Its official – well, almost. Doomsday is near at hand for the National Hokey League and all we can do as fans is sit back and watch it all unravel.
Late last week NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman made it clear that the league is prepared for a lockout if owners and players cannot agree on a new collective bargaining by Sept. 15, the date in which the current deal expires. With time beginning to run out for labor talks, the two sides have made little progress coming to terms on several big issues.
The NHL is proposing to cut the players’ share of revenue from 57 percent to 46, which would mean a $450 million shift in revenue towards the owners. The league also wants to restrict free agency; limit the length of contracts to five years; lengthen the time of unrestricted free agent eligibility from seven years to 10; and eliminate a player’s right to salary arbitration.
“Time is running short and the owners are not prepared to operate under this collective bargaining agreement for another season, so we need to get to making a deal and doing it soon,” Bettman said.
If the two sides cannot reach a deal, the league will suffer its second lockout in nearly a decade, with the last one forcing a work stoppage for the entire 2004-05 season.
As fans of the game, we could care less about the terms and agreements from the money aspect of it; because all we want come September is NHL hockey. The last work stoppage was almost as devastating as the one Major League Baseball suffered during the 1994 season, in which it took nearly four years – and two guys named Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa – to bring the game back to the popularity it enjoyed prior to the strike. But the NHL had two “saviors” of its own after the year-long lockout – Sidney Crosby and Alexander Ovechkin.
This time around, who knows if the league will be as lucky?
Sept. 15 is not a hard deadline for a deal to be in place but if it drags on much longer than that Bettman will surely have to start cutting into the season, the same way the NBA did last season. But the NHL Players’ Association is aware of the potential work stoppage and is doing everything in it's power to avoid it.
“Under the law, if an agreement expires, that may give someone the legal ability to go on strike or impose a lockout,” NHLPA executive director Don Fehr said. “There's no requirement that they do so, and if nobody does anything, you continue to work under the old conditions until they do change. … So if there's lockout, somebody has to choose to do this.”
Fehr is basically putting the blame on Bettman and made it clear last week that he feels the NHL is basically asking the players to pick up the costs involved with the new deal. Blame whoever you want, just don’t take the game away from the people that matter most and put the money into your pockets – the fans.
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