Betting on When the Lockout Ends

Will it ever end? The NHL lockout has been ongoing for more than three months now and there appears to be no end in sight.

But bet on the NHL lockout ending before January 15. That is a logical drop dead date for the 48 game regular season Gary Bettman said was the minimum needed to have a “legitimate” regular season.

Neither the players or the owners are blameless in the this mess. There are a lot of egos out there getting in the way of ending this lockout. Heck, logic dictates that the sides aren’t really that far apart on most major issues.

The players and owners have agreed to a 50-50 split of hockey related revenues and that was the biggest issue out there. The ironic thing is, nearly every observer knew that 50-50 was going to be the settlement point. That represents a large cut in revenue for the players which you would think means the owners are “winning” the lockout again. So why isn’t this thing settled yet?

Let’s go back to 2005 and the end of the last lockout. The owners got everything they wanted back then, or so it seemed. They demanded “cost certainty” in the form of a salary cap. The players said no way, over our dead bodies, the entire 2004-05 season was lost and in the end, the owners got their salary cap.

But the cap didn’t stop GMs from signing big ticket free agents to absurd contracts designed to circumvent the rules. Revenues went up faster than anybody expected and again, there was a big disparity between the “haves” (Detroit, the Rangers, Montreal, Toronto, Vancouver) and the have nots (Phoenix, Columbus, the Islanders, Florida). The cap kept climbing and the lower income teams just couldn’t keep up.  So the owners won the war in 2005 but feel like they lost the peace. Of course, that was their own doing, but don’t tell them that.

Instead of increasing revenue sharing like all other sports, the NHL owners would rather get back more money from their most expensive employees. They would be wise do increase revenue sharing anyway for the all-around health of the league but since when did the owners ever do anything for the common good?

Part of the reason this mess has dragged on so long is that the owners are used to crushing the NHLPA. It happened in 2005 and in 1995 and so many times before that, mostly because the union has had leadership that was either inept, corrupt or both. The owners have more money than the players and figure that economics are on their side, eventually the players will cave. Historically, they have been correct about that.

But now they owners are up against Donald Fehr, an experienced leader who has had great success representing the baseball players, the most powerful players union in all of sports. Fehr earned the players trust by being mart and just by honestly keeping them informed, something past union leadership was often criticized for failing to do.

Fehr knows that if the players cave now, they will probably remain weak and continue to be forced into major concessions each time the CBA expires. He is determined that it won’t happen again this time.

Fehr has to share in some of the blame for this lockout, of course. He has a big ego and until the lockout began, he seemed in no hurry to start negotiations that might have ended things a bit sooner. Clearly, going up against a skilled leader like Fehr has gotten under Gary Bettman’s skin. Bettman and the owners are used to getting their way and they are shocked that they haven’t gotten it already.

In the end, the game could not withstand another lost season. The NHL remains the only North American pro sports league to lose an entire season due to a labor impasse. A second lost season in eight years would be a disaster. Bet on cooler heads prevailing and this mess ending before January 15.

But then again, that assumes both sides can but aside their egos and do what’s good for the game. I hope that’s not too much to ask for or this is going to be a very tough winter and spring for hockey fans across North America.

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