By Derek Staples
The NHL lockout of the 2004-2005 season remains a dark cloud that looms over the sport of hockey, and it has yet to subside. No games were played that season, and it appears that another lockout is on the horizon because the former collective bargaining agreement has expired. The lockout that wiped out the entire 04-05 season had devastating economic effects and dramatically decreased the popularity of the NHL. Eight years later, the NHL has made major strides to regain its fan base and reestablish its revenue. But with the impending labor negotiations, the gulf between the NHL executives and the NHL players association remains vast. There have been no formal meetings between the two sides in nearly two weeks. The question remains, are NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman and the NHLPA (National Hockey League Players Association) greedy and stubborn enough to put us through another lockout?
No commissioner in all of professional sports gets booed more than Gary Bettman. In several of his speeches during the presentation of the Stanley Cup following the Finals, some crowds have been so ruthlessly loud, that he can barely be heard. Although it’s true that many of these crowds have simply been upset about their teams losing the Cup, it’s clear that Bettman has filled the unfortunate role of a scapegoat responsible for the previous lockout. Therefore, if anyone should be pursuing a new collective bargaining urgently, it should be Bettman. There’s no way he deserves all of the blame for a possible year without hockey, but Bettman is the face of the NHL. Another influential NHL figure that has a reputation for putting money above all else is Jeremy Jacobs, owner of the Boston Bruins. He is a major player in the negotiations and has been adamant that NHL player contracts are too lengthy and lucrative. However, the fact that he just inked a handful of players on the Bruins to multi- year deals borders on hypocrisy. They will take some serious heat if a deal is not agreed upon soon because in big hockey cities, especially in Canada, hockey is a way of life.
The specific financial aspects that are being argued over are complex and disheartening. But the bottom line is this; the central issue in these labor negotiations is that rich men are trying to get richer. The most central financial aspect of the negotiations is the battle over revenue sharing. The players collected roughly 57% of the revenue generated by the NHL last year, which is strikingly high when compared to other sports. The owners would like to get this number down to 47% over the next six years, which is obviously a multi- million dollar pay cut. The National Hockey League is a multi- billion dollar industry, but the passion of its fans exceeds any amount of money that the players and owners could possibly disagree on. It’s time for the NHL executives and NHLPA to put their differences aside so we can avoid another lost season.