By Steve Silverman
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Remember to turn your clocks back at midnight.
No, it’s not a return to standard time.
At midnight tonight, the NHL will turn its clock back and return to 2004-05 and lock out its players.
This will be the third lockout in the Gary Bettman era. The commissioner, who gets booed every time he hands out the Stanley Cup, was hired by the NHL’s owners in 1993. One of the tenets of his hiring was to avoid work stoppages.
He has not done that. There was a 48-game NHL season in 1994-95.
The NHL lost its entire season in 2004-05.
Who knows how long this lockout will last?
Most of the experts believe this lockout will not cost the league a full season, and that meaningful games will start being played in November, December or January at the latest. However, those are just guesses.
This lockout is all about money, and how it’s divided.
The NHL revenue stream has grown dramatically from $2.1 billion to $3.3 billion in recent years. The problem is that it doesn’t know how to share its money so that it is not a league of rich teams and poor teams.
Instead of making changes in the way the money is distributed, the NHL wants the players to solve the problems of the poor teams by absorbing salary cuts.
The last time around, the players were forced to endure a 24 percent salary rollback before the work stoppage ended prior to the 2005-06 season.
This time around, the NHL asked the players to take a similar cut in its first round of negotiations. In a proposal offered the other day, the NHL is now asking players to accept about a nine percent cut.
While the owners are still putting it on the backs of its players, at least they appear to be moving in the right direction. The only problem is that Bettman said the latest NHL offer would be taken off the table if there’s no agreement by midnight.
The little man likes to shake his fist and show his power.
In a sport where it often comes to using your fists and squaring off with your opponent, Bettman likes playing the role of enforcer during contract negotiations.
Donald Fehr is attempting to steward the players through these choppy waters. During his long tenure as the head of the Major League Baseball Players Association, Fehr was known for the same kind of scrappy attitude, especially in his early years.
But he doesn’t turn confrontational very often anymore. He knows his job is to stand up for his players by getting an agreement, and not by shouting down the other side.
He has kept things professional throughout the process, including revenue sharing as a major piece of the NHLPA’s counteroffer to the league.
Not only does that make sense, but revenue sharing is the piece that Major League Baseball has used to find labor peace after so many years of rancor in the 1970s, ‘80s and ‘90s.
It seems that Fehr is doing whatever he can to get players into training camp and back on the ice. It also seems that Bettman is trying to impress his bosses (the NHL owners) and cut up his opponent one more time.
Oh, yes, and then come to an agreement.
When one side is intent on getting a deal done and the other wants to inflict punishment, that does not sound like a way to get the deal done quickly.
Losing a full season doesn’t seem likely, but losing a good chunk of the year and then having an NBA-style compacted schedule could be the result.
A sad day for hockey fans as an official lockout could be in place just hours from now. Offer your thoughts and comments in the section below…