Chances are you’ve heard a thing or two of late about how the NFL lockout ended and since you’re here and you’re a hockey fan it made you start thinking back to the dark days of 2004-2005. You know, back when the NHL owners held the NHLPA over a barrel trying to fix the economic standards of the league and went so far as to sacrifice an entire season to do so.
You remember how that felt when NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said there would be no season, no Stanley Cup awarded, and most importantly, no hockey played at all. All those feelings bubble up every time there’s a labor dispute to be had in pro sports and while the NBA is dealing with their own lockout, the NHL could once again be back in the same position after next season.
The Collective Bargaining Agreement the NHL and NHLPA worked out to end the lockout back in 2005 expires after next season meaning that it’s time for the two sides to go back to the table. Hockey fans are still scarred over what happened in the past but fear not, both sides have a few reasons to get things worked out without having a work stoppage.
The National Post’s Sean Fitz-Gerald outlined a few things that show why there might be a lockout once again, but here’s a few things to show you why that’s not going to happen.
1. Cash rules everything around them
While the salary cap and salary floor keep going up and that can mean trouble for some of the poorer teams that have to spend more, it does mean one really good thing: Revenues keep going up. With money continuing to flow in, television ratings continuing to rise, the game’s popularity growing with the merchandise sales to match and a new TV deal in place… Figuring out how to best divide up a bigger pie should be a pleasant problem to have.
The one thing both sides need to figure out is how to make sure getting to the salary floor is less painful for teams that don’t make as much money as the Maple Leafs, Flyers, Red Wings, and others. Some teams are still struggling to make the big bucks and while there’s some revenue sharing now, there’s not a lot of it to help offset losses for some teams. While they’re not going to go full on to keep teams afloat, giving out more money to hurting teams would help.
2. There’s actually a working TV contract
When the NHL locked out the players back in 2004, it came at a rough time as the NHL’s deal with ESPN and ABC had an opt-out clause for them. Once the lockout was wrapped up, ESPN and ABC got out of hockey and the already publicly damaged NHL had to suck up their pride and make a deal any way they could.
Now there’s a new, fat contract signed and sealed with NBC and NBC Sports Group with lots of money behind it, ticking off the newly re-upped rightsholders by not giving them what they paid for doesn’t really do a lot to help out the mutual business. It all comes back to money again here, but when there’s nothing about the sport on TV that hurts everyone’s bottom line.
3. Both sides know how bad for business a lockout is
Sure, lots of fans are nervous that Donald Fehr is leading the NHLPA and not a lot of fans really care for the job Gary Bettman does, but both sides have one big thing in common. Both Fehr and Bettman have been through sport-crippling work stoppages.
Bettman, of course, had two work stoppages to his record. The stoppage in 1994 caused nearly half of the 1994-1995 season to be missed as just 48 games were played that regular season and the entire 2004-2005 season was nuked. Fehr was head of Major League Baseball’s Players Association when the 1994 World Series was canceled due to a mid-season lockout. While he was able to help the MLBPA and MLB avoid further issues later on getting another deal agreed to, his reputation has been sealed thanks to getting the World Series canceled.
With track records like that, both sides know they can’t afford to allow things to get so bad once again and cause there to be games missed. Things aren’t so bad in the NHL that they need to fight tooth and nail all over again, tweaks are needed and will be handled with the right amount of mutual griping.
4. They can’t afford to lose the fans
With memories of how much the last lockout affected the NHL, both the NHL and NHLPA know that they can’t risk doing that to hockey fans all over again less than ten years after kicking the fans in the crotch. Letting the game suffer again so soon after that would be a death blow for the sport. Hockey fans are loyal and they’ve put up with a lot of crap from its leaders.
When the NHL came back, they promised fans lower ticket prices and plenty of other perks to buy them off. The lower ticket prices never showed up, but the fans came back in droves in most places including a few of the old traditional places. Screwing the fans over again while the game is at its most popular in places like Chicago and Boston while continuing to pick up steam in other cities would be about the worst business plan around.
No business can survive while making terrible decisions and for the NHL and NHLPA, slapping the fans in the face again while old wounds are still healing would go down as a historically bad decision.
Guaranteeing labor peace is a foolish thing to do and while both the NHL and NHLPA are going to fight for their needs, wants, and piece of the CBA turf, they know they can’t afford to let things get out of hand. Fans will fret and will continue to do so until a new deal is done, but there’s no reason to think that we as hockey fans will be sitting here sweating things out the way NFL and NBA fans have done and will do.