Most people who go through a near-death experience don't come back eight years later and try to repeat it. Then again, most people don't own NHL teams, and aren't consumed by greed.
NHL owners locked out the players during what was supposed to be the 2004-2005 NHL season. The league lost the whole season. When the NHLPA and the owners finally came to an agreement in the summer of 2005, it was an end to a long, arduous process. It was also a rout for the owners.
All player salaries were rolled back 24% from their pre-lockout levels. If a player had been making $1 million before, he would have made $760,000 the year after the lockout if still under that contract. A salary cap was introduced. Owners made a few concessions as well, but nothing nearly as big as those two by the players.
We all remember the first seasons after the lockout. The NHL was on the Outdoor Life Network, quickly changed to Versus, a channel primarily for fishing and hunting shows. Most people didn't get the channel. The NHL was practically invisible in the major sports landscape. It became a second-class league, and hockey a second-class sport. Personally, it was crushing to see the sport I love go through that.
But thankfully, things got better. Versus got stronger, and now it's the NBC Sports Network. Major stars like Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin emerged. Big-market matchups in the Stanley Cup Finals as well as the renaissance of teams in dormant, formerly hockey-mad cities like Boston and Chicago helped greatly. Rule changes implemented in the lockout helped the game become faster and more exciting.
That improvement is reflected in the salary cap and revenue sharing between players and owners. Revenue for the 2011-2012 season was $3.3 billion, up from $2.2 billion before the lockout. 2005-2006 saw a $39 million cap; if next season was played under the expired CBA, the cap would be $70.2 million. Due to the increased revenue, players now get 57% of revenue (thus the increased cap). That increase was part of the deal.
The owners have seen revenues increase since the lockout, and they're back for more. They can't resist all that new money. They've announced a deadline of September 15 for a new deal to get done, or they will lock out the players. Just like the NBA owners last summer and fall, they've planned this for a while. Commissioner Bettman will get a lot of blame because he is a nice scapegoat, but he's at the will of the owners here.
Their initial proposal would give players 43 percent of revenue, way down from 57. Essentially, it's another salary reduction, practically another 24 percent just like last time. Arbitration would be gone, contracts would have a limit of five years, and players would need ten years of service before reaching unrestricted free agency. It was a ridiculous, laughable proposal. Owners are claiming that small-market teams need to be protected, yet have no intention of sharing revenue among themselves more evenly than they do now. As a Bruins fan, I can't see Jeremy Jacobs agreeing to give Jeff Vinik and the Lightning any of their hard-earned cash. Owners also have no problem throwing around 13-year deals around (hello, Minnesota) and extorting their small-market brethren (hey, Philly). Yes, I want my team to be competitive and go after players in free agency, but I don't want that to mean a lockout.
The players' counteroffer was quite reasonable. The cap would stay, and would be delinked from overall revenue. It would go a little lower this year, and then slowly increase after. The NHLPA, led by Donald Fehr famously of the MLBPA's 1994 strike, proposed an expanded revenue-sharing system. The owners didn't go for it.
They're in it for the long haul. September 15 is their date, not the players'. The players are willing to negotiate during the season, playing under the old CBA or without one while negotiating a new one. That's a nice thought, but the owners don't want that. They're willing to go back to the dark days of the lockout to get their money; in fact, you could say they're pretty excited about it.
For the owners of the 30 NHL teams, it's clear that greed is greater than the game.
Scott Frano is a longtime Bruins fan, and really can't imagine what another year without hockey would be like.
"Bettman Playing Dirty," Larry Brooks, New York Post Link
"Very little common ground between proposals by NHL owners and players for new CBA," AP Link"No new CBA will mean lockout," Katie Strang, ESPN Link
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