NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman’s comments following this week’s unproductive CBA talks simplified the league’s position and explained its willingness to risk another lockout.

In business, as in other areas of life, there’s is something called the “KISS” formula – “Keep It Simple, Stupid”.

NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman was evidently following this formula in his recent comments on Thursday to reporters following this week’s unproductive NHL CBA talks.

This was how he described the league’s position: “We think we’re paying too much in salaries…We want something close to what we envisioned eight years ago”.

Bettman also explained why he’s unafraid of any lasting damage to the league from another lockout: “We recovered last time because we have the world’s greatest fans”.

Take a moment and allow those statements to sink in.

Despite staging a season-killing lockout eight years ago to force upon a beaten and broken NHLPA the most restrictive salary cap system in North American pro sports (a triple-tiered cap system with escrow to ensure the players never receive more than 57 percent of league revenue each season) – which Bettman claimed would achieve the cost certainty the NHL needed to bring salaries under control and make the game more affordable to fans – the league  still believes it is paying its players too much.

The very system forced upon the players, which Bettman claimed was so necessary for the NHL’s long-term survival, is no longer good enough.

Some league supporters will undoubtedly try to pin the blame again on “greedy players” and their “parasitic agents”, but the bottom line is the teams pay those salaries, and do so under the extremely restrictive system of cost certainty they believed was worth killing a season for.

No one forced them to do it. They did it willingly, often exploiting loopholes in the CBA by signing players to extremely long-term, heavily front-loaded contracts to ensure lower cap hits.

One need only look at the moves made this summer, in the midst of CBA negotiations – the Minnesota Wild signing Zach Parise and Ryan Suter to the kind of expensive contracts their owner claimed this April his club couldn’t afford, the Philadelphia Flyers targeting Shea Weber with a $110 million offer sheet, the Buffalo Sabres apparent willingness to overpay an ageing Shane Doan – to see the hypocrisy from the league side.

Once again, the team owners claim they’re paying too much, that the CBA which was their pride and joy isn’t working out as envisioned, and they expect the players to give back more.

One reason for the change in opinion by the NHL team owners is they see the NBA and NFL having recently extracted concessions from their players to accept a lower share of revenue – around 50-50 for both leagues – and want the same for themselves.

The league also apparently seeks to improve revenue-sharing, but rather than have it come from the big market teams, it would prefer if the players shouldered the burden by reducing their share of HRR.

Should another lockout come as expected in mid-September, Bettman and his spokesmen could attempt to employ the same arguments about cost certainty as they did in 2004. If his remark about envisioning something close to what they wanted eight years ago is anything to go by, he’s already begun.

Most NHL fans trusted Bettman and the team owners last time around. They bought the cost certainty snake oil, so little wonder the league could try to sell it again.

Judging by Bettman’s comment about how “the world’s greatest fans” ensured there was no damage to the league in the last lockout, he fully expects NHL fans will believe it again.

The commissioner obviously intended his remark to be a compliment, but if the reaction from social media was anything to go by, it fell flat.

NHL fans are not stupid sheep for supporting the league following the last lockout, but Bettman’s remark clearly indicates the league takes them for granted.

It also suggests the league believes its fan support provides it with leverage over the players. The team owners can risk another lockout, perhaps another season-killing one, to get what it wants from the players, secure in the knowledge the fans will return like they always do.

As blogger Tom Benjamin pointed out, those who thought league’s new deal with NBC and The Winter Classic “might provide pressure points upon the league were also indulging in wishful thinking”, as it has lockout protection built into those contracts ensuring they get their money regardless of a work stoppage.

Bettman and the team owners aren’t negotiating here. They’re attempting to impose a mandate, demanding the players accept less money on an even more restrictive CBA, and will force them into it by locking them out again.

To simplify: the NHL wants the players to accept a considerably lower share of revenue, secure in the knowledge it can extract that concession with another lockout that won’t cause damage its brand, because the fans always come back.

It’s bound to be infuriating to the players, and to the fans, but honestly, there’s not much they can do about it.

For the players, the only way out appears to accept less revenue – a 50-50 split or worse – or lose part or all of another season, and have perhaps even harsher terms forced upon them.

NHLPA director Donald Fehr is a savvy negotiator, but this time, he’s up against a different beast than the one he faced down for years in Major League Baseball, one willing to do whatever it takes to achieve its goals. It’s going to take all his savvy and creativity to keep the players united and find a workable solution.

As for the fans, unless they’re willing to punish the league where it will do the most damage – in its collective pocketbook – petitions and social media protests will amount to nothing. As I’ve previously noted, they’re powerless to prevent another lockout.

Bettman did everyone a favor by simplifying the league’s position regarding the CBA talks and highlighting its lack of concern over fallout from another lockout. The consequences remain to be seen, but it’s clear he expect things to fall the league’s way again.

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7 Responses to Bettman Simplifies NHL’s CBA Position.

  1. Armand says:

    Look… The owners are Billionaires, the players are Millionaires.

