NHL fans, if you are still out there, there has been another major setback.
The NHL came out with an announcement of a new collective-bargaining agreement offer that the NHL Players Association outright denied last Friday.
Let’s face it folks, it’s basically the same thing NFL players went through when restructuring their contract. The only difference being that NFL players did not have as many places to compete as hockey and basketball players do. The United States Football League, if you dare to even consider it one, was their only avenue. NHL players have already loaded up their hockey bags and shipped off overseas to play and stay in shape.
So if you thought you were going to see the Bruins or your favorite teams take the ice in the coming weeks, think again.
The NHLPA outright rejected the 50-50 split of revenue offered by the owners, and the NHL, as a result, cancelled all games through Nov. 30.
Just how many were sacrificed? Three hundred and twenty-six games were cancelled across the league. The annual outdoor hockey game commonly known as the “Winter Classic” may be the next to be sacrificed as a result of the absent collective-bargaining agreement.
I remember the first lockout in the 2004-2005 season. It was a miracle that the league was able to regain fan support. But, long gone is Wednesday night hockey with Barry Melrose’s voice taking us through the play-by-play in primetime. The 2004-2005 lockout was the first time a major professional sports franchise cancelled an entire season in North America.
The original proposal from the players association was for a 54/46 percent split in all revenue with front office ownership. The deal NHL players rejected last week boldly asked for a right-down-the middle split of 50/50.
Hopes of getting a full 82-game regular season were all but dashed last Friday, when both sides met for less than an hour.
Amateur draftees would have had to sign two-year contracts if the proposed deal was accepted, shaving off a year from the previous agreement. I personally think this a great rule that all professional sports leagues should adopt, cough (Kwame Brown) cough (NBA). If the player completely stinks up the minor-leagues, or is a locker room nuisance, you don’t need to pay him as much money as you would have had to in the past.
The details of the rejected CBA placed a limit on the length of contracts NHL teams may offer players. Teams under the most recent proposal can sign a player to no longer than a five-year contract. The thought process behind this is to cut down multi-million dollar contracts. The Previous CBA had no restriction on the length of player contracts. Free agency would also have been impacted by the new agreement if accepted by the NHLPA.
Do I wish the players and owners reached the agreement on this deal? Absolutely. Owners and players are getting a bit too greedy for my liking, but such is the business of professional sports.
When the owners and players go through these contract disputes, who usually gets hurt? The fans. We fans — even though the league has us at the back of their minds when they go through contract negotiations — still come running back to the game once they settle their money disputes. Sports fans are like dogs whose owners have left them for vacation: They forget very quickly about what happened in the not-too-distant past when they return.
But good news, puckheads: The American Hockey League is still playing. The AHL is the top-tier of minor league hockey, where younger players and journeymen can work on their skills before getting called up to the parent club. If you are itching to watch a hockey game in person, I recommend heading out to the DCU Center to watch the Worcester Sharks. I have purchased tickets in the past for under $20, and it’s a great fan experience. So there is hockey out there in other forms.
College hockey has begun, too. Maybe take a drive out to Lowell to watch the UMass Lowell River Hawks to suppress the hockey itch. There are many avenues, but few are able to fill the void that the NHL lockout has left for fans. Professional sports teams bring blue-collar communities together and pump money back into the economy.
The players and owners do not realize that their disagreement is also hurting small-business owners in the neighborhoods surrounding the arenas. Think about it. The average NHL team plays three, sometimes four times a week. If the game is held during a home stand, surrounding businesses are losing extra revenue that helps them keep their head above water during the off-season. Arena workers like Zamboni drivers, statisticians, ushers and security guards are also out of work due to front-office disagreement.
In this economy where people are still struggling to make ends meet, millionaires are haggling over money. At the end of the day, the players are still getting their paycheck elsewhere. A lot of NHL players have packed their hockey bags for Europe, and I cannot say I blame them.
Best-case scenario would be the NHL players return to work by December (though Bettman announced Monday that there are currently no more labor meetings scheduled between owners and players). If that does happen, it will be a very welcomed holiday gift for the sport’s loyal fans across the globe.
If the NHL cancels the rest of the season, the likelihood of them rekindling the support of their fans like they did after the 2004-2005 lockout does not look too promising. ESPN has plans to air European hockey league games featuring NHL players on their network. So, hockey fans, go out and support your local college, high school and minor-league teams, it may be awhile before we see the NHL go back to work.
On a much more warm and fuzzy note, Sports Illustrated reported Monday that a large group of NHL players played a charity game before 12,000 fans in Chicago. I think, if nothing else, that provides fans with the sense that the players really respect their support through the labor negotiation process. It may take time, but I think hockey fans may get a nice holiday present before December comes to a close.
Follow Ed Niser on Twitter @EdNiser and at Facebook.com/NashobaPublishingSports.