NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman Seems Pretty OK With Another Lockout
It was only eight years ago, in 2004, when the NHL had its last labor stoppage. The league locked out its players as they tried to hammer out a new CBA, cancelling an entire season before they were finally able to reach a deal. By that time, the league was pushed to the brink of extinction. The army of loyal hockey fans felt betrayed by the league and commissioner Gary Bettman for failing to come to some resolution to save that season and many stayed away even when hockey came back. Games were played to near empty arenas and hockey had to put forth a Herculean effort to come back off that ledge and bring the fans back. Welp, guess what we get to do again!
“I reconfirmed something that the union has been told multiple times over the last nine to 12 months, namely that the time is getting short and the owners are not prepared to operate under this collective bargaining agreement for another season, so we need to get to making a deal and doing it soon,” Bettman said.
In short: “Accept our terms or get locked out!”
So what is the big issue between the two sides? Money, of course!
“Our efforts are going to be devoted to making a deal, but as I said the owners are not going to operate under the economics of this collective bargaining agreement,” Bettman said.
“We start from the premise that the fundamental proposal, our initial proposal, relates to the fac tthat we need to be paying out less in player costs,” he said. “That’s something that while revenue sharing has been an important part of the existing collective bargaining agreement, we intend to have it going forward in an enhanced way. Revenue sharing isn’t the key element. It’s an element that has be dealt with, but the fundamental economics need to be dealt with first.”
So basically, the owners would like to roll back the amount of money given to players, which has become pretty standard in any CBA disagreement. But Bettman says that it’s more than just that, that the “fundamental economics need to be dealt with,” meaning that the owners don’t want to pay the players what they’re currently slated to make.
Here’s the problem with that stance: THE OWNERS ARE THE ONES WHO OFFERED THOSE DEALS AND THEN SIGNED THEM INTO EXISTENCE. Do you think Zach Parise and Ryan Suter threatened to walk if they didn’t get ridiculously front-loaded contracts that circumvented the spirit of the CBA and took advantage of a gigantic loophole? No, it was the management of the Wild, seeing that they needed to do something unorthodox (and maybe a little shady) to lure both of the top free agents to Minnesota, so they pulled the trigger on these contracts.
But now the owners don’t want to have to pay these contracts. In the initial offer, the league presented a plan for “enhanced” revenue sharing, which consisted almost exclusively of salary rollbacks from players. So basically the owner’s starting position is, “We’ll keep doing exactly what we’re doing, but you need to give us back some of that money we promised you.” Sounds promising!
The NHLPA has laid out why that plan is dumb and won’t work and are busy at work preparing their own proposal which should be submitted on Tuesday. Which means it will be summarily rejected by late Tuesday.
The NHL has experienced a huge resurgence in recent years with national stars emerging, compelling playoff races, and exciting postseason runs (punctuated by mega-market L.A. winning the whole thing this year). The sport has never been more lucrative in terms of ticket sales and television contracts, so it’s hard to think that the sport is necessarily hurting for cash. This feels more like rich guys trying to get richer by taking advantage of their work force. Karl Marx would not approve.
So with the deadline for a lockout quickly approaching and the two sides doing little more than telling each other how terrible their negotiating stance is, the likelihood of another lockout seems pretty high. The likelihood of Gary Bettman going missing somewhere in the Canadian wilderness should hockey suffer another work stoppage under his watch? Practically guaranteed.