Haggerty: NFL ref agreement means NHL is on the clock

Haggerty: NFL ref agreement means NHL is on the clock
September 27, 2012, 3:01 pm
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So now the NHL is officially on the clock.

It clearly wont really be a catastrophic event for the league until Oct. 11 hits and the NHL wont have anything but cancelled regular season games on their schedule. It also truly wont be a suicide mission until the NHL officially cancels the Winter Classic and 247 HBO series that have become marketing gold for pro hockey and that isnt expected to happen until sometime in November at the earliest.

But the NHL is now also the only major pro sports league that officially cant get its crap together.

NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman and the 30 owners or 29 if you consider the Phoenix Coyotes situation were handed a beautiful disaster of a diversion when the NFL was locking out their referees. The most successful sports league in the land had turned laughingstock as the replacement refs were botching calls and compromising the integrity of the sport.

Meanwhile nobody was paying attention to the staring contest going on between Bettman and Donald Fehr.

All of that NFL sound and fury was also before they ruined the sacred Monday Night Football by handing an undeserved win to Golden Tate and the Seattle Seahawks on a horrendous touchdown call. But Roger Goodell and the NHL finally heeded the public outcry to spend a little extra money, find some middle ground and get Ed Hochuli and his band of merry striped men back into the fold.

The NFL finally showed some respect for their paying customers rather than continuing to insult their intelligence while allowing their great sport to decay. Its time for the NHL to do the exact same before they become a year-long running joke on a slap shot into oblivion.

Clearly they are different situations.

The NFL is a 10 billion plus industry that was foolishly squabbling with the refs over a few million dollars. The two sides of the NHL CBA negotiations are about a billion dollars apart over the lifetime of the contract, and nobody is denying that money is the key issue.

But the scrutiny and the microscope is now expertly trained on Bettman and the NHL, and the lighting will only get more unforgiving as time marches on.

Much like the NFL, the commissioner and their owners were criticized for their tight purse philosophy, the NHL ownership is wearing the full brunt of the blame for the NHL lockout right now.

The NHL owners are losing the PR battle by a country mile with fans and media alike siding almost exclusively with a group of hockey players that are being asked to take a 10-20 percent pay cut by an industry thats never been more robust. The NHL lockout is about unloved franchises like the Florida Panthers, the Phoenix Coyotes and the New York Islanders that few people care about at the end of the day.

Its a 3.3 billion industry where business of hockey has been booming, and it appears that both the NHL and the NHLPA feel theyre just scratching the surface of their popularity and revenue streams.

It makes zero sense that the NHL and NHLPA cant find a suitable middle ground to truly commence negotiations. There will obviously be no watershed Green BaySeattle moment for the NHL as long as theyre locked out and unable to play games, but it will be just as sobering if the NHL somehow turns away the 100,000 fans looking forward to a Winter Classic at the Big House in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

That would be the kind of act that Detroit and Toronto hockey fans would never forgive, and would leave the same kind of stain caused by a band of misfit referees.

Goodells leadership abilities and management style came into question as the NFL became a runaway train with players, coaches, analysts, media and fans openly mocking the leagues willingness to place money over integrity.

Its the same tone of exasperation that NHL fans have been feeling all summer toward Bettman and the Board of Governors as theyve watched things slowly deteriorate into a bad, bad place. The two sides are unwilling to discuss the core economic issues when they get together this weekend, and clearly are stuck in an area where the NHL simply refuses to budge.

The NHL thankfully still has time to avoid their own personal abyss if both sides can give a little to create something that will keep hockey in business for the foreseeable future. Lets hope Bettman has learned from Goodells folly and doesnt need to be shamed into making a decision thats best for both the league and the hard-working, loyal customers that have made them so successful.