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NHL Lockout: Former Panthers owner shares his thoughts on lockout

By Brian Stubits | CBSSports.com
Siegel is the former CEO of the Panthers. (Blacktie South Florida)

The owners can't say much during the NHL lockout. By that I mean they can't say anything at all thanks to the gag order put in place by Gary Bettman and the NHL.

That gag order has helped create a sense of unity among the owners, something that's a lot easier to achieve when you don't have dissidents. The NHL can point to the fact that owners unanimously voted to proceed with the lockout to further prove they're all on the same page.

That doesn't mean former owners can't speak up, though. Former Panthers owner and CEO Stu Siegel did exactly that on Monday, expressing one of the biggest fears of an NHL owner right now.

Right now the pulling-the-cap card doesn't appear to be in the NHLPA's hand but it very well could be down the line. When reached by CBSSports.com, Siegel elaborated on his thinking.

"Just knowing where [NHLPA head Donald Fehr] is coming from in baseball where they've had good labor relations with no cap system, he created it," Siegel said. "If you come up with something that works and then you get hired by somebody else, wouldn't you say, 'Here's something that works!' again? It may be something as simple as a negotiating ploy.

"From what I understand from baseball's structure, those [NHL] teams that are giving those outrageous contracts to try and circumvent the cap would be able to do that under a no-cap system but they would be subject to some kind of luxury taxes which kick back to the teams that are complying with the cap system. I think Fehr is going to come up with some kind of system that's a hybrid of a cap and no-cap system, a luxury tax. He's going to kind of push it that way.

"I think it's going to be hard for him to take the cap off the table, but if the cap is a soft cap, then he makes it look like he's being agreeable, not being revolutionary."

To this point, at least from the information that has been made public, that hasn't been discussed, although Fehr hasn't ruled it out. It's just that the players know full well that if they were to fight the cap then this becomes a bitter battle. But perhaps, as Siegel said, making some amendments to a soft cap at least might keep the NHL listening. Then again, the owners don't seem interested in changing much in this new CBA other than how to divvy up the revenue.

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"I don't think the system as a whole is all that broken," NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly told Toronto radio station The Fan 590. "I think some minor adjustments [are needed]."

The point is, would the owners really go for a tweak to the structure of the cap itself?

"Everything is up in the air, right?" Siegel said. "The players want to play and the owners want to play. It's whoever has the stronger will."

Let's put it this way: I'm not hopeful, although it at least is down the right track of kicking more money to the teams in need via avenues that aren't just splitting the hockey-related revenue.

In the most simplistic sense, this NHL lockout is all about the money. The other considerations like contract length don't matter much; they will be afterthoughts. Once the sides can agree on the financial aspects of a new CBA they will worry about the rest.

More specifically, this lockout is about the lower 18 teams in the league as far as revenue is concerned. Or if it's not, at least it should be. Teams like the Toronto Maple Leafs and New York Rangers can't have much of a problem with the lay of the land as it is now, not when they are diving in tanks of gold like Uncle Scrooge McDuck.

Those teams in the lower two-thirds of the league that operate in the red and not the black, that's the end game of this lockout. Sure, seeing as all the owners are businessmen who always will get more money when they have the chance, they wouldn't turn down a chance at a higher share of the hockey-related revenue split, but they don't need it. The money-losing teams do.

Siegel might not run the Panthers anymore, but it wasn't long ago that he was part of their ownership team. He is the man responsible for hiring Dale Tallon to be Florida's GM. Point is, he's familiar with the finances of the organization, one that can certainly be described as being in the bottom two-thirds. Does he think revenue sharing would be the best answer?

"Certainly the smaller-market teams want as much revenue sharing as possible but the bigger-market teams don't want to do it," he said. True enough. Might as well try and get percentage points from the players rather than money from those making it hand over fist.

Important to getting to that end, it's necessary that those small-market owners be heard just as much as the longtime owners of the big-market teams. Sometimes it appears the bigwigs have the power and thus the voices, but Siegel said when he was involved in meetings he felt this voice and the concerns of his franchise were definitely heard.

What he doesn't think is being heard -- or at least respected -- is the owners' side of the debate. Why not? Because of the owners themselves.

"As opposed to the last lockout, I think the players have way more sympathy and are way better organized right now," Siegel said. "The owners have done everything to shoot themselves in the foot from just starting with how in the last lockout when they supposedly got everything they wanted. They beat the hell out of the players.

"Then you have this whole thing with these crazy contracts, the whole circumvention of the cap like this crazy Parise deal or even how they (big deals) were coming through the midnight hour on Saturday. And add the fact that the revenue has grown. I don't think there's much sympathy for the owners."

To be clear, Siegel isn't pro-player or pro-owner; he just wants hockey back. He also said he doesn't know what the answer is, he's just a big fan these days (of the Panthers, naturally). So at this point he's just a well-informed fan who wants what the rest of us do: a new CBA.

"I'm just disappointed that all the smart people involved in the CBA negotiations can't figure out a way to divide up the $3-plus billion in league-wide revenues in a way that satisfies everyone -- the high revenue teams, the low revenue teams and the players," Siegel said. "If a level of trust can be built for everyone to sit in a room with some financial geniuses and all the books open, it just seems like grownups should be able to make that happen. I believe the players understand that all teams should be profitable."

It's a worthwhile wish but tough to produce. In reality, some teams just struggle, the Panthers clearly included. It might be especially difficult for a team like them to handle a lockout and turn a profit after one, right?

"I don't think it will hurt them too bad. Now from a financial standpoint for a team like them it might even be neutral," Siegel said. "There are fixed expenses that are tough to handle when you don't have revenues. But the payment of the players is the biggest expense that they have."

That will remain the case, no matter how far they are able to talk the players down on the HRR split.

In the end this whole thing comes down to trying to find a deal that works for all 30 teams and the players. Making everybody profitable is the goal, as Siegel points out. There are just different trains of thought on how to get there and as Siegel warns, some of them might derail the trains before they get back on track and get to the finish line.

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @StubitsCBS on Twitter and like us on Facebook.

 
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