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By Stu Hackel

For Wilson Pickett, the midnight hour meant something pretty great, but what’s tumbling down for hockey fans are the prospects of training camps opening, the season starting on time and a full schedule of the sport’s top league.

There were supposed to be no formal announcements at the midnight hour, but the NHL lockout began the moment Saturday turned into Sunday. Cancellation of all the things above are on the owners’ agenda as they try to force the players to accept a collective bargaining agreement that may not be in their best interests.

The two sides met informally on Saturday afternoon. NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly and NHLPA special counsel Steve Fehr had lunch together in Manhattan. Fehr suggested that the two sides reconvene formal talks before midnight, but Daly declined when he learned that the players remained uninterested in making a deal that would substantially lower their salaries.

Each side subsequently released a statement and they don’t seem to completely agree on who decided not to re-open formal talks.

“We spoke today and determined that there was no point in convening a formal bargaining session in light of the fact that neither side is in a position to move off of its last proposal,” Daly said Saturday afternoon (quoted by Kevin Allen in USA Today). “I’m sure we will keep in touch in the coming days and schedule meetings to the extent they might be useful or appropriate. We are sorry for where we are. Not what we hoped or expected.”

“Today we suggested that the parties meet in advance of the owners’ self-imposed deadline of midnight tonight,” said Steve Fehr, brother of the NHLPA’s executive director. “Don Fehr, myself and several players on the negotiating committee were in the city and prepared to meet. The NHL said that it saw no purpose in having a formal meeting. There have been and continue to be private, informal discussions between representatives of both sides.”

As we noted in our post on Friday, the question worth asking is: At what point does hard bargaining become no bargaining?

Whether the lockout is actually in anyone’s best interest is another interesting question because with the NHL’s popularity and revenues reaching new heights, the potential loss of some, if not all, of the season could damage the entire business. It didn’t happen after the lockout of 2004-05; just the opposite as the game eventually was slingshot upward. But a good part of that had to do with vast improvements to the product in the form of a new generation of stars and the “new rules” that opened up the offensive side of the game, making it a faster and more exciting spectacle than it had been during the trap-happy decade that preceded it.

The main rule changes being contemplated when the game returns this time involve getting tougher on diving and tweaking the way interference is called so it conforms more to the standard coming out of the last lockout. That’s hardly the sort of makeover the league gave itself in 2005. As for new stars, while young players as a group have never been so talented, there doesn’t seem to be any generational superstars like Sidney Crosby or Alex Ovechkin in anyone’s pipeline.

So a second slingshot effect could be a pipe dream, especially if fan disgruntlement with the second prolonged lockout in less than a decade results in paying customers staying away from NHL arenas when they re-open.

There were a few fan protests scheduled for today in New York, Montreal, Boston and Tampa Bay. The demonstration in front of the NHL store in New York drew only about 20 people (here’s a photo of the modest turnout from SNY Rangers blogger Adam Rotter), the one in Montreal may have only brought out the organizer according to Harrison Mooney of the Yahoo Puck Daddy blog. No word yet on Boston or Tampa Bay, but the very low turnout resulted in derogatory remarks over Twitter, to which Puck Daddy’s Greg Wyshynski tweeted, “Good on those fans protesting NHL today. Their numbers will be mocked by cynics, but it shows we give a damn.”

Of course, no one is actually missing hockey yet. Training camps aren’t set to open until Sept. 21, the first preseason game is scheduled for Sept. 23 and the regular season is supposed to start on Oct. 11. If the sides could reach a deal before the end of the month, the season could probably be salvaged.

The chances of that don’t seem very good at the moment, however, especially with the owners declining invitations to negotiate.

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  • Published On Sep 15, 2012
  • 27 comments
    BobFrick
    BobFrick

    All the more reason to embrace the college & minor pro games. They are just as entertaining, bring excitement, and you don't get the feeling that the players are on cruise control, just waiting for the playoffs. How many minor pro's would gladly change places with their spoiled millionaire NHL bro's!!!!!

    oldconn0420
    oldconn0420

    Let the NHL go under and bump the AHL and ECHL up a level.  Most of the smaller markets would love the TV revenue and fan base the NHL takes for granted.  Spread some of that wealth down to our local team and let those of us that go to the games benefit. 

    lukeaaronmartinez
    lukeaaronmartinez

    Stu, this might sound wild, but what incentive is their for the players to not just start their own league? As it stands, the owners have the wealth to not lose money if there is a lockout, to write off losses so they profit, have bankruptcy protections if the league goes under, and still get TV money if there is no season. They have virtually no incentive to settle this. 

