Fans lose when NHL locks out players

September 18, 2012

According to Sports Illustrated, the National Hockey League’s collective bargaining agreement expired at 11:59 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 15, triggering a lockout of the players and the franchise owners. It is the league’s fourth work stoppage in the past 20 years — the last of which was a year-long dispute amounting to the cancellation of the entire 2004-2005 season and the league successfully achieving its
desired salary cap.

Despite record profits for the league, totaling $3.3 billion, the owners are looking for substantial concessions from the players. Most contentious, perhaps, is the owners’ initial proposal to reduce the players’ share of hockey-related revenue from the 57 percent they earned in the last CBA, to 43 percent in the new six-year contract. The league owners argue that their demands are necessary, cost-cutting measures that will allow smaller market teams to gain more in shared revenue, hence raising the level of competition league-wide.

In a statement posted on the league’s website, the owners argue that the adjustments they are seeking are “attainable through sensible, focused negotiation — not through rhetoric.” This statement is a plea to NHL fans worldwide for patience, as well as an attempt to garner sympathy for the league’s situation. However, fans are already frustrated with the miniscule progress both sides seem to have made despite months of official and informal negotiations. Fans remember the 2004 lockout all too well: Fans waited as the league and the NHL Players Association quibbled over the fine points of a new labor agreement.

In a video released by the NHLPA on Monday, Pittsburgh Penguins captain Sidney Crosby and other elite NHL players state their case to the fans.

“We want to play,” Crosby said. “But we also know what’s right and what’s fair.”

Toronto Maple Leafs goalie James Reimer said “you don’t need to have a lockout” and that the players could “keep playing and bargain at the same time,” placing blame for the stoppage squarely at the feet of the owners.

Gabriel Landeskog, the captain of the Colorado Avalanche, hammers home the players’ main point that they are “willing to give concessions,” but “there should be some help from the current owners who are in good position” to help struggling teams.

The NHL regular season was scheduled to begin on Oct. 12, but that now seems nearly impossible. With no deal in sight in the immediate future, the season looks as though it will be shifted back or shortened — if not completely lost. Considering the current climate of negotiations, it looks like the earliest the NHL could start competitive play would be the end of November.

The longer the lockout lasts, the more the league will have to face another problem: loss of players to European teams. Last year’s Hart Trophy winner, Evgeni Malkin of the Pittsburgh Penguins, has already signed with his hometown team in Russia’s Kontinental Hockey League. Players can indeed return to the NHL if and when the lockout ends, but the league risks losing players to lucrative contracts abroad.

It is clear that neither the players nor the owners want another lockout. Unfortunately, the fact remains that in the past two decades, NHL fans have had to endure more games lost due to work stoppages than fans of any other major North American sport. For this situation to be resolved, both sides must put the fans first and profits second.

A version of this article appeared in the Tuesday, Sept. 18 print edition. ChrisMarcotrigiano is a contributing writer. Email him at sports@nyunews.com. 

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