July 11, 2011

2012 - Armageddon Again?

When looking into the future at about this time in 2012, there is plenty of doom and gloom talk about more labour problems between the NHL owners and the Players Association.

There are several reasons for this, namely a) the rocky history of collective bargaining between the two sides, b) the introduction of hardliner Donald Fehr as the players' representative, and, most damning of all, c) the fact that the systemic improvements that assured cost certainty that the owners lost an entire season over last time are obviously not working.

Now we can naively hope that common sense on both sides will prevail and all parties involved will dare not lose another game to strike or lockout. Or that the current labour strife in the NFL and NBA sets the new landscape for hockey.

That being said the impending Armageddon does not seem nearly as scary as last time around. Teams and players alike are committing to contracts far beyond the expiration of the CBA. Previously teams would purposely ensure that most contracts were off the books by the expiration of the CBA. The NHLPA is not making the same public rhetoric about building a war chest of money to support players and their families in the event of labour action.

Both sides, especially the NHLPA, have been suspiciously quiet publicly. But you can bet your bottom dollar that both are also preparing behind closed doors for Armageddon again .You know all those exciting conference and divisional realignments Gary Bettman hints at? It is merely convenient that the Winnipeg situation would not allow for those changes to happen this coming season. Bettman can save those changes in his back pocket to entice the sheep fans back after the new CBA is ratified.

Clearly there are serious concerns about the major systemic changes that Gary Bettman triumphantly delivered in 2004-05 at the expense of a lost.season. Atlanta and Phoenix have clearly failed. Several other teams, led by Florida, are in dire condition.

Undoubtedly Bettman and the owners, lacking any vision whatsoever, will fight tooth and nail to take it out of the players' cut, yet again. But in many ways the next labour dispute may be more owners vs. owners than owners vs. players.

The NHL have a couple of routes they could go, but they most certainly will not.
  • Complete revenue sharing. Every dime is pooled together in one big bank account. At the end of the season expenses are paid out of this pool and the profit is split equally among the 30 teams. There is no way in hell the rich teams will go for this.
  • Contraction. Clearly a 30 team NHL is not a healthy organization. It should be reduced to 24 or 26 teams that are healthy. There are all sorts of legal costs involved in this, and Bettman hates to admit he was wrong.
Ultimately the any lost games will be fought over salary cap changes. Several teams can't afford to operate at the current salary floor. Does that mean reduction or even elimination of the floor? Or does that create an unwanted situation of haves vs. have nots? Teams may have to tweak their revenue sharing formula, but you can bet the rich teams are not happy propping up poor teams in markets that clearly can not make the cut. Perhaps contraction is a viable option after all, even if it means short term pain for long term gain?

No matter what happens, one thing always seems to remain constant - Gary Bettman's presence. How he continues to pull the wool over the eyes of some of the wealthiest and smartest businessmen in North America is beyond many of us. How he can go to war, again, to fix the economic failures he brought in at great expense, is simply amazing.

Two things will be for sure: Donald Fehr will be doing Gary Bettman no favours, and hockey fans will be the big losers.

1 comment:

the atomic moose said...

too many teams + not enough skilled players to go around = ridiculous salaries for 20 goal scorers