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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NHL Must Stop Trying to Reinvent The Wheel

NHLgrip

British writer and lay theologian Clive Staples Lewis was a smart man. He once said: “We all want progress, but if you’re on the wrong road, progress means doing an about-turn and walking back to the right road; in that case, the man who turns back soonest is the most progressive.” The NHL isn’t run by very smart men, and hasn’t for quite some time. Or if they are smart, they are also experts at hiding it, as actions speak louder than words. Those actions – and sometimes lack of thereof – are quite telling.

Apparently, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman is good for the league. At least, that’s what the Governors are saying. In a league where coaches and players are fined for telling the truth in post game interviews, one can wonder if they would speak up if they felt differently. Of course, let’s not forget that they’re looking at the bottom line: money in the owners’ pockets! But does that mean that what’s good for 31 owners (soon to be 32 with the addition of Seattle) is good for the entire league, including general managers, coaches, players and fans alike? I’m not so sure of that.

Instigator Rule

The first and most obvious example of NHL’s governors’ lack of foresight is when, in their wisdom, they tried to address something that wasn’t even a need. When they altered the Instigator rule, they said that they wanted to prevent so-called goons from going after star players into fighting. Yet, when you talk to players involved in the NHL in those days, enforcers where there to prevent such things from happening.

“But I believe there’s still a role for fighting and I shudder at the idea of the game without it. Because I think we have a rat problem now because of the instigator penalty, and if you take the big dogs off the ice, now it’s overrun with rats.” ~ Brian Burke

As we’ve explored on this very blog, there are multitudes of examples of the negative effect the change has created in the league. Has the number of concussions diminished since the amendment to this rule was done under Bettman? No, quite to the contrary. Players are targeting the head more than ever and the respect amongst players in the game seems to be all but gone. Rats are running the place and there is simply no accountability anymore, which is why many people around the NHL want to rule to revert back to what it used to be… and I’m with them 100%. ratmarchand

Composite Sticks

In 1981, aluminum sticks were made legal in the NHL. They were even more durable and lightweight than their wood and fibreglass counterparts, and blades were separate from the shaft, making replacements easy and reducing cost.

Sticks made with carbon fibre as the main material came out in the early 1990’s. These sticks allowed players to adjust their own blade, however, they were not very cost effective.

In 1995, the first composite blade was introduced, and today it is this very stick that dominates the game. By allowing composite sticks, they now have to call penalties for slashing the stick… because they break! In the good ol’ days, if someone slashed your stick out of your hands, the coach would give you a hard time for not hanging onto it tighter! Now, if a player gets the stick knocked out of his hands, he gets a penalty. You know how ridiculous that is? Guys break their sticks making a pass!

Bernard “Boom Boom” Geoffrion, Bobby and Dennis Hull, Al Iafrate, Adrian Aucoin and Al McInnis were said to be shooting at over 100 mph… all with wooden sticks. Now that’s something to brag about!

Everything is interrelated. By allowing composite sticks, the goaltenders need to better protect themselves with bigger, better equipment. By doing so, they cover more of the net, making it harder to score. They tried to solve that by making the neutral zone smaller and making more room behind the net. Now, some have been talking about making the nets bigger. When will they understand that every time they change something, it creates another problem.

Think about this: ever since it’s very first game ever in 1871, baseball has been using wooden bats. As a matter of fact, Major League Baseball still has wooden bats. The NHL instead, is trying to change the rules and reinvent the game… but at what cost?

Equipement

The game is faster than ever. The players are bigger and in better shape than ever. You now provide them with an armour and protect them against the pain suffered for delivering a hit and there’s no more fear. Today’s players are now dressed like tanks and what used to be a hit that would “tenderize” the opponent, now has the potential to seriously injure him instead.

Whether you like Don Cherry or not is irrelevant. What he’s showing there is totally relevant… and that was in 1999. Imagine today! Further, players today are trying to play goal and shot blockers are seen as semi gods for putting their body at risk. And that’s not counting on countless injuries due to the make up of today’s equipment! The NHL wants more offense and more goals? They want fewer head injuries? There’s a rather simple remedy folks. Simply regulate the equipment worn by the players. Why were there more goals scored when Wayne Gretzky and Mike Bossy were playing? Yes, goalie equipment is one reason but do you honestly think that players will keep blocking as many shots with equipment worn by Gretzky or Bossy? Think again!

Two Referees System

Four words: It is NOT working! Those who follow me on Twitter have certainly noticed that the Instigator rule and the two referees system are sort of my pet peeves in today’s NHL.

KerryFraser

When the NHL, in their “wisdom”, decided to go to a two-referees system, they not only killed consistency by putting two different judgments on the ice, but they added incompetent people in places where they have no business being in. Worse, it created a ripple effect in every single league below. Guys who shouldn’t be in the AHL are now officiating in that league, at a level over their head, creating a dangerous situation for players down there. And it ripples back to Junior and College hockey as they all followed suit with the NHL by having two referees. It’s putting guys who are not ready or just plain incompetent for that level in a position of failure, creating frustration for everyone around the league.

When you had Andy Van Hellemond, Kerry Fraser or Ron MacLean as your referee, they would each have their own style. Stuff they would let players get away with and other things they were more stingy about. Players knew, by seeing who was refereeing, what to expect. Today, you have two judgments on the ice. How many times have we seen the referee 20 feet from the play, looking right at it, shake his head judging it wasn’t a penalty, only to see the one 70 feet away raise his hand to call that penalty? Players, coaches, fans… nobody knows what to expect in a game, let alone from game to game!

In conclusion, the NHL should look at other sports. It’s okay to have traditions and more often than not, there are reasons why rules were a certain way. Of course, some change is needed as the game progresses. But several changes have proven to have very negative side effects, ultimately creating problems that are bigger than the initial one. Think, NHL… Think and think again.