With the ongoing labour strife in the NFL and NBA leading most sports discussions south of the border right now, there are a lot of questions about what may happen when the NHL and NHLPA meet to discuss how the league will move forward past 2012. While it appears that both the NHL and NHLPA are happy with the current agreement, we already know that there are some points of contention in each corner: the escrow account and the salary cap's continual rise are two of the major talking points that will need to be addressed. Gary Bettman and Bill Daly will look to keep the parity, but Donald Fehr wants some better concessions for the players. The thing that everyone seems to worried about is how Donald Fehr will enter these talks after he helped the MLB Players' Association become one of the most powerful unions in American history. I'll tell you this: if there's a lockout after waiting fifteen years for the NHL to return to my hometown, I'll be very unhappy.
Donald Fehr met with reports at the NHLPA's annual charity golf tournament on Monday, and he actually had some very good things to say. Despite being known for his very hard-nosed negotiating tactics, Mr. Fehr seemed very optimistic that things will work out for the best in regards to the upcoming CBA negotiations. The National Post's Sean Fitz-Gerald brought forth a transcript of the NHLPA Executive Director's remarks, and they sound promising.
"Of course you pay attention to what's going on in the other negotiations. There are four sports unions and management negotiations in North America and there are obviously some common themes. Having said that, the economics of all four sports are different; the players are different; the demographics are different, and so you really do have to individualize negotiations."This probably is the best statement I have heard Donald Fehr make since taking over the Executive Director role with the NHLPA. Hockey 's place on the sports map is vastly diffeent than the other three professional sports in North America, and I'm glad that Mr. Fehr recognizes that what works for the NFL in Green Bay may not necessarily work for the NHL in Winnipeg. By addressing the fact that the NHL's CBA is a different animal altogether shows that Mr. Fehr at least knows the right language to use in front of the media if he hasn't done his homework.
"Well, you certainly hope not. I mean, the hockey players and the fans suffered through that seven years ago, and the owners achieved what they wanted to achieve. So, hopefully, that's behind us."The above response was given when asked if the number of teams struggling to hit the cap floor could be a reason for another lockout. Again, it shows that Mr. Fehr is a very wise man if nothing else. I think he realizes that strikes and lockouts hurt professional sports. He witnessed it in baseball as the head of the MLBPA during the 1994-95 MLB strike, and I don't think he's willing to take another players' union down that road unless he has to by the way of no other option.
Yes, there are teams that are "struggling" to get to the salary cap floor. Winnipeg is hovering around that level right now, but the Jets are committed to signing a few of their restricted free agents which should put things back in line for the team. There are other teams who sit below the salary cap floor right now, but it is expected that they will meet the requirements for the upcoming season as well. If the league continues to tell everyone about its record profits, though, I'm not sure how the individual teams can cry foul when the league apparently has never been stronger or richer.
"I hope not. If there's a reason to be nervous, they'll know soon enough. I wouldn’t be nervous before there's a reason to be."This answer was in regards to a question on whether fans should be nervous or not about another potential hockey lockout. I find this answer to be a little unnerving simply because of how Mr. Fehr ended it - "before there's a reason to be". Does that mean that there could be a reason to be nervous? Possibly. I'm not happy about being nervous when it comes to the sport I love to watch, so why even leave the door open a crack on that question?
I'm not saying that the NHL and NHLPA are headed towards a lockout by any means. I waited fifteen years for the NHL to roll back into town, and, now that it's here, I don't want any interruptions when it comes to watching the game. I love hockey in all its forms - NHL, AHL, ECHL, minor hockey, whatever - but the NHL and NHLPA have to look at the big picture on this one and realize that if they stop the game for a labour dispute, they might as well just hang a half dozen teams that need the revenue to survive.
Killing fan interest in those markets, as well as other markets, will hurt the NHL more than it did in 1995 and more than it did in 2004-05. Fans are tired of hearing billionaires bicker with millionaires over money that the fans put in their pockets. Maybe I'm not speaking for every fan out there, but I know a vast majority of fans would probably agree with me - just get it settled when the time comes. Hockey fans are passionate about and loyal to the sport, but sometimes arguments over who needs to get richer gets a little sickening.
I didn't wait fifteen years for the NHL to come back just to "be nervous" about another strike or lockout. When the negotiations start, just make it happen, gentlemen.
Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!