Could The NHL Be Flirting With Disaster?

Things may seem well, but with the collective bargaining agreement set to expire in September the NHL might be heading towards another lockout.

Ed Millerby Ed Miller

Over the last calendar year, both the NFL and NBA had labor disputes that eventually led to a lockout, causing a shortened season to some capacity and now the NHL might just be following the same trend.

But can the NHL afford another work stoppage?

Absolutely, but it would be a major blow for a league that has seen increasing attendance and TV ratings over the past few years.  It simply isn’t a ratings juggernaut like the other leagues but rather is built upon a loyal fan base.  We don’t have to look back too far to see just what a stoppage does to the NHL.

In 2004 the league’s owners and players fought during negotiations and the labor dispute eventually led to the cancellation of the season. The majority of players went to Europe to play – 388 to be exact.  The rest were scattered around different North American Leagues like the UHL, ECHL and AHL, while the 310 day dispute was figured out. 

The effects lingered for a couple of seasons, as it was a huge blow for professional hockey but the hangover could have been much worse if it wasn’t for these two guys named Sidney Crosby and Alexander Ovechkin.  This all came just 10 years after the league had a shortened season for the same set of reasons, though the fact that there was a season proved to be important in keeping fans.

And now the countdown to September 15 – the final day of the current CBA – begins but it isn’t exactly making front page news.  There have been talks going back and forth since the Los Angeles Kings hoisted the Stanley Cup but the owners and the players association are moving at a slow pace.  It’s believed by many that league officials want to reduce the players’ 57 percent share of revenue, despite the fact that overall revenues have increased by approximately $3 billion since the last CBA was signed.  The players want more however and don’t seem prepared to budge.

No NHL hockey this winter would once again put the league far back in the NBA’s rearview mirror.  Meanwhile the smaller markets – the Florida Panthers and Phoenix Coyotes of the league – that have a tough enough time drawing fans in as is, would suffer a setback because ticket sales and viewership would inevitably decline.  Not to mention if it were to happen again there aren’t really any potential saviors for the league like Corsby and Ovechkin were.

So does any one win in what could wind up being one big mess?

Well, either the players or the owners will win depending on the terms of the agreement but the big winner would have to be minor league hockey, more specific the AHL.  The average attendance of the AHL went up nearly 6.5 percent – almost 400,000 fans – during the previous lockout and it’s poised to happen again.  Much like in 2004-05, the AHL would absorb much of the NHL’s talent and with 30 teams spread out in smaller towns, fans of the professionals can still see quality hockey close to home.  While teams like the Hershey Bears are guaranteed to pack their arena, struggling squads like the Toronto Marlies should see an enormous increase in attendance.

But there is no Stanley Cup in the minors and that’s what every hockey fans wants to watch their team compete for.  With each day that passes the time ticks away in getting a new deal in place and saving hockey from another blow that could potentially be devastating.  It’s tough to focus on free agency and the upcoming prospect camps because first we need to be reassured that there will be a NHL season.

Ed is the lead hockey writer and a sports contributor for CraveOnline Sports. You can follow him on Twitter @PhillyEdMiller, and subscribe on Facebook @ CraveOnlineSports.

Photo Credit: AP