How Long Can This NHL Lockout Go On?

While it’s hoped this current NHL lockout could end by December, a growing number of pundits are already suggesting another full season could be lost.

You know things are gloomy regarding CBA negotiations between the NHL and NHLPA when TSN’s Bob McKenzie, Darren Dreger and Pierre LeBrun are suggesting this upcoming season could be lost when it’s still late September.

Ordinarily I would chide a pundit suggesting the season may be in peril barely two weeks into a lockout, but when guys as respected as the aforementioned say it, I pay attention. McKenzie, Dreger and LeBrun aren’t “Chicken Little” types, so when they say it’s not looking good, there’s good reason to be concerned.

Their views reflect a growing pessimism among NHL scribes over the league and the PA reaching an agreement on a season-saving CBA at some point in the coming weeks or months.

Granted, the aforementioned trio made their comments a couple of days prior to the NHL and NHLPA meetings this past weekend to discuss “non-core economic issues”, with league commissioner Gary Bettman and PA director Donald Fehr twice getting together for private CBA talks.

Perhaps after this weekend’s discussions, which reportedly resulted in headway on some non-economic issues, and a “frank exchange of views” on hockey-related revenue (the main sticking point in the negotiations), there might be reason for some optimism, especially if the two sides decide to continue talks soon.

Or, quite possibly, no traction will be gained on the key issue of hockey-related revenue, talks eventually fall apart, and we end up facing another nuclear winter akin to 2004-05.

It seems unthinkable both sides would risk killing off another season – jeopardizing a $3.3 billion (and growing) industry – over a difference of opinion in the distribution of HRR, yet if we go by the pessimism of the punditry, that appears a growing possibility.

That means one side will have to blink first. Last time, it was the players, who misjudged the owners resolve to gain “cost certainty”, even if it meant the loss of an entire season.

This time, it’s been suggested the players have more resolve because they believe if they give in this time, it’ll serve as motivation for the owners to continue squeezing them for more concessions in future negotiations.

I’ve maintained the players won’t win a battle of attrition with the owners, and still believe it, but that could change if the players not only stand united after losing one entire season, but maintain that resolve in the face of losing a second consecutive one.

The rumored perception among the owners is the players caved last time and will do so again, even if it takes yet another cancelled season to force them into it.

But what happens to the owners resolve if the players refuse to budge, if they continue to stand united, and make further plans to sign with European clubs next fall, or force NHL teams to once again protect their prized young entry level talent by shipping them to the AHL for another season?

What happens if supposed moderates among the big market clubs balk at the notion of losing a second-straight season, and try to influence other team owners into reaching a settlement?

It’s quite possible the leverage could swing to the players’ side if, by this time next year, there’s still no new CBA in place, and a second consecutive season could be lost. It could also result in the NHL trying to use replacement players, which could take this labor dispute to a new level of nastiness, and a likely legal challenge through the US National Labor Relations Board by the NHLPA.

The team owners believe they’ll survived and thrive because the fans will come flocking back, just as they did following the previous lockout.

It’s still a gamble on the league’s part, but one the owners believe will pan out.

But if next season is also threatened, there is bound to be genuine concern at that point for the potential damage to the league’s product.

The NHL can survive a season-killing lockout, and might even thrive again thereafter, but the loss of two consecutive seasons poses a serious threat to the revenue it must have to survive as a business.

It wouldn’t “kill” the NHL, of course, but the league could be seriously damaged by the loss of two consecutive seasons.

Of course, such a scenario also threatens the players.

Ageing veterans could see their final opportunities for another year or two in the NHL wiped out. Those in their prime would lose two key years in their careers.

Promising young talent would see their NHL debuts delayed. Lower-salaried players would definitely feel the pinch.

All would lose prime years to leverage for more lucrative deals in the future.

That could lead to yet another player revolt, as they settle for whatever they can get in order to continue their playing careers.

Enough time exists for both sides to work out a season-saving deal. The fact they have rekindled negotiations just over two weeks after the last round of talks broke down prior to the expiration of the recent CBA is something of a positive sign, considering in the previous two lockouts, the two sides went months before speaking to each other again.

Still, the question remains, just how far are both sides willing to go to get what they want?

We’ll have our answer in the near future. It just remains to be seen how long it takes to reach it.

12 Comments

  1. I wonder why NBC was stupid enough to NOT put a “lockout clause” in their tv deal with the NHL.

  2. I’d argue that if the lockout goes into a second season (and even in the event that this one is cancelled), that the trustees of the Stanley Cup should activate this clause:

    “This agreement shall remain in force so long as the League continues to be the world’s leading professional hockey league as determined by its playing caliber, and in the event of dissolution or other termination of the National Hockey League, the Stanley Cup shall revert to the custody of the trustees.”

    It’s hard to argue that the NHL would be the leading professional hockey league if they’re not playing.

  3. Someone needs to start a petition saying if there’s no season by Dec, all who sign will bail on the league for 3 full years. Funny how it’s all about OUR (the fans) money and we get no say. Somebody needs to sort a way to change that.

    Maybe we just petition for Bettmans head.

  4. “Bring Back the WHA!”

    I submit my roller hockey team, the Durham Dragons, to be the first team in the WHA, a competitive league of amateurs whose sole existence is to screw with the NHL. Our home jerseys are red with an awesome dragon on the front. Our away jerseys are black, because this team doesn’t deserve to wear white. Oh, and we buy our own pucks in Durham. Welcome to our world! TREMBLE BEFORE THE TENS OF DOLLARS BACKING US! We’re taking over the hockey world, but first! We really need to learn how to ice skate…

    Who brings their mighty clubs against us as competitors?

    • “Tremble before the tens of dollars…’ you just made me laugh so hard my drink come out of my nose! :)

  5. Still think this will be settled before December, New Year at the latest. Both sides have too much too lose. If it goes beyond that there will be consequences.

    • If this lockout goes beyond Oct. I am done with the NHL. Someone posted earlier they are fighting over money that comes from the fans, well if this continues they will not get anymore of my money. I have been a Blackhawks fan for 28 years and I can’t believe how little the fans truly matter.

  6. 1) Donald Fehr would LOVE for the NHL to atttempt to bring in “replacement players” (scabs). Ask MLB how that went in 1995(after the lost season of 1994).

  7. Three point three billion in revenue but half the teams are in the red! Bettman’s world not mine.Time to fold it up and start anew or just let it all shake out in Europe and Asia.The players have more balls than the owners and they will see now who has the power. I hope all those cities where the owners got tax breaks to build their arenas give it all back when this blows up,after all it’s my money not theirs that run the machine.

  8. if the league loses the “Winter Classic” due to a lockout Bettman will be gone. for the NHL to lose their prestige televised event involving 2 of the league’s most storied franchises playing each other in a 115,000 seat stadium to an international audience of millions would be disastrous and might be the straw that breaks the camel’s back. the Detroit area has had some tough times and i doubt long time Red Wings owner Mike Illich would be very happy to lose such a huge revenue generator. this mess is Bettman’s to clean up and i think he would lose the support of the Board of Govenors should this happen.

  9. 1) @Ratus: I read the NBA article you cited. Nothing there led me to believe that the NHL players have much to worry about with regard to “replacements”. As MLB found out, and the NBA owners avoided, its a tricky thing to do.
    2) ALSO, and VERY important, the NHL is an international business so the laws of Ccanada have to also be taken into account and the NHL couldn’t ‘restrart’ with replacement/scabs if 7 of the franchises weren’t allowed to do so.
    3) Would the owners/Bettan really want to go down the road of deciding this in the courts/beaurocracys of 2 countries?