The Cover 4 will feature a number of writers to cover a variety of topics. This article is by our very own Rick Davis, NHL insider.
As October passes and changes to November, the only thing that will be changing for hockey
fans is the page on their calendars. As we all know, the NHL is currently bogged down in its second
extended lockout in 8 years, the third since 1994, and the fourth lockout during Gary Bettman’s 19 year
stint as commissioner of the league. With each passing day, the glimmer of hope for a full 82 game
season(and any season at all for that matter) that briefly shined not long ago is fading fast.
As the news broke of the NHL’s offer to the Players Association on Oct. 16, hope spread
throughout the hockey world, and it seemed that there was a light appearing at the end of the dark,
dingy tunnel that this lockout has become. Sadly, the light wound up being a train, hitting hockey fans
head on. After expressing cautious optimism through their leader, Donald Fehr, the NHLPA presented a
trio of counter proposals that were quickly dismissed by the league and since then, all has been quiet.
Even as an avid hockey follower, the reasons for this lockout become distorted and muddled as
the NHL and the NHLPA spin the PR machine to increase their negotiating advantage. As sports fans, it is
in our nature to pick sides; Team vs. Team, Player vs. Player, or even Owners vs. Players, but in the case
of this lockout, it is really hard to pick a side.
I personally find it hard to pick a side because of one simple fact: I usually pick my “favorites”
based on what they represent. For example, most people’s favorite team is their favorite because they
represent their city, or in some cases, like those of the fans whose city does not have a team, the team
represents a storied history. Likewise, people grow found of certain players because of the individual
qualities that they represent, such as toughness, skill, perseverance, or selflessness. But the truth of the
matter of this lockout is that both sides are representing one thing: MONEY!
It’s that simple, and as passionate as hockey fans are, that is a bitter pill to swallow, but the fact
remains that the key issue in these Collective Bargaining negotiations is the division of Hockey Related
Revenues (HRR). Since the 2004-05 season was completely wiped out and the NHL was banished to the
Outdoor Life Network, the league has been on the comeback trail. Slowly but surely the league started
to regain its footing, and eventually made their way back into the mainstream, despite not having the
advantage that the other Big 4 sports leagues in America had; extensive national coverage on ESPN.
Before this lockout transitioned from threat to reality, the NHL was flying high, posting another
year of record revenues, roughly about $3.2 Billion, which was a $1 billion increase from the season
before, and in great position to continue their economic growth, having just signed a 10-year, $2 billion
television contract with NBC and Versus to continue broadcasting nationally (even though there were
serious negotiations at the time with ESPN, NBC presented the best deal for the league).
At the end of the day, the players and owners are both going to have to compromise on a deal
that splits HRR 50/50. That is going to be a very hard concept for the players to grasp, seeing as in the
last CBA, their split was 57%. The NHLPA, realistically, would have to consider any agreement that gives
the players more than 50% of the revenue split a massive success. Roughly translated, using last year’s
financial figures, the players’ share of HRR would be cut by $224 million if a 50/50 split were to be
enacted. Even to professional athletes, that is not chump change.
In addition, the owners also want to close salary cap loopholes, such as limiting term length of
contracts (therefore these absurd 15-year deals would not be around to lower the salary cap hit of a
front loaded contract), and pushing back the beginning of Unrestricted Free Agency from 28 years of
age to 30. There is also word that the owners would use salary roll-backs as a way of not honoring in
full, the massive contracts signed by players over the past couple of off seasons (see: Ryan Suter and
Zach Parise). The HRR split and the honoring of signed contracts are the key points that the players, as of
now, are refusing to budge on.
As we have all heard a million times when it comes to contracts and financial negotiations, at
the end of the day, this is a business. The owners own this business, and as a business owner, who puts
up the financial risk of fielding an NHL club, it would be bad business to not try and capitalize on the
sport’s soaring popularity and increasing your revenue. While much of the PR machine and some
media focus has, purposely or not, made the owners out to be soulless, money-grubbing monsters, the
fact remains that it is their time and money invested into these clubs, and they want the best return on
that investment that they can get. That sounds like good business to me; however they must make
concessions as well because no business at all is never good business.
So here we are hockey fans, fully engulfed in yet another lockout, with no end in sight for now,
having to watch old playoff series and notable games (with a ridiculously loose title of “classic” attached
to them) on the NHL Network to quench our hockey thirst. If you are like me, at first you were angry,
and wanted to do anything you could to get hockey back, such as heartfelt YouTube videos, threats of
boycotting the game upon its return, and wild notions of not giving ANY money to the teams once they
return, but now I have come to realize that there is, in reality, nothing we can do as fans. We wouldn’t
be fans if we boycotted after or didn’t invest our money into our clubs (ultimately that helps the teams
be competitive). So for now we just have to sit back, relax, keep our fingers crossed, and hope that NHL
13 can satisfy our hockey cravings for now.
The Cover 4 Featured Sports Writer