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Hartnett: NHL Lockout Looming; We’ve Been Down This Road Before

Gary Bettman (credit: Christian Petersen/Getty Images) and Donald Fehr (credit: Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images)

Gary Bettman (credit: Christian Petersen/Getty Images) and Donald Fehr (credit: Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images)

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By Sean Hartnett
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The drop of the puck isn’t happening anytime soon.

A lengthy NHL lockout appears to be on the horizon. The owners and NHLPA aren’t just far apart, now they’re firing shots at one another.

Formal talks broke off on August 31 and it doesn’t appear the two sides are willing to meet before Saturday’s 11:59 p.m. deadline.  There aren’t any formal talks planned for Tuesday or any date in the near future.

The Players’ View

NHLPA executive Donald Fehr drew a line in the sand outside the players’ union office in New York on Monday.  The players are united in their belief that they were taken advantage of during the 2004-05 lockout.  They’re determined not to let it happen again.

“A lot of them think that pure and simply they were taken advantage of last time and the owners want to take advantage of them again,” Fehr said in New York.

He continued, “It sorts of looks exactly what happened in hockey the last time and exactly how it played out in basketball and football so far. But I hope not.”

The players have the right to stand firm after making huge concessions in 2005.  They gave back 24% of their salaries, agreed to a salary cap and restrictions on entry-level contracts.

Seven years later, league revenues have grown from $2.2 million and $3.3 million.  Last season, NHL public relations sent out e-mails detailing their financial growth:

- “NHL on pace for a seventh consecutive year of record total revenue.  NHL Enterprises revenue up 195% over 2003-04.”

- “NHL teams played to 95.6% capacity, GameCenter Live Subscriptions up 93%, Twitter Followers up 96%, NHL Mobile Web Page Views up 81%.”

- “Average Announced Attendance of 17,445 – 95.6% Capacity.  Team Concessions up 13%.”

- “North American sales on Consumer Products up 15%, Jersey Sales up over 25%, Lifestyle Apparel up 35%.  Children’s Apparel up 14%, Headwear Sales 41%, Hardline Categories up 11.5%, NHL Store Sales up 27%, NHL.com sales up 20%”

That surge in popularity has a lot to do with the product on the ice.  Shouldn’t the players be entitled to a fairer offer than what’s on the table — a significant decrease in hockey related revenue and the salary rollbacks that owners are proposing?

Andrew Ladd of the Winnipeg Jets didn’t hold back in his criticism of the owner’s most recent offer.

“Our offer is more on track than theirs and theirs was a pretty low-ball offer to start off with,” he told the Winnipeg Sun. “They haven’t really made any concessions so far.”

Josh Gorges of the Montreal Canadiens is challenging the owners’ ability to lock the players out.  The NHLPA believes that labor laws in Quebec and Alberta would make it unlawful to lock out the players.  Should players on the Canadiens, Edmonton Oilers and Calgary Flames be able to practice and draw a salary, it would certainly weaken the owners’ stance.

“More than anything, the desire to play is what’s guiding us,” Gorges said during an NHLPA conference call. “The owners, on the other hand, seemed determined to impose a lockout. And so, the players are going to use every tool at our disposal to stop it.”

Approximately 250 NHL players will gather in New York on Wednesday to come up with a plan, but shouldn’t these steps taken place sooner?

The Owners’ View

Since being named NHL commissioner in 1993, Gary Bettman has presided over two lockouts.  To many NHL fans, he’s seen as the face of evil and a man willing to lockout the players for a third time.

His smug recent comments about fans coming back after a potential lockout isn’t going to win over bitter fans who are still upset over the loss of the entire 2004-05 season.

“We recovered last time because we have the world’s greatest fans,” Bettman said recently.

Bettman receives nearly $8 million dollars per year because he protects the owners’ best interests.  His salary has risen $4.3 million after the lockout because he gave the owners the “cost certainty” they were looking for by introducing a salary cap structure.

The 2004-05 lockout was the cost of an entire NHL season.  Sadly, no Stanley Cup was awarded in Jun, but it also saved many franchises from disolving.  When hockey came back in 2005, it’s popularity grew in leaps and bounds — and large market owners raked-in the dough.

In 2012, the owners believe that the players are taking a larger slice of the pie than they deserve.  They’re eager to decrease salary expenditure and institute contractual language that limits player revenues.

The Bottom Line

The two sides have no idea how to share a dollar.  They’re not even speaking the same basic language and there’s been too much public finger pointing.

There’s an obvious lack of real negotiating. Already, the NHL and NHLPA have instituted a special waiver period to allow veterans on two-way contracts to be allowed to play in the AHL in the event of a lockout.  If that isn’t the clearest indication of a lockout, I don’t know what is.

Should the two sides actually meet before September 15, it will be far too late to prevent a lockout.  Judging by the disparity of the NHL and NHLPA’s stances, a lengthy lockout seems inevitable.

Will there be a lockout on September 15th?  Share your thoughts below and send your tweets to @HartnettWFAN.