     

    Why not just start their own league? There are plenty of arenas and tons of rich guys who'd love to own a team, and they'd have a great player base. Isn't this the kind of threat that might actually move the owners to do something?

    WilyCoyoteSuperGenius
    WilyCoyoteSuperGenius

    I don't know if I am representative of hockey fans, but last lockout I was angry and spewing hatred of Bettman. Now I am largely apathetic. Fed up maybe. I haven't been to a game in years, ticket prices are absurd. I watch the playoffs, could care less about the regular season.

     

    I do not see hockey on the upswing, I see it as a sport with an aging fan base and TV ratings worse than tennis.

     

    Sooner or later there will be NHL hockey again, I'm not worried about finding a use for my time until there is.

    JoeCabot
    JoeCabot

    There have been comments made by some folks in the NHL about their great fans, with some of the remarks basically code for "they will be back when we get over ourselves and settle this greed fest".  When this thing does get settled, it is time for fans to stay away.  In droves.   Playing the games in empty arenas is the only response that these knuckleheads will understand.

    craig.w.bryant
    craig.w.bryant

    If the owners want to return the NHL to being a viable product in the US sports market they need to contract. Get rid of any franchise located in a warm-weather locale. Return hockey to the parts of our nation where kids grow up playing hockey on frozen ponds. Hockey is a great sport, but the NHL,particularly under Bettman, is a total farce.

    TK_Noodle
    TK_Noodle

    The problem is that if the lockout ends with the players giving in and signing for less than they are worth (let's go with the hypothetical 50-50 split), then in 4 or 5 years when they have another lockout to renegotiate a new CBA again, the owners will complain about how unfair the last deal was and how this time around they will cancel the season unless the players accept 37%...  If you keep giving the bully your lunch money, he is going to keep coming back for more because he knows you are too afraid to do anything about it.  At this point, I don't even care if we lose the next two seasons, as long as it ends in a better deal for the players.  Its only been 10 hours, but obviously the teams are nothing without the players.  With a few exceptions (former player owners) the fans couldn't care less who owns the team, its the players and the fans that make the game what it is.  Personally, I would have to include a stipulation that any new CBA must also include Bettman's resignation.  Throw in Daly too and I'd be willing to go 50-50.

    DaveHiggins
    DaveHiggins

    i finally get my dad to split his tickets with me and a lockout these people need to get together n get it done each side sighn something they can both live with because i think i can speak to the avg sports fan last yr football missed camp Nba missed half a yr now hockey c'mon its gettin old

     

    JeremiahPierson
    JeremiahPierson

    Why doesn't nhl.com allow comments to their news articles? My guess is that they don't what to hear what the fans have to say. Just like every other corporate entity, they want to make money hand over fist and don't care about the players or the fans. I wonder if NBC will be putting pressure on the NHL to get this lockout resolved soon.

    Tj2
    Tj2

    Greed and stupidity once again in professional sports...wait... Let me quickly put on my surprise face

    SactoMan81
    SactoMan81

    The sad thing is that it appears we may be headed for a LONG lockout. :-( I just hope it doesn't turn into a repeat of the 2004-2005 full-season lockout fiasco....

    t7
    t7

    As all other professional sports in America money has ruined it. It is all about greed on both sides. It has been years since I have followed the NHL. My hockey season has already started with Lulea Sweden off to a great start in both the European Trophy and the Elitserien. Much more interesting league and international games and no lockouts.

    sarajeansays
    sarajeansays

    No one is actually missing hockey yet? Sir you must not live in Michigan. I missed hockey the moment the last buzzer sounded last season. I know I'm not the only one. 

    alan226
    alan226

    What a killer. We just got through with arguably the 2 best seasons in recent memory. Merchandising is up, TV is up, revenues rising  etc. There are always a core of fans that stay with sport no matter what happens. But in the last couple of years, the NHL has attracted the casual fan that will make or break the league. You turn the  casual fan off, who knows if or when you will get them back.

     

    Dumb move by the league (and owners). Everyone can see it's a lockout, not a strike.

