to save the season as the gap between their two proposals is so close that it is unbelievable that they haven’t been able to strike a deal already. Does anyone really know what these two sides are fighting over any more? When the lockout began on September 15th the main issues were the split of hockey related revenue (HRR) and make whole, which is in essence related to HRR. Those issues have been agreed upon so why are the two sides fussing over contract length and term of the CBA?
During the blow up on December 6, 2012 Bill Daly declared that the five year maximum contracts was “the hill that we will die on”. Since when did that become the league’s key issue and why are they worried about it so much? Could they be worried about franchise values and having a Rick Dipietro type deal hanging over a team for the next 10-15 years?
One of the biggest fallacies of this NHL lockout is that the NHLPA is only concerned about the star players. Why would anyone really think this? Is it because Sidney Crosby has been to a couple meetings? First of all, two of the key members of the NHLPA negotiating committee are Ron Hainsey and Chris Campoli. Hainsey is a solid player, but he is a middle tier guy and Campoli is an unrestricted free agent without a contract. Do you think these two guys are really worried about Sidney Crosby? Yet this notion gets perpetuated by main stream hockey media. They bring up the fact that only 42 players have a contract longer than six years and 22 players have deals longer than seven years (seven years is the longest contract any player can sign in the NHL proposal if they are resigning with their own team) and so it really only affects a fraction of the NHLPA membership. Well this is completely false. Star players are going to get their money no matter what the system is. So instead of a Duncan Keith resigning with his own team on a 13 year deal with a cap hit of $5.5 million, now he signs a seven year deal with an $8,$9 or $10 million cap hit. This now reduces the amount of money to be spent on middle tier players like his teammates Johnny Oduya and Steve Montador who are in the $2-$4 million range.
It is no coincidence that the NBA has a maximum length of five years on its player contracts. Gary Bettman is a disciple of David Stern and appears to have followed his lead on everything as it pertains to running the NHL. Mainstream hockey media, including former NHL players, are quick to point towards the NBA as a frame work that the NHL should follow, but the two sports couldn’t be more different.
— Craig Simpson (@hnicsimmer) December 14, 2012
— Craig Simpson (@hnicsimmer) December 14, 2012
NHL teams dress 20 players for a game and with the exception of the backup goaltender each player sees the ice and has an impact on the game. In the NBA only 12 players dress and typically only eight players see the floor. The NBA is driven by stars. It has been proven time after time that you need three super star players to win an NBA title and you can fill in the rest of the roster with role players. So what you get is a huge discrepancy in salaries. There is no better example of this than the Miami Heat. This is exactly what the NHLPA would like to avoid moving forward. The make up of an NHL roster does not lend favorably to this type of salary structure.
Another fallacy that is spread by many is that if the owners get what they want they will lower ticket prices. That is an absolute joke. They didn’t lower ticket prices after the last lockout when the cap was $39 million and they won’t do it this time. Ticket prices are based on supply and demand. The more demand in a market, the higher the ticket prices. Let’s face it, with player salaries directly related to revenue, neither the owners or the players have any interest in reducing ticket prices.
We hear constantly that the players will never make back the money they are losing by sitting out games and that might be true for some, but we heard this during the last lockout and average salaries have increased by over a million dollars since then. I would think that a majority of the players made their money back. In contrast, we never hear about what the owners and the league are losing in this. Richard Peddie, former CEO of MLSE, stated in an interview that the Toronto Maple Leafs have never made up the money they lost during the last lockout and they probably won’t this time around either.
What both the owners and the players should be more concerned about is the growth of the game. Sure your everyday NHL fans like you and me will be back because we love the sport. That goes without saying, but what they are truly missing out on is the casual fan, the fan that was engaged over the last few seasons. Who wants to invest time and money into a sport that shuts itself down every few years. This is where the NHL and NHLPA are missing the boat. Whether they like it or not, they are partners and they need to start acting like it. Michael Grange wrote a great piece on this over at Sportsnet and I recommend you give it a read.
No matter how frustrated I get with where we are on a Saturday in December when I should be getting set to watch the Toronto Maple Leafs take on the Vancouver Canucks, I keep coming back to the fact that there isn’t anything in this CBA that either side should be willing to lose another season over. Still, we are now heading into a time of uncertainty. The NHLPA is voting to give its executive committee the power to file a disclaimer of interest and the NHL has filed a class action lawsuit looking to confirm the legality of the lockout. Whether this is just sabre rattling by the two sides we are soon to find out, but taking things to the courts appeared to assist the NFL and NBA end their lockouts.
The fact that it has lasted the lockout has lasted this long is embarrassing for both the league and the players. If and when they get a deal done the biggest question will be “why did we have to miss games for this?”
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