With no deal imminent, NHL lockout threatens season

By Jacob Greenberg

For the fourth time in twenty years, the NHL season is in jeopardy. With the expiration of the players’ collective bar­gaining agreement on September 15, millions of NHL fans around the country have been left in sports purgatory as their players have been locked out. The last thing that anyone wants is a repeat of the 2004-2005 season, which was the first time a major North American professional sports league was forced to cancel an entire season after the league was unable to reach a deal with its players. The storyline seems familiar. With recent NFL referee and NBA player lockouts, sports fans all around the country are tir­ing of millionaires (or near-millionaires) fighting billionaires. Many fans are quick to criticize players for perceived selfish­ness in collective bargaining disputes. Here are five reasons why this dispute is different: 1. This is Gary Bettman’s third lockout in his 19 years as league commissioner. In 1994, the NHL cancelled 468 games before the lockout mercifully ended after 103 games. And as previously stated, a 2004 labor dispute cost the league an entire year. NHL fans can only hope similar results aren’t imminent. With the league still recovering some of its popularity from the last lockout, Bettman’s rigidity during the current negotiations is indicative of his lack of respect and regard for the players. The players left the last lockout completely empty-hand­ed. The lost season resulted in a brand new salary cap for the NHL, as well as a much lower share of league revenue for the players. Consequently, not only did players lose a year of salary and bonuses, they came up empty at the negotiating table as well. Probably the most well documented case of player con­cessions was that of recently retired Dallas Star Mike Modano, who was quoted as saying that he lost $7 million during the last lockout. The players simply cannot afford to do the same with this deal. The owners and the union are separated by 3.3 billion dol­lars of revenue, and reports indicate that the league has asked players to accept as little as 43 percent of that sum. Although this may seem like a fairly reasonable figure, it becomes much more difficult for the players to accept when one considers that they are currently entitled to 57 percent of the revenue. The players reportedly have agreed to go as low as 47 percent, as long as they collectively maintain the 1.8 billion dollars in sal­ary that the league paid last year. 2. The NHL is in a tumultuous state following an off-sea­son scarred by player deaths. The summer of 2011 saw three prominent NHL enforcers commit suicide, with all three deaths later linked to chronic traumatic encephalopathy resulting from concussions. Concerns about player safety and post retirement treatment are at an all time high, and it is the league’s respon­sibility to show that it can adequately protect the players. A three-part New York Times exposé that was published last win­ter highlighted the league’s extreme negligence for player men­tal health following New York Ranger Derek Boogard’s death. Last season, the league’s marquis star, Sidney Crosby, only played in 22 out of 82 games, missing almost three quarters of the season with post concussion symptoms. Some doubted whether he would ever healthily return. The players cannot be blamed for wanting to ensure the safety of their teammates and competitors. 3. Following the last labor debacle, the union hired longtime Executive Director of the MLB Players’ Association Donald Fehr as its executive director. Fehr helped mold the players’ union into the gold standard for pro athlete unions. The NHL Players’ Association has made it clear that this lockout will not end with more player concessions. I would not expect another accommodating agreement from the players to avert disaster as the NFL and NBA players have done in each of the past two years. 4. This lockout is completely uncalled for. After league initi­ated rule changes following the previous lockout, the game is finally making progress in attracting new fans. Having two lockouts so close in time to one another could cause irreparable harm to the league’s fan base since many fans still have the 2004-2005 lockout fresh in their memories. The last thing the league needs is for frustrated fans to stop buying their product. Don’t be fooled by billionaire rhetoric. This lockout is about billionaires trying to become multi-billionaires by dis­mantling a union once and for all. 5. Finally, it’s the NHL. We love these guys for the their heart, and unwavering sacrifice. In what other sport will a player ac­tually take his teeth out before a game in anticipation of brutal disfigurement? Hockey players always talk about love of the game and love for the fans. So let’s love them back. Support the players this time around. refresh –>