NHL lockout is a go

NHL lockout is a go
September 16, 2012, 4:03 am
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The midnight hour passed without fanfare or much of a fight, and the NHL is officially in lockout mode.

The current CBA expired on Sept. 15, and both the NHL and NHLPA are nowhere near agreement on a new labor deal that would allow the business of hockey to continue. About the only thing the two sides can agree on is that its something approaching the Grand Canyon that separates the league and the players association.

The season looks like its going to be delayed, said Tyler Seguin, after Fridays final informal skate at Ristuccia Arena before the padlocks were up on the doors. I dont think you can really put a label on this is the day were locked out or this is the day when things are cancelledbut if it happens then it happens. Hopefully things work out and get done sooner rather than later.

Well, things have definitely happened on Sunday.

At least the NHL and NHLPA acknowledged that informal discussions will continue between both parties, but judging by their words it appears things are going exactly as the NHL wants them to at this point.

The main point of contention is the owners' desire to reduce the players' share of revenue down from its current 57 percent level. In their latest proposal, owners have offered a six-year deal with the players share hovering somewhere between 47-49 percent over the course of the deal.

Players have offered to give up some of their anticipated salary growth over the next 3-5 years, and they believe it would drop their share from 54.3 to 52.3 if the sport continues to grow at its current level of 7.1 percent. With each percentage point reduction meaning at least 33 million per year, there is a huge chasm between the two positions that could add up to a billion dollars over the course of a potential CBA.

Most believe that the NHL and NHLPA will eventually agree on a 5050 split of Hockey Related Revenue (HRR), but that the players will continue to balk at the leagues demands for either an escrow or rollback program in the new CBA.

Theres a belief that a team like the Bruins wont be paying the full freight for contracts signed to Brad Marchand, Tyler Seguin and Milan Lucic et al because the league is counting on a rollback similar to the 24 percent subtraction in the previous CBA.

Instead the NHLPA is attempting to rework hockeys current fiscal landscape, and add a revenue sharing program that would make the NHL system similar to Major League Baseball a league thats had CBA harmony since 1994 when NHLPA Executive Director Donald Fehr was heading that union.

We want a deal that stabilizes the industry and gets us out of this cycle, said Fehr. You get up every day and want to reach an agreement. If the lockout is the way it's going to be then unfortunately that's the way its going to be... but maybe that can be reconsidered."

The NHL refused to meet with the NHLPA negotiating team on Saturday afternoon because they saw no purpose to discussions prior to the lockout, and is taking a very hard line stance toward the players. NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman unapologetically began reeling off random things like the high cost of jet fuel and massage therapists that are raising the cost of doing business for the NHL teams. Those kinds of inflationary costs, according to Bettman, are driving the NHLs need for a greater piece of the pie, but it goes deeper than that.

The NHL broke records with 3.3 billion in revenue last season, and teams like the Blackhawks, Rangers, Bruins, Canadiens, Maple Leafs and Flyers are making unprecedented gobs of money. Instead its the folly of pushing teams like the Phoenix Coyotes and Florida Panthers into non-traditional hockey markets that are at the heart of the NHLs efforts and, of course, the owners unending love of as many profits as they can possibly scarf down at one sitting.

But rather than share the burden of subsidizing the 8-10 teams losing big money, the NHL currently believes that they can force the players into footing their bills by surrendering profits at the bargaining table. To be fair to the NHL, they put up the money to get things started and are 100 percent entitled to turn a profit within the business of hockey.

We've had seven years of incredible competitive balance," Bettman said. "The game on the ice has never been better. That is a function of this system. The system as originally negotiated needs some adjustments. It turned out to be too rich a deal for the first seven years. We lived with it, but I'm not going to apologize for saying we need to adjust it.

"The thought was somehow they got slammed in the negotiations last time. They didn't. We made at the time what we thought was a fair deal. It actually turned out to be more fair than it should have been."

But theres a fine line between a professional sports business venture and a shiny grown-up toy for the Billionaire Boys Club.

So the NHL and NHLPA currently sit roughly 1 billion apart from each other over the life of a new CBA lasting in the six-year range, and Bettman has pulled the NHLs latest offer from the table. Most of the Bruins players believed that talks will get much more serious and substantial now that NHL regular season activities will begin getting cancelled over the next two weeks and it wont be long before games set to start on Oct. 11 will be erased as well.

The Sept. 15 deadline really doesnt mean a whole lot in the grand scheme of things aside from forcing the players to practice on their own away from their NHL practice rinks and barring them from their own dressing rooms. But its meaningful symbolically for those that love and cherish NHL hockey, and those are the true victims being left for road kill as the NHL and NHLPA tear off in opposite directions away from the 2012-13 season.

Its not too late for either side to turn the car around at this point, but its difficult to see things getting going before December at the earliest. That worked out okay for the NBA during their strike-shortened season last year, but nothing seems to come quite as easy for the NHL.

Thats a sobering, scary thought indeed for anybody that loves the game.