     

    Killing the golden goose.......

    ehrenmadill
    ehrenmadill

    Owners are mostly to blame. The idiots set up a bullet proof structure and the spend every waking hour looking for loopholes (they can't get out of heir own way). This will or should settle with players reducing share to 52% from 57 and them increasing revenue sharing (as they should)

    coachingguy
    coachingguy

    This is really, really dumb on the part of the NHL... In the last 3-4 years they've made such strides in the public conscious.  The level of hockey is ridiculously good, both TV and stadium revenues have been increasing... These consecutive lockouts just make the NHL look bush league.  Owners who are too stupid or arrogant to manage themselves and the players... Well, I put this one on the Owners 80-20... In the end, I'm guessing we all know they'll settle at 50/50, rather  than the current 57-43...  Obviously there are some other issues, but this is cutting off the nose to spite the face of the league.  Jan 1st, for the Grand Outdoor game, is when we'll see hockey again, Even the Owners are not going to risk that publicity and revenue... So the preseason will start after Thanksgiving. 

     

    College Hockey has gotten really good, and if you live in a "Hockey State" you've got good High School and Minor league hockey...  

     

    This is an example of Too Much Ego meeting Too Much Arrogance meeting Too Much Stupidity.  

    CamillaBrannenBaker
    CamillaBrannenBaker

    Stu, what's the likely effect of yet another lockout on competition internationally among the leagues? I know that the NHL is the strongest league, and you remarked that there don't appear to be any real superstars in the pipe -- now, at least. Do you have any thoughts on whether this stalemate might make the NHL less attractive to young players, some of whom might potentially be some of those new superstars? Are the European and Russian leagues growing, or likely to grow, if another NHL season fails to materialize? Do you have the numbers on how the other leagues have fared? Is it all just better communication, or do they have a chance of becoming more competitive?

    Stu Hackel
    Stu Hackel moderator

     @lukeaaronmartinez luke - Someone asked me that question last month on the blog and, if you don't mind, I'll just repeat the gist of my answer from then:

     

    In the '94 lockout, the players attempted to stage some exhibition games of their own both in North American and maybe even in Europe. They pulled off a few. My recollection is they weren't overly successful. And there was talk of a players' league around that time, too, as I vaguely remember, but nothing came of it. The only real attempt at forming an alternative to the NHL at the time still involved owners and that was the brief flirtation the re-organized IHL engaged in around the time of the 94 lockout, the "I" trying to go from being a minor pro league to something closer to the NHL in caliber, placing franchises in NHL markets. It didn't last long and ultimately fizzled.

     

    But for the players today to form their own league, you have to consider some essential business realities. And the first and foremost of them is -- where would they play? If the players abandoned the NHL, they'd have a hard time coming up with 30 suitable arenas in the major markets with the desired capacity to get the number of fans that would pay them the kind of money they are used to being paid, or something even approaching it. I can't imagine the owners being of a mind to rent them the arenas in which NHL teams currently play. There my be tons of rich guys who'd love to own teams, but they -- or the players -- would have to also get into the arena business to do make it work and that's a crucial and mammoth complicating element in all this. Even if they cut down to 20 teams or 15 teams, I don't know how they'd find adequate buildings in the major cities that would guarantee them the sort of fan base they have now -- and remember, if you cut down on cities, you cut down on your national TV market, losing a big source of revenue, AND you have to tell a lot of players they don't have jobs in the new league.

     

    That right there is a seriously inhibiting factor to the players forming a new league of their own, unless they were prepared for a massive reduction in their compensation. And if you are bringing different owners into the equation, you are really just duplicating the player-owner dynamic that is problematic at the moment. The owners aren't going to be in it for charity, there's too much money at stake. So you are going to have the same, unfortunate, adversarial relationship. If you try to form a players' league with no owners, making the players themselves the de facto owners, then you are asking them to get into the business of renting arenas to pay for their own services and -- again -- I don't think there is the inventory of suitable buildings out there with the capacity needed to make the players' investment work. Too many of them are controlled by the current NHL owners.

     

    No, it seems to me that the best available model remains the current one, with owners on one side of the equation and the players on the other. They aren't going to see eye-to-eye on things all the time and that's to be expected; they have different interests in their business relationship. But no one in any pro sport has ever come up with a workable alternate model that cuts out the owners. As "Sizzle" points out, one was attempted in baseball in the late 19th century but it only lasted one season, and it was formed by National League players in reaction to what they felt were exploitive practices of the NL owners. It was an outgrowth of their players' union, but it still had owners and they didn't believe they could make a go of it after one year and folded.

