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A Possible Work Stoppage

from Adrian Dater of All Things Avs,

Talking with a couple of agents, a player here and there, an NHL management type here and there the last few days, and it’s clear to me that the impossibility that we all would assume for the NHL – that it is THE league we’d least have to worry about with regard to another long work stoppage, because of its recent past – is indeed possible.

I’m going to keep this kind of general for now, because it’s a blog and the expiration of the current NHL CBA is still another two seasons away, in September of 2012. I still have a hard time – a really hard time – believing that the NHL and its players would ever let another disastrous canceled season happen. The lost year of 2004-05 remains a dark, awful memory for everyone involved with this game. All that griping, all that posturing, all those “drop-dead deadlines”, all those false starts and crushed hopes. It was awful, and it really hurt the game a lot. Many fans still haven’t come back to the sport, though revenues have grown since ‘05, the cap has grown from $39 million to the current $59.4 million and TV ratings have improved greatly.


Filed in: NHL Talk, NHL Business of Hockey, NHLPA, | KK Hockey | Permalink


Primis's avatar

The NBA is facing what looks to be an imminent stoppage in I believe two years.  Trust me when I say the NHL isn’t going to stop as well—they’re going to get a deal done and exploit the lack of NBA basketball on the airwaves.

That may be when the NHL finally gets back on ESPN, because ESPN won’t have any other choice.

Posted by Primis on 07/20/10 at 09:18 AM ET


Not only the NBA, but the NFL could be in a labor dispute as well.  It would definitely be the perfect time for the NHL to try to get some time on ESPN.

Posted by pens fan in baltimore on 07/20/10 at 10:45 AM ET

Nathan's avatar

I don’t worry as much as Dater, but there is reason for concern. The owners got the system they wanted, with very few concessions to the players. And it has been a system that has ultimately made everyone unhappy.

That means we’re going right back to the drawing board.

This time, there’s probably going to be WAY more in-fighting between the owners to complicate things. Small-market owners aren’t happy about the floor being so high. Unlike last time, big-market owners can say to their small-market peers, “Look, we gave you what you want and now you’re unhappy with it.” And at the same time, Fehr will probably get the NHLPA running like a well-oiled machine, with a united front amongst its membership.

One thing that bothers me about this article (and many similar articles and comments I’ve seen related to Fehr), is that people CLEARLY do NOT understand the climate of baseball that led to it’s current state. For instance, Dater says:

...under Donald Fehr the players almost certainly wouldn’t be the pushovers they were last time. This is a guy who ruled with an iron fist over already spoiled baseball players and never gave an inch.

First of all… you have to look at the continued collusion between the owners in baseball that was directed at keeping the players under their thumbs. And when you do, you see it’s a clear pattern that has existed since the NL was founded. When you “oppress” a body of players as long as the baseball owners did, they’re bound to snap back with severe recoil. The “reserve clause” and the collusion problems related to the first big rounds of free agency in the ‘80s are the real reasons the MLBPA became so strong.

I don’t disagree that today baseball salaries are overinflated. But my point is before you call Fehr a bad guy or say the players are “spoiled,” consider how poorly they were paid (relative to the revenues they generated) prior to the big breakthrough of Koufax and Drysdale using a little “reverse” collusion on the owners. That happened in 1966—90 years after the NL formed.

Second of all… hockey isn’t baseball. The assumption that a luxury tax system in the NHL would result in the exact same thing that happened in MLB is short-sighted. It’s a bunch of writers picking the low-hanging fruit instead of considering the complexities of the two leagues, and the major differences between them.

I seem to recall a cap-less NHL in which non-traditional and small market clubs like Tampa, Carolina, Calgary, Anaheim, New Jersey, Dallas, Buffalo, and Florida all made it to the Stanley Cup Final in a 10 season period.

Look, I don’t have the intelligence, time, or resources to analyze these things and really come up with a compelling argument that says a luxury tax and soft-cap would NOT lead the NHL down an MLB-type path. I’m not saying definitively either way. My point is that it is naive and unfair the way 99% of people assume that if hockey adopted this type of system that it would instantly lead to a Yankees-esque situation, especially considering plenty of small and non-traditional markets were highly competitive in the pre-cap era.

Posted by Nathan from the scoresheet! on 07/20/10 at 11:21 AM ET


I think the NBA labor dispute will be coming next summer, and with the way David Stern is talking, I don’t think it’s going to be pretty.  So in that case, you have to think the NHL will gain serious momentum during next season…and then would they throw it all away for their own lockout/strike again the following summer? 

You can say a lot of things about Donald Fehr, but stupid is not one of them.  And I think he knows how to read a situation, to some extent.  Wasn’t there a case in like 2002 where there was a likely labor dispute in baseball but Fehr made sure there wasn’t a lockout/strike again because it would have been a really bad idea?  We can only hope there’s that kind of perspective in two years in the NHL.

Posted by nosferatu from Albany, NY on 07/20/10 at 01:52 PM ET

Nathan's avatar

Wasn’t there a case in like 2002 where there was a likely labor dispute in baseball but Fehr made sure there wasn’t a lockout/strike again because it would have been a really bad idea?  We can only hope there’s that kind of perspective in two years in the NHL.

Posted by nosferatu on 07/20/10 at 11:52 AM ET

You are correct, both in ‘02 and ‘06, but to be fair, the owners should be given a lot of credit as well for understanding that they just could not afford a stoppage.

Posted by Nathan from the scoresheet! on 07/20/10 at 02:44 PM ET

George Malik's avatar

Lesson lesson: Bettman’s bottom line remains the same something like sixteen or seventeen years into his tenure as the commish—score a massive, NFL-like TV deal that at least partially subsidizes payrolls.  That’s his ultimate goal, and that’s one of the main reasons he’s so insistent on keeping teams in the sunbelt.

Posted by George Malik from South Lyon, MI on 07/20/10 at 04:39 PM ET

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Paul Kukla founded Kukla’s Korner in 2005 and the site has since become the must-read site on the ‘net for all the latest happenings around the NHL.

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