Inevitably any lockout or labor situation in pro sports comes down to winners and losers.
The term winner or loser can be a relative term, of course. In the NHL lockout that mercifully came to an end at 4:40 a.m. on Sunday morning at a hotel ballroom in New York City, the league was always going to be the overwhelming victor.
The NHL players accepted the fact their share of Hockey Related Revenue was always going to get slashed from 57 percent to a more fair-sounding 5050 split in the new CBA just as had gone down in NBA and NFL negotiations before them. The NHL owners saw what stone cold lockouts had accomplished in the other major pro sports, and they were determined to do the same in their league.
Amazingly the players understood this and essentially engaged in concession bargaining where they knew conditions would get worse in the new CBA.
Im pretty proud of the resolve that we showed as players, said Shawn Thornton. There were no cracks within the NHLPA union.
They went from having no term limits for personal contracts and no limits to variances on year-to-year salaries to seven-year contract limits and a 35 percent variance maximum on year-to-year salary figures.
The only victories the players ended hanging their collective hats on were a pension plan funded by the owners and individual hotel rooms for all NHL veterans that have graduated past their entry-level contract. The players also have an appeal process when theyre suspended for six or more games, but thats a benefit most players will never utilize.
Everything else in the deal was either holding steady or giving back to the league after the NHL already achieved bloody triumph eight years ago by slapping the salary cap down on the battered NHLPA. Even worse, the CBA framework accepted on Jan. 6 wasnt very different from the NHLPA counter-offer on Dec. 6 that was summarily rejected by NHL commissioner Gary Bettman, and sparked a 30-minute fire and brimstone speech trumpeting hills to die on.
If you look at this CBA it looks a lot like the deal we proposed on Dec. 6, but we kind of had the theatrics with Mr. Bettman blowing up in front of the microphone, said Thornton. But we need to put that behind us now. I know its a business and thats the ugly side of it.
Even so the bulk of players still felt they got the best CBA they possibly could without doing irreparable harm to the NHL they feel so very protective about. They lost somewhere in the ballpark of 800 in salaries by missing the first three plus months of the regular season, but were willing to make the sacrifice for a 10-year business contract that will net them billions of dollars over the deals lifetime.
We did the best we could without destroying the sport entirely and without selling out the kids that havent even been drafted yet but will play under this CBA, Ference said to CSNNE.com. Nobody is going to deny that its awful. The negativity directed at our sport is disheartening. It sucks. It really sucks for fans to have to go through it and hearing the posturing.
At the end of it all its just a sigh of relief that you can get back to the good parts of the game and the positive stuff. It sucks to hear negative things about a good group of guys that really do love the game, but are being locked out of the game they love. We couldnt control that. You understand the other side of it and the pressure points needed in negotiations. But we always just wanted to play.
Theres a widely held belief among the NHLPA members that the NHL always had Jan. 19 in mind as the start to the regular season while grinding the players down with a lockout labor strategy. Sources have indicated to CSNNE.com that as far back as November the NHL held a 48-game schedule beginning in mid-January locked and set in stone.
Thats got to make advertisers, sponsors and those depending on NHL games for a living feel good, doesnt it?
If the players buckled and gave in on some of the NHLs crazy player contract rights demands during their September, October or November CBA offers, then that would have been even better for Bettman and his Board of Governors. That was the fear among the NHLPA membership if former Executive Director Paul Kelly was left in charge of the CBA negotiations, and its the reason players literally begged Donald Fehr to take over their union.
Despite protests from the NHL that the deal would worsen as things got contentious, Fehrs hard bargaining style produced league offers that kept improving with make whole money, player contract rights and finally a favorable pension plan. His logical, even-keeled style got under the NHLs skin and confounded league operatives as they tried to break the unions will.
Ference was one of the NHLPA members instrumental in the leadership change from Kelly to Fehr two years ago, and without hesitation said the deal would have been worse for the players if the change hadnt been made.
Without a shred of a doubt, Fehr was a difference-maker. These things might seem simple from the outside, but when youre in that room going over the details in negotiations his experience was invaluable, said Ference. But it was also the team around him. The people he trusted and the people he brought in handled some very, very important things for us moving forward like the pension. Those things were huge.
And lets face it: we werent dealing with a very easy negotiating partner. These were some very tough negotiations. Without Don I think that a lot of guys would have been sold out for sure. We might have already been playing, but the cost to future NHL players would have been astronomical.
The NHL players knew they were going to lose the CBA battle and in many ways they were fighting for a new generation of nameless, faceless hockey players that should mean nothing to the current group that forfeited millions in paychecks. In this hockey writers book that makes the players the big winners of this NHL lockout in name if not in fact.
Rather than hoarding as much cash as possible the NHL players were doing the right thing and standing up to a bullying foe something theyve been taught to do since they were PeeWee skaters in places like Thunder Bay, Saskatoon and Kamloops.
There is something to be said for that now that a 48-game schedule and 10 years of labor peace are staring the players and league right in the face.