     

    Maybe some day, someone will figure out a way to make a player's league work in some pro sport, but it's not happening now or in the near future.

     

    Thanks for the comment.

    Sizzle
    Sizzle

    The one time it was tried, in 1890 with baseball players, it was a disaster. The two established leagues fought back with a sorched earth policy and the the Player's League financial backers threw in the towel after one year. To add insult to injury, within a year four established teams folded and the players were left with 25% fewer jobs. In more recent times, the open-wheel CART-IRL war, while different because it involved two different sets of owners, shows how people can very quickly lose interest in a sport entirely if forced to chose one or another. Besides, it hasto be very difficult to run a sports league. Are there really 30 billionaires around, interested in paying the players want they want ( remember, they are refusing to sign an agreement that would pay them at least an average of $2 million. And does anyone think the NHL owners would sit idly by while the players started a league? They would promote minor leagues, sign Europeans, get NHL players to stay with them(as in 1987 the NFL got stars like Montana, Taylor and Gastineau to pla).

    JoeCabot
    JoeCabot

     @craig.w.bryant Tampa outdrew NYR, MN, Bos, Edm, Col, and NJ.   LA outdrew all of the teams that TB did, excepting the Rangers.  Nashville, Florida, and Carolina outdrew Colorado and New Jersey.    Agree with the Bettman take, but eliminating teams based on geography is not the answer.

    Tiger Al
    Tiger Al

     @ehrenmadill They have to compete, it's the law!  NHL players must reduce their share, however many loopholes Bettman can close.

    Tiger Al
    Tiger Al

     @coachingguy Pat attention: The owners can't go behind closed doors and "manage" salaries; they are competing against each other!

    Stu Hackel
    Stu Hackel moderator

     @CamillaBrannenBaker Hi CB - Well, a good number of NHLers will be going to Europe, that we know. But the vast majority of them will return when the NHL returns, whenever that is. Those NHLers will make their teams and leagues stronger, but only for the duration of the lockout. They will return and I don't see the damage of a prolonged lockout being so extensive that it relegates the NHL to behind any of the other leagues. The NHL will still offer the best competition and best compensation and as long as that's so, the best players from all over the world will want to play there.

    MattLeis
    MattLeis

    I was just about to notify him of that, Stu. I fully agree that the hardest aspect of a player-controlled, owner-free league would be finding venues for all 30 teams. It would simply not be possible. And due to the fact that 30 arenas wouldn't be possible, the only alternative option would be cutting teams and - by extension - a large number of players.

     

    The NHL bigwigs and the players are definitely both on seperate pages from a business aspect. Players are looking for a moderate salary and rights/benefits, and the corporates are simply trying to chip away of that and take more away from the players so that they can give it to themselves and eachother.

     

    Player leagues like the NHLPA are definitely a good idea when you consider them and I have no problem with the forming and maintaining of player leagues as it gives the players a basis to debate and make demands from the corporates and owners. However, an extension of the player unions like you mentioned, forming a completely seperate league, is just not a practical solution. Personally, I would urge the NHL to do what they are doing now and simply defer to lower level leagues, distribute their skill and fame, and give these lower leagues more TV time that the NHL takes for granted while still being able to play the game they love.

     

    Referring to what craig.w.bryant said, no, cutting out warm-weather locales is not the answer. Doing that, you would split the debates even further. You would have NHL corporates, hired and locked out players, and then the disgruntled players who had been fired from their franchises. It would be a literal World War III within the NHL.

     

    As sad as it is to admit, the NHL is dying. Hockey is a great sport and my favourite to watch, but the failing TV ratings and aging fan base combined with the constant disputes between players and their owners, it cannot last.

     

    Thank you all for your interest.

    Matt

     

    A.T.Meister
    A.T.Meister

    Once it again it seems no one person or person has dominion over stupidity. In this final chapter of complex and confusing motives the owners will once again try to police their instincts - impossible//// and once more the players a majority of which will play less than 3 years wil risk all or a large percentage of their viable talents on a fight they have no chance of winning. The owners assured themselves cost certainty during the last lock out, and this time they want to guarentee the survival of the bottom third of the league in terms of net revenues - Gary B., you cannot change the rules of economic competition, even with a lockout - there will always exist a group of franchises who struggle to make a buck...stability is an illusion - the courage to face adversity and have the managerial skills to limit the negative consequence of future unforseen events is the only strategy - please Dr. Raynor's the Stragedy Paradox or his other works. - Thanks Man...