We don't do this often, but this one is worthy ... On this day in NHL history, the current CBA was signed in 2005, bringing an end to the lockout after an entire missed season.
Hockey has had life a bit care-free in the past year in regards to labor, watching the NFL and NBA go through their own lockouts. The NFL has since worked out a deal without any meaningful games being missed. The NBA, meanwhile, is in danger of missing the start of the season, if not a lot more.
But the care-free days are about to wind down. The clock begins ticking now on reaching a new deal to avoid another crippling lockout. It has taken six years, but the league finally seems to have recouped from the wiped-out season, seeing popularity levels returning to and in some cases exceeding the pre-lockout highs. To put it simply, things are going alright for the NHL these days.
You don't need me to tell you how jeopardizing another labor deadlock would be to the sport's growth. There are already multiple cities facing the possibility of losing their teams partly because of a lack of fan support. I'm sure a work stoppage will really help solve that problem ...
The biggest problem that seems to be on the horizon is the ever-escalating salary cap and floor. As each continues to rise quickly, it is doing the smaller markets and those with less money no favors. They are already losing money and their operating costs are forced to go up at an accelerated rate.
On the other side of the equation, the quickly rising ceiling is allowing the teams with greater resources to stay ahead of the pack. I touched on the landscape of the East starting to take shape into a very static conference because of well-off franchises getting more room under the cap to help maintain their lofty positions. This exact problem has caused a lot of the friction the NBA is currently dealing with.
The summer spending spree we just went through will undoubtedly give ammunition to owners claiming salaries are skyrocketing. Expect to hear a lot of "Ed Jovanovski was given $4.125 million per year for Pete's sake!" arguments being made.
Kelly McParland at the National Post wrote about how this year's free-agent blitz was planting some seeds of labor doom, insisting that the owners will only have themselves to blame. But the counterargument to that angle is that many of the owners' hands were forced by the salary floor rising, inducing them to overspend.
Out of the four major sports leagues in North America, it is pretty much undebateable which can least afford a stoppage; it's the NHL. It already has the lowest fan support of the four sports as it is. It can't afford to lose the momentum it has going (and the potential of it growing a lot more if the NBA season is taken away, leaving just hockey). You think hockey suffers from a lack of coverage now? Another lockout would set it back further.
There is no doubt the best thing that can be done to avoid another stoppage is get to work on a new collective bargaining agreement as soon as possible. You might remember there is a new lead man for the NHLPA, none other than Donald Fehr. In case you need a reminder, Fehr was the man in charge of baseball's players union when that sport suffered a strike of its own. I still own a ball from the World Series That Never Was from 1994, an awful reminder of the fall without baseball.
I think Fehr will forever have a taint in a lot of sports fans' eyes as the man that cost the MLB a season. I was still in school during the strike, but my memories of the way Fehr was portrayed was as the bad guy in the whole scenario.
Nonetheless, he is going to be the point man for the players in negotiations and from their point of view, there are few better to have on your side. Fehr plans on doing a lot of travelling the remainder of this calendar year, visiting every team and learning about the sport and all of his clients. After that, hopefully negotiations begin in earnest and the uneasiness that is seeping in can be put to sleep before it truly breaks out.
The biggest hope that the sides will swallow their pride and make concessions to sign a new labor deal is that the lockout is something many of these players and owners have gone through. Nobody would want to have to go through it again. It's those memories that can ultimately be the biggest incentive to find common ground. I mean they decided to bring the shootout to the NHL after the lockout to help interest fans (needless to say, most fans I see don't like it one bit), can you imagine what they would have to bring to the game whenever they would start playing again?
Every time labor battles are being fiercely fought you always hear the mantra of "think of the fans!" In this case, I don't think it will be too tough for the parties involved to do just that. The only question is if that will deter them from holding their ground.
And on a personal note, I hope they think of the writers, too. I don't want to spend my summer like the guys at the Eye on Basketball blog keeping daily tabs on labor talk. Nobody wins in that scenario.
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