A collection of notable NHL CBA news and notes for the week of June 3-9, 2011.
Mark Sutcliffe of The Ottawa Citizen kicked off the week with a quick review of how much players salaries have increased since the 1994-95 lockout and the season-killing work stoppage of 2004-05, despite the imposition of a salary cap since the last one.
Sutcliffe then pointed out the differences in the issues between 2012 and 2004, suggesting the owners resolve to dig in might not be as strong as it was back then, as there’s a lot more at stake this time (read: more revenue) and issues aren’t as fundamental as last time (read: owners got their “cost certainty”).
He concludes if there is a lockout, it won’t last anywhere near as long as those in the past.
It’s an opinion shared by former NHLPA president Trevor Linden, who later in the week told TEAM 1040 in Vancouver he wouldn’t be surprised if there were a lockout lasting a couple of months, but ultimately finishing in December.
Linden made an interesting point regarding American-based NHL team owners, observing October and November are essentially dead months for them, as they’re competing with the MLB Playoffs and the NFL season, so December is when their seasons really start going. He feels if they’re going to miss any time, it would be those two months.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: I’m still one of those optimistic, probably naive (even after all these years!) fools who holds out hope an agreement could be reached without costing any part of next season. Of course, depending upon the rhetoric that emerges when CBA negotiations finally begin, that opinion could change, but given the different atmosphere between the two sides, the fact the salary cap system will remain in place, and the sense neither side – but especially the players – wants to lose any significant time – if any at all – next season, I feel there’s a possibility a new deal implemented by September 15.
That being said, if there is to be a work stoppage, I believe it could only cost a month, month-and-a-half tops, for the reasons noted by Sutcliffe and Linden.
Pittsburgh Penguins superstar captain Sidney Crosby was in Los Angeles taking in Game Three of the Stanley Cup Final with NHLPA director Donald Fehr.
Crosby said it’s a good idea to get up to speed and talk with Fehr, adding he plans to get involved in the negotiating process.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Here’s what could make this interesting, as Crosby’s not the only player believed to be very interested in being involved in the upcoming CBA talks.
In previous negotiations, the only players with any type of involvement in talks was the PA president and occasionally the player reps from each team. This time, there’s speculation Fehr not only wants to keep the membership regularly informed, but also wants them to become more active in the process.
That could have a considerable effect upon negotiations for both sides. Bettman and the team owners could end up having to face many of their bankable stars, who were largely responsible for the league’s significant increase in revenue, and try to justify why they should accept a paycut.
More active participation by their membership will also affect what kind of stance Fehr and his negotiators take with the league. If the players are determined to dig in and not accept any reductions, it could force a lengthy lockout. If not, Fehr will be forced to get the best deal he can without jeopardizing the season.
TSN legal analyst Eric Macramalla interviewed former NHLPA director Paul Kelly, who suggested it was too early to start worrying about a work stoppage.
Kelly believes if there is another lockout, the league risks turning off a large number of fans. He also opined the league isn’t going to recreate the current CBA, as it doesn’t need a radical fix. Kelly feels the PA is in good hands under his successor.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Following the previous lockout, there was considerable concern on both sides the season-killing lockout would adversely affect their fan support, which prompted them into introducing several long-overdue rule changes to improve the quality of play in order to entice back potentially disgruntled fans.
Turns out, those moves probably weren’t necessary, because hockey fans returned in droves and all was forgiven. Despite the threats I hear from some hockey fans about abandoning the game forever if there’s another lockout ( or “strike”, as the uninformed referred to the last two stoppages), I don’t believe that reservoir of good will and fanatical support by the league’s followers is anywhere close to drained. Another season-killing lockout could do it, perhaps a half-season one might dent it. One which only costs a month or two, but still results in a season starting up by late-November or early-December? No dent at all.
Christopher Botta and Liz Mullen of SportsBusiness observed the NHL’s rapid growth since the last lockout has created a different atmosphere heading into the next round of CBA talks, compared to the toxic one of 2004, when a work stoppage was viewed as inevitable.
Botta and Mullen, however, noted the growing feeling among the media and within the industry that the NHL owners will push for salary reductions comparable to those NFL and NBA players agreed to during the recent labor negotiations in those respective leagues.
Some feel the cancellation of its season-opening “Premier Games” in Europe, the “Young Stars” Tournament in Penticton, BC, and the league serving notice to the PA of its intent to terminate the current CBA on its expiry date of September 15th are harbingers of league preparation for another lockout.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Given the NHL’s contentious labor history, fear of another work stoppage – regardless of length – among the punditry and fans is understandable.
As noted earlier, the relative calm between the two sides this time, largely attributable to the league’s rapid revenue growth and increased player salaries since 2005-06, provides hope for a resolution without costing any part of the season.
Naturally, there’s going to be some posturing from both sides, and the league and some teams cancelling late-summer/September tournaments is understandable as precautionary measures.
We’re not going to have a good idea of which direction things are going until probably late-August at the earliest. We’ll definitely know once the calendar turns to September and the end date for the current deal draws near.