We’re nearing Day 62 of the lockout. Over 300 regular season games have now been cancelled, with more set to go next week. The last round of formal talks between the NHL and NHLPA resulted in a heated yelling match between two owners and two players. Pessimism is at an all time high – a pessimism that this humble fan has held since September.
Here’s why I believe there will be no 2012/13 NHL season.
The two sides are still country miles apart
Despite the numerous times the NHL and NHLPA since the start of the lockout, there still doesn’t appear to be any consensus as to what constitutes hockey related revenue (HRR). Now, even the nature of player contracts and whether or not existing contracts are to be fully honoured are on the table. From what is being said and conveyed in the public domain now, it appears that these negotiations have extended beyond the current CBA. Owners want a bigger slice of the pie, and want to show their dominance in the league. Players are worried that if they give ground, it could set a precedence for the next CBA – “If they don’t honour the contracts that they signed with us, then what could they take next?”.
Bettman/Daly and Don/Steve Fehr: our way or the highway
Objectively, it’s great to see that both the NHL and NHLPA are so strong and unified in negotiations. It’s what is required in business. However, this comes at a cost: even if a percentage of players / owners held a different view to their respective parties and wanted to go in a different direction, there doesn’t seem to be any mechanism for them to do so. It’s been suggested by some media that Bettman only needs six owners – the real powerbrokers in the group – to be on his side for this to continue, and it’s fair to say that the same principle works for Donald Fehr and the NHLPA.
We’re too far gone
The latest plan to start a shortened season on 1 December would require a deal to be done by early next week, taking into account a week for training camp. This plan is now as good as dead. Optimists would remind us that the 1994-95 lockout ended early January, and resulted in a 48 game season extending into May; however, today’s hockey environment is very different (e.g. players in Europe, additional load and tighter schedules with arena bookings). A meaningful shortened season would be extremely challenging to run from a logistical point of view.
So why should we care? Why should we be worried for the best hockey league in the world – even for the sport of hockey as it exists in North America – if the NHL doesn’t resume until next year?
For one, fan apathy is at an all time high: sports writers that regularly cover the NHL have stated that the buzz and talk – even in the hockey strongholds of Toronto and Montreal – has started to fade. LA Kings GM Dean Lombardi spoke on Hockey Central @ Noon (Sportsnet.ca) about the challenges they will face in regaining the interest and attendance of the average fan, despite winning the Stanley Cup last year; one can only imagine how difficult it would be for franchises like Columbus, Dallas and Colorado. The impact on the local economy of this lockout cannot be overlooked either, with some teams laying off or cutting the salaries of large numbers of staff, not to mention the merchandise and food vendors who made their livings over winter through hockey attendance. Plus, some players are weighing up the possibility of staying overseas even after the NHL lockout is over. The players who have expressed this publicly aren’t minor leaguers either: it includes Alex Ovechkin, Evgeni Malkin, Sergei Gonchar and others.
Should this lockout get any uglier, we could be looking at a very different NHL competition next season. Am I just being a pessimist?