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Which NHL owners are driving the lockout?

Greg Wyshynski
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The prevailing wisdom in hockey circles is that the owners aren't in total agreement on the lockout.

That some might see the work stoppage as a vital fight to ensure the financial viability of the NHL going forward. Others might see getting back on the ice as more important than quibbling over percentages of HRR.

The tricky part is that every owner in the NHL has competing motivations. The Nashville Predators, for example, are a team that dabbled in contracts that went longer than the proposed term-limits would have allowed and clearly see a benefit in playing as soon as possible — what with the momentum in the market and all.

Yet at the same time, they're one of those franchises that would want to see a 50/50 revenue split (or better) for the betterment of their financial standing.

[Also: Hockeytown takes big hit if Winter Classic canceled]

Hence, it gets confusing as to which owners want to play and which ones have Gary Bettman's back. Elliotte Friedman, in a brilliant column on the parallels between the NBA and NHL lockouts, offers an ownership scouting report:

The commish has three groups of owners: the ones who want to play; the ones in the middle, including Tampa and Nashville, who want a better collective bargaining agreement but recognize not playing is worse; and the hardliners. It would be a mistake to underestimate the last group. There are several who would rather cancel the season than accept a bad deal because they are hemorrhaging money and need immediate satisfaction.

While the players believe Boston Bruins owner Jeremy Jacobs is calling the shots, an educated guess at the final group includes but may not be limited to Anaheim, Columbus, Florida, the Islanders, Phoenix, St. Louis, Washington and Dallas -- enough to block any agreement from getting done (It's tough to lock it down because owners are forbidden to discuss this stuff. Attempts to talk to a couple were politely shot down).

As Friedman wrote: "This group is the biggest challenge for both the commissioner and the players."

Sean Gentille of The Sporting News was surprised to see Ted Leonsis of the Washington Capitals among the hardliners. Perhaps he'd like to grab some money back from Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom?

From the Sporting News:

It's those deals for those players—Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom, specifically—that Leonsis would be attempting to avoid paying in full. The question is whether he'd take that stance because the deals are actually damaging to his franchise, which would be embarrassing but indicative of an actual problem, or because he likes his money a little more than he let on, which would be another issue entirely.

That might be true, but it's a fact that Leonsis is as loyal to Bettman as any veteran hardliner: an admirer of his decisions and leadership. From Jonathan Gatehouse's book "The Instigator":

Ted Leonsis of the Capitals says it's time for individual owners to take more responsibility for growing hockey on their home territory, rather than waiting for the league to lift the sport for them: "It's up to me to build a market. It's up to me to build the franchise."

He believes the best results flow from having owners who are really tied to the community, either living there or hailing from the area. (Although that's at odds with some recent NHL franchise transactions, like Vancouver businessman Tom Gaglardi's purchase of the troubled Dallas Stars.)

Blaming Bettman for hockey's failures misses the point, he says. For twenty years, the commissioner has done exactly what was required by his bosses—waging the battle for a salary cap, dousing franchise fires, preparing for the next crisis.

And the demands of the present have left little time for plotting the future. "But the game and the business have still both improved. And that's where you have to judge him," says Leonsis.

Where do you think your owner stands in the lockout?

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