The National Hockey League will be entering, this Fall, into the final year of its Collective Bargaining Agreement with the NHL Players Association and that’s a scary thought for many people. Owners are ready. Players know what to expect. Fans are already fuming at the idea of missing more hockey for the battle of the rich. But those the most affected are hockey reporters and those working for NHL teams and I’m not talking about management here. No, the people working the concessions, hushers, tickets and programs sellers. The middle class. Those who NEED this money to SURVIVE. When a work stoppage occurs, THEY are the ones suffering the most yet, they have no say in the negotiations.
Gary Bettman took over as NHL commissioner on February 1, 1993. Since then, the league has made its fans and players suffer through not one, not two, but three lockouts. Based on nothing else but history, locking out the players seems to be Bettman’s prefered method of negotiating and it would be hard to blame anyone fearing yet another stoppage of play.
The 1994–95 lockout lasted 104 days, causing the season to be shortened from 82 to 48 games. While the owners failed to achieve a full salary cap, the union agreed to a cap on rookie contracts; changes to arbitration and restrictive rules for free agency that would not grant a player unrestricted free agency until he turned 31.
As in 1994, the owners’ position was predicated around the need for a salary cap. After several months of negotiations going nowhere, Bettman announced the cancellation of the entire season. The NHL therefore became the first North American league to cancel an entire season because of a labor stoppage, and the second league to cancel a postseason, the first being Major League Baseball, which lost its postseason in 1994 due to a strike (hard to forget as an Expos’ fan). The result: a hard salary cap. National Hockey League Players Association president Trevor Linden and senior director Ted Saskin had taken over the negotiations over from executive director Bob Goodenow, who resigned over the issue.
The 2012–13 NHL lockout lasted from September 15, 2012 to January 19, 2013. After unsuccessful negotiations, the NHL and NHLPA agreed to mediation under the guidance of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service on November 26. But the mediators quit, determining they could not make any progress reconciling the two parties demands, and both sides were on their own again. A 48-game regular season schedule was then played, starting on January 19, 2013 and ending on April 28, 2013, with no inter-conference games. Most of the negotiated issues were revenue sharing related, something fans aren’t too impacted with.
Some pretty harsh words were exchanged during those lockouts and hard feelings are still present. You can bet that more will be coming in the event of another work stoppage.
Bettman’s controversial decisions, as well as presiding over three labor stoppages, have made him extremely unpopular among many NHL fans and players alike. He is regularly booed in various arenas around the league, ranging from his appearances at the annual NHL Draft to his presentation of the Stanley Cup to the league champions at the end of the playoffs. In April 2017, Bettman announced that the NHL would not be taking part in the 2018 Winter Olympics, a decision that was confirmed in November 2017 and was widely unpopular among players.
Interest for hockey is picking up in Carolina and Arizona, newer market Nashville is thriving, Las Vegas is behind the Golden Knights but the City has the NFL coming, and the St. Louis Blues’ won their first ever Stanley Cup. A break in play could be detrimental for several NHL Cities, those above-mentioned included. Would Gary Bettman dare impose a fourth lockout in as many CBA negotiation? You bet he would. Why? Because fans came back crawling as if nothing ever happened…
The last time the NHL was threatening a lockout, I had made a promise to boycott purchasing any additional products or services providing revenues to the league and/or teams for a period of… five years! Guess what? I did. Yes, I still watched the game but I did not purchase NHL Centre Ice, nor did I buy any Montreal Canadiens’ merchandise for that (long) period of time. I wished back then, that more people would stand up for this nonsense type of negotiating. Unfortunately, fans were like sheep, never missing a beat as if everything was normal. I’m genuinely hoping that more fans around the NHL did something substantial to (finally) tell Bettman and the owners that… enough is enough! But here’s hoping that it doesn’t get to that point. But I’m not holding my breath. Go Habs Go!