Haggerty: NHL owners messing with one of biggest strengths

Haggerty: NHL owners messing with one of biggest strengths
October 5, 2012, 3:29 pm
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There are obvious after-effects and negative impacts from an NHL work stoppage that hits everyone from players, owners, fans and media all the way down to the employees that rely on hockey to thrive.

The millions of dollars in revenue lost and the momentum frittered away in the sport of hockey are the most obvious, but those are things that both the NHL and NHLPA have already prepared for in the worst-case scenario planning.

The NHL seems like theyve been ready for a two-month work stoppage from the very beginning, and that would give them the 20 percent rollback on player salaries this season theyve been looking for all along.

Think about it: wiping out the first two weeks of the season erased roughly seven percent of the players paycheck, and a couple more two-week cancellations will give the NHL the 20 percent rollback theyve been seeking.

In fact the bottom third of teams in the league that routinely lose oodles of money annually are actually saving money by wiping out the first few months. The empty arenas that typically greet non-traditional hockey markets like Florida and Phoenix during the early months of October and November are being swallowed up by the lockout.

Those teams that hemorrhage cash are getting a little relief even as the NHL vows their disappointment hockey isnt being played.

Meanwhile the players have also prepped for almost a year having watched whats gone down in the NFL and the NBA before them. They also learned from the 2004-05 lockout debacle that cost the NHL a year. Players had made playing arrangements elsewhere in lieu of their NHL gigs while building up nest eggs to survive without NHL paychecks. The NHLPA war chest is helping out as well, and the players appear prepared to sit out at least an entire year, if necessary, from a financial survival point of view.

None of that is opinion; instead theyre cold, hard business facts of the NHL.

But theres also a potentially unforeseen consequence that both sides might want to think about as the lockout turns the corner to nastiness.

The NHL players are the best professional athletes to deal with in all phases of the professional sports business. Theyre clearly the easiest to interact with from a media perspective, but thats not likely to change with the NHL badly losing the PR battle during the lockout.

What could be irrevocably altered by a lengthy lockout is the bitter, hurt feelings kicked up between employer and employee a dynamic that could truly stain a league thats always enjoyed their players as a great strength.

Sure there are players like Jonathan Toews that appear to be waging a holy war against NHL commissioner Gary Bettman, and theres little doubt the players would love to see Bettman take a major hit as the unpopular lockout rolls on.

But the players are smart, and they know that Bettman is taking direct orders from his bosses: the 30 NHL owners.

What would happen to these amiable, friendly players willing to make endless charitable appearances for their NHL employers? In many cases NHL players go above and beyond any contractual obligations to support their teams fund-raising endeavors, and help their owners look like selfless philanthropists in the process.

Most NHL players are contractually obligated to make eight or nine appearances per season for their team at organized events, but the vast majority of them will participate in double that number when their employer makes the special request.

NHL players are good-hearted for the most part, and theyll undoubtedly continue the philanthropic and altruistic efforts on their own.

But NHL owners removing 20-percent of their paychecks off the top could turn the players into the kind of bitter, selfish, jaded athletes that are seen all too often in the other three major professional sports. Hockey players unfailingly go to great lengths to help promote their sport, and are mindful of that in every interview they grant to help the NHL market their tent pole events.

But what happens if the players suddenly go the route of so many hardened baseball players, and decide that surly is a better look than smiling. Killing the good-natured spirit of NHL players by essentially negotiating contracts in bad faith could have lasting effects for the worse.

Every NHL player that CSNNE.com has discussed the lockout with feels that the owners have zero intention of paying the full freight on the contracts signed for next season. Thats just dirty business and thats something that employees will never forgive or forget.

Think about it: NHL players set the pace for all other sports when it comes to personal conduct, serving as role models and giving the league a good name. When was the last time Bettman had to suspend a hockey player for firing off a gun in a crowded club or being the ring leader of a heartless dog-fighting scheme?

Granted those things will probably never happen to NHL players no matter what transpires in the next Collective Bargaining Agreement, but the point stands that Bettman and his 30 overlords are messing with an asset the players that already gives them everything they could possibly want. But now the owners want more, and they want a healthy chunk of it.

There will be hard, hurt feelings after this lockout is over, and the owners will feel it the next time they require any of their players to do a favor for them. Much like baseball, NHL players will start circling their off days on the schedule and tell their teams to buzz off if they need a special appearance made at an event. Its a small effect, for sure, but its also an unselfishness thats made hockey players incredibly popular over the years.

All of the favors will be taken when the NHL players bleed 20-percent of their 2012-13 salaries all over the pile of paperwork the new CBA is written on, and things wont be the same afterward. The NHL owners can take that to the bank right along with the rollback money earned from this years lockout stunt.