The NHL Cannot Afford Another Lockout

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 lockouts

1994-1995

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.

2004-2005

Many fear that Gary Bettman will impose a 4th lockout against the players.

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.

2012-2013

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.

Upcoming negotiations

Gary Bettman is not well liked by
fans and players alike.

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…

Seattle expansion

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!

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Open letter to Geoff Molson

As the talks are stalling and the threat of a lockout become more and more of a reality, fans are left wondering where they stand in the big picture, keeping some hope that somewhere, someone is working for them behind the scene in this battle between millionaires and billionaires.

We, as fans, understand that the NHL is a business and while we may not be “in the know” when it comes to the details of what’s being discussed behind closed doors amongst Governors and during the CBA negotiations, we understand that labour talks are not easy. We’ve read reports that some teams can’t keep up with the cap floor and that some are pretty much guaranteed to lose money before the puck is dropped to start the season and that, in spite of a hard salary cap and some sort of revenue sharing. We, fans, want the NHL to be healthy and we want our favourite sport to thrive.

Fans also understand that the players are loved and that they are the reason why we like the game. Players are the ones being idolized, they are the ones signing autographs, attending different events and giving their time to different charity events and making public appearances. They play a huge role in our love for the game. But fans understand that for that to happen, owners need to have profitable franchises.

While there is no doubt that the cancellation of the 2004-2005 season was hard on the owners and the players, fans survived with most thinking that this was necessary to allow the NHL to right the ship, to fix its internal problems. They did, directly or indirectly, support and understood that it was a sacrifice which, hopefully, was going to make things better for the future of this league, for the good of the game we love.

You, Mr. Molson, have done an amazing job since taking over as the owner of the Montreal Canadiens. You recognized that previous management was destroying your product. You hired a trusted and knowledgeable friend and hockey man in Serge Savard to help guide you in your hockey decisions and from there, you hired a well-respected, young up and coming executive at the position of General Manager in Marc Bergevin. You understand marketing and the importance of public relations, promotion of your product and mostly, you know your market in Montreal, in Quebec and across Canada. You are putting money and great efforts into bringing back pride, just like it was back in the days of Hartland Molson and the Molson family during your team’s glory days. You, Mr. Molson, are doing your part to promote your product, to keep and grow your fan base.

Hartland Molson

But as a fan, I must ask you how you feel when you see NHL commissioner Gary Bettman conduct business the way he does? Does he have blind support from the NHL owners, carte blanche to do or say what he wants, or does he follow strict orders and guidelines put forth by his employers, who by the way pay him amazingly well, perhaps too well?

Owners who work this hard at building their franchise the way you do must cringe at some of the comments made by your representative. “Players make too much money”, was Bettman saying just the other day. Does he think fans are that stupid? Who, Mr. Bettman, is giving the players those contracts? Who put a gun to Craig Leipold’s head to give Ryan Suter and Zach Parise the money that he gave them? Yes we, fans, understand that there is peer pressure to be competitive and that in some markets, it is difficult to draw big name UFAs. But please, don’t let Gary Bettman tell us that the players are making too much money when owners agree to such contracts!

And now, fans are reading that Gary Bettman and the owners are not concerned about the effects of another lockout, a third one under Bettman? “We recovered well last time because we have the world’s greatest fans”, Bettman said. You know Mr. Molson, this type of game being played, this attitude is a very risky one. Taking the fans for granted and thinking that they’re idiots, sheep that will follow no matter what because they have in the past is very, very dangerous.

The first Habs’ captain to lift the Stanley Cup after my birth was Jean Beliveau so I’ve seen the good and the bad of the NHL. I can tell you that now, I’m seeing the ugly and while it may be a good old classic movie, it is not one that this fan wants to see in the NHL. To think that you and some other owners are putting so much effort into getting your ship back on track while the commissioner is raising a storm has to hurt you as I do strongly believe that you are a man of pride and honour, an owner with integrity. If you weren’t, you wouldn’t have done what you’ve done this summer with your team, you would have been happy to pocket the money.

It is my opinion that your commissioner is ruining this game with his gimmick rules to cater fair-weather fans in the US, perhaps following orders from his good friends Jeremy Jacobs and Ed Snider. This fan is growing more and more frustrated and while I never thought in a million year that I would feel this way, I am seriously thinking that perhaps, it’s time for me to find another passion.

There better not be a lockout Mr. Molson or if there is, it better not drag. I have full faith that if anyone can do something about it by talking some sense to the owners, it is you. I have faith in Geoff Molson. I can’t say the same about the person representing him and the other owners.

Kind regards and Go Habs Go!

Slightly different version on allhabs.net: NHL Owners or Bettman: Who’s Driving the Bus?
En français sur fantomesduforum.net: Lettre à Geoff Molson