Strike the Set!

So, here the NHL sits seven years later and not an iota wiser. What we thought could not happen again, has. The NHL has locked out their players for the third time in the last 20 years. It begs the question, isn’t it finally  time for a new league and a new Commissioner?

When the NHL last locked out the players in 2004, there was much interest to see what would happen as the lockout dragged on through what should have been an entire regular season. Unlike the lockout in 1994, the rise of the Internet gave hockey fans many venues for gleaning information.

We got “schooled up” pretty quickly on the ins and outs of collective bargaining. Labor lawyers put in their two cents across the NHL blogosphere. Every nuance of reported proposals and counter proposals by the NHL and the NHLPA were dissected. The last lockout created a fan base of armchair Walter Reuthers.

What has changed in 7 years regarding the terms of the last CBA? Didn’t the owners got what they wanted – cost certainty. They got their cap. They players rolled back their salaries. Why isn’t the CBA that  gave the owners cost certainty in 2005 still applicable in 2012?

The answer isn’t as simple as just salaries. If the terms of the last CBA were carried over to a new one, revenue sharing wise, the players would get paid much more then under the old CBA. The leagues profits are way up. Under a new CBA, the league wants to roll back that percentage so the owners can make more money. That’s understandable. The NHL isn’t a charity. The owners are in it to make money and they are entitled to make money.

What isn’t so understandable is why, in their proposed new CBA, Gary Bettman and the owners reportedly took everything off the table. Was their idea is to make the NHLPA bargain for every scrap of what they had under the old CBA? This is a typical and time tested management vs. union negotiating tactic. It’s the NHL’s attempt to break the back of this union.

The NHL now wants player eligibility for unrestricted free agency to increase to ten years from seven. They reportedly want to do away with restricted free agency entirely. They want to deny younger players the right to arbitration and to be paid fair market value for their services. The NHL wants the fan base to think it’s player greed. Far from it. It’s a play for ultimate power. This time I hope the players don’t back down.

In the back of my mind, I cannot help but think that the insulting terms of the first CBA proposal Bettman and Daly offered to Fehr and the Union smacked of vindictiveness. I can see it as a direct retaliation for the Union rejecting the proposed new league alignment aimed at resolving the Winnipeg situation. Could Bettman really be that small? That’s a rhetorical question.

When play resumed after the last lockout, they painted “Thank You Fans” on every NHL playing surface. This time they needn’t bother with that stencil. We all know it’s not sincere. If they  (and I mean the owners) really meant it, we wouldn’t be going through this again. They’d have left the UFA and RFA clauses alone and would bargain in good faith.

Maybe it’s time to “Strike the Set” or in the case if the NHL, “Strike the Stencil”. Maybe it’s time for the owners of the profitable teams to fold up their tents. Maybe it’s time to start another league where the “good” of the good owners, players and fans comes first.

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