    My wife and I live a comfortable lifestyle we both work full time and have all the normal payments any other average family has with two kids. In comparison to the money both the owners and players throw around, we make a paltry $180,000 (gross) between the two of us. It will take my wife and I almost six years to make just one Million dollars (gross). Take away the 40% income tax, the 15% sales tax that leaves us with just $81,000 for normal family expenses for the whole year.

    I for one could not afford to buy season tickets even if I did live in a NHL market. I can afford the Center Ice Package until it gets too expensive. I have no sympathy for either the players or the owners; they are playing with house money. They are in a win-win negotiation they both get the fans money (whatever HRR is). IMHO the players make way too much and the owners make way too much and the fans pay way too much.

    Bottom line, everything revolves around greed instead of doing the right thing for what matters most the FANS and the GAME.

    Thanks…

    Armand

  2. Todd says:

    I know it is futile but I support all NHL fans dropping all NHL team twitter feeds and unlike any liked teams on Facebook. Also unsubscribe from all team emails. Maybe someone will notice?

  3. Jay says:

    Well I would have to say for the league and players to get a clue about how we feel you need the support of the season ticket holders, companies that advertise with them to drop the ads, and just a total black out of all things NHL. Once that is done the NHL and Players will come to a very quick understanding of who runs the train. But seeing how that wont happen NHL and Gary B. will just run whatever he wants to do from his dictatorship role that he seems to be using. I for one love my team and think the players and organization is great but if I had to see them play somewhere else I am fine with that. I wont buy another ticket, or NHL item ever again. Even if the NHL comes up with a new CBA because at this point I feel the NHL has no respect for its fans only the money they can get from them.

  4. R Richard says:

    The players have to remain strong.If they give in again they will face this same situation every time the contract comes up. Bettman actually wants a lockout as it will save money losing US teams money in the first quarter of the season. What the players should do is put forth a reasonsable offer before sept 15th, one which is close to what is eventualy going to be the end result. As I said Bettman wants a lockout at least until december, so the players offer will be rejected. After the 15th the players must revise their offer to one much more in their favour. Hopefully the players will have the resolve to not accept anything less than their first offer. Unfotunately we will probably lose most or all of the season as Bettman will be loath to accept anything that does not look like a total victory for him. However the players must do this or accept the fact that they will be bullied every time a contract comes up. If we end up with an agreement close to the players 1st offer it Bettman should be fired for locking the players out for no reason.

  5. butch says:

    looming lockout + bell center ice pkg inability to air my fav team home feed in HD = cancellation of my center ice sub .

  6. Old Soldier says:

    The good and the bad. I absolutely agree that Bettman truly and unequivocally presented the owners side with the “paying too much in salaries” comment which even the most casual fan would probably attest. Who to blame for that??? No one, the league and NHLPA created negotiating rules and teams and players took advantage of them. But to follow that up with the greatest fan comment in that context was a big mistake. Good intentions, bad timing.

    Perception being that the fans are meek and blind sheep who will always be there no matter what. That will leave a bad taste in some fans mouths, though deep down, not being overly PC, he is right. The average and hardcore fan will come back, buy the tickets, and the PPV, and Jerseys…..history has proven that, but he didn’t need to comment on it.

    As far as the CBA being a mistake, I disagree, I think the last CBA created the outline of something that would work, in fact proven by players increased revenue. But I don’t think anyone, economists, NHL execs or anyone expected the league to grow as fast as it did, or the Cdn dollar to be where it is for so long and combine that with not putting as much thought into the cap floor as they did the cap ceiling, and contract structure, allowed a good system to balloon out of control.

    The anger that some generate when the league stated it still needed to fix things, is a bit illogical. With so many factors involved, there was no way to get things perfect the first time around……call it a Beta test.

    The pessimism that is being expressed about the realization that the owners will more than likely get most of what they want, isn’t warranted by history. The players in general have “lost” every CBA, yet their life and financial situation has improved continually since the formation of the NHLPA. A lot of unions would have loved to “lose” negotiations as the players did the last time, salaries doubled, etc……

    As far as protests and social commentary, people will bitch about anything given the opportunity. I have spent my entire career complaining about my job, but damn I would never have done anything different and I love it. We have to be cautious placing too much emphasis on the human condition, especially in the ease and anonymity of the virtual universe.

    • “But I don’t think anyone, economists, NHL execs or anyone expected the league to grow as fast as it did, or the Cdn dollar to be where it is for so long and combine that with not putting as much thought into the cap floor as they did the cap ceiling, and contract structure, allowed a good system to balloon out of control.”

      Actually, I was among the few that predicted as much when this CBA was implemented in 2005. Granted, I didn’t expect the cap might reach $70 million by 2012, but I did predict a cap tied to revenue could reach $60 million. While I didn’t expect the Canadian dollar to reach par, I did suggest its rapid rise at the time could be a factor if it remained higher than it was throughout the previous CBA.

      I also correctly predicted this CBA could be exploited by creative GMs using front-or back-loaded contracts to circumvent it.

      Of course I was among a distinct minority at the time, but there were a few voices in the media and blogosphere predicting this CBA wouldn’t be the panacea the league was spinning it to be.

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