Monday, January 7, 2013

Guess who's back, back again, the NHL's back, tell a friend


Here's what you missed over the past 113+ days of no hockey:
  • June 29 – Bargaining begins.
  • July 13 – Management's initial proposal would reduce players' share of hockey-related revenue from 57 percent to 46 percent, a figure the union later says is actually 43 percent.
  • Aug. 14 – Players make first proposal, calling for lower percentage of revenue for players and increased revenue sharing among teams.
  • Aug. 15 – NHL rejects players' offer.
  • Aug. 28 – Owners offer players 46 percent.
  • Sept. 12 – Players make proposal, which is immediately rejected.
  • Sept. 13 – Owners meet in New York and unanimously endorse decision to lock out players when the 2005-12 collective bargaining agreement expires at the end of Sept. 15.
  • Sept. 16 – Lockout begins.
  • Sept. 19 – NHL cancels preseason schedule through Sept. 30.
  • Sept. 27 – NHL cancels remainder of preseason schedule.
  • Oct. 4 – NHL cancels 82 games from Oct. 11-24.
  • Oct. 16 – League makes proposal, offering to split hockey related revenue 50-50, and says it must be accepted by Oct. 25 to preserve full schedule.
  • Oct. 17 – Union rejects proposal.
  • Oct. 19 – NHL cancels games through Nov. 1, raising cancellations to 135 (11 percent of season).
  • Oct. 26 – NHL cancels games through Nov. 30, raising total to 326 (26.5 percent).
  • Nov. 2 – NHL cancels Jan. 1 Winter Classic between Toronto and Detroit at Ann Arbor, Mich.
  • Nov. 21 – Union makes proposal offering to split hockey-related revenue 50-50 with $392 million "make-whole provision" for existing contracts that is $182 million more than management's offer. NHL Commissioner Gary Between says sides are "far apart."
  • Nov. 23 – NHL cancels games through Dec. 14, raising total to 422 (34 percent of season), and All-Star weekend for Jan. 26-27 at Columbus, Ohio.
  • Nov. 28-29 – The sides meet with two members of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service, who agree they are far apart.
  • Dec. 10 – NHL cancels games through Dec. 30, raising total to 526 (43 percent of season).
  • Dec. 14 – A day after negotiations break off, NHL files a class action suit against the union in U.S. District Court in New York, seeking to establish its lockout is legal, and files an unfair labor practice charge with the National Labor Relations Board, claiming the union has bargained in bad faith.
  • Dec. 20 – NHL cancels games through Jan. 14, raising total to 625 (51 percent of season).
  • Dec. 27 – NHL makes new proposal.
  • Dec. 31 – Negotiations resume.
  • Jan. 4 – Federal mediator Scot Beckenbaugh shuttles between the sides.
  • Jan. 6 – On the 113th day of the lockout, the sides reach agreement on a 10-year contract that either side can terminate after eight years. Hockey-related income will be split 50-50 between owners and players. Free-agent contracts will be limited to a maximum seven years (eight for clubs to re-sign their own players). Salaries in contracts can't vary more than 35% year to year, and the final year can't be more than 50% of the highest year. The salary cap for the upcoming season will be $70.2 million, and it will go down to $64.3 million in 2013-14.

Well there you have it folks.  The long, unnecessary drag-it-out-forever process of alienating a devastated fan base after your most successful (in terms of TV viewership, sponsorship and overall financial stability) years post last-lockout (entire 2004-05 season).

With the league's third lockout in the past 20 years (also a crazy similar 1994-95 lockout when the season started Jan 20), the NHL has much work to do to show fans they mean business from here on out.  Teams have already sent season ticket holders apologies, posted letters on social media and in local media outlets, and players have done the same on Facebook and Twitter.  Many fans will come back (me!!!) because I love the game despite its poorly run business these past several months.  Many casual fans over the past several years will probably give up on a league they already gave a second chance nearly a decade ago in its last lockout.  Many will just wait and see how they feel once games are played.  Many will watch the games but will stop purchasing merchandise, videogames, NHL related products, and especially tickets to "boycott" the NHL.

How does Gainer feel about it?  The National Hockey League is a business.  The lockout was a giant fight between billionaires (team owners) and millionaires (players).  While I don't wholeheartedly agree with the following statement from a fellow hockey blogger on Dark Blue Jacket.  Just read it and you'll get an idea of how most die hard fans feel but don't really want to say it...
Professional Sports is 1000% fueled by disposable income - participation as a spectator of the NHL is NOT mandatory household spending.  No one forced fans to live through anything else than what they imagined.  The poor arena workers who were championed during the lockout as the 'victims' derive their living from $9 beers, $85 tickets, and $15 dollar parking.  Now you want those same people to give you something for free because you're a fan?  Get over yourselves fans, and do it quickly.  No one owes you anything.
While the jobs aspect seems a little much, the heart of it rings true.  This sport is a game which its entire existence is based on the idea of entertainment.  Does missing half a year totally suck?  Ummm hecks yes it does.  But as Tom Brady would say, at the end of the day, people who enjoy hockey will continue to come back to cheer for their team.  The lost casual fan will eventually be replaced by a new found hockey enthusiast.  The league knows this, the players know this and it is why lockouts continue to happen in all sports.  In a society where we give everyone second, third, fourth and fifth chances (looking at you Lindsay Lohan), once games come back around we get back to cheering actual game play, our loyalties will return and our fandom reappear.

Now having said all that, three lockouts in 20 years is ridiculous.  The idea that a CBA cannot last, each time, at least a decade is ludicrous.  I'm very pleased with the new 10 year agreement (with an opt out after 8 year clause because we all know business models and the economy changes).  However, the next time we have to deal with another lockout is when the current group of super stars are well into their 30s and the next wave will be making their mark in the NHL.  Does Commissioner Gary Bettman need to go?  In all fairness, probably so.  For all the boos he receives each year (just wait until the Stanley Cup is awarded this year, oh my goodness), Bettman has indeed grown the sport in non-traditional ways.

The best example of this is the World Junior Championships that were played these past couple weeks in Russia featuring the best "under 20 year olds" in the world (many of whom are top NHL prospects).  Team USA won their third gold and second in four years.  For the first time, players on the roster were from Columbus, Ohio.  Now the Blue Jackets certainly have struggled but you can't argue the notion those players don't exist if not for the franchise's existence.  We are seeing professional players pop up from all the southern markets created over the past 20 years of expansion.  NCAA Hockey has never been more popular in terms of TV viewership as well as attendance by many of the league's best and future players.

What does the future hold in that aspect?  Time will tell.  I believe certain markets have run its course (hello! why is a team still in Phoenix?!) and you owe it to the die hard fans to award certain franchises, possibly for a second time (Quebec, another Toronto team, Seattle, Kansas City, etc).  Gary Bettman came from the NBA and has run this league very similar to the orange ball game.  It is perhaps time for a change as the league moves forward into the 2020s.  


For starters, the CBA needs to be ratified by a majority of the Board of Governors (owners) and the 740 players in the association and will most likely happen on Wednesday.  While there are rumors of a 50 game schedule starting January 15th, the most likely scenario is 48 games starting next Saturday, January 19th.  Training camps will follow shortly after ratification and will start most likely this upcoming weekend with physicals, etc.  There will be no preseason (who cares right?).  Free agency will also open up immediately after the CBA is signed and a new trade deadline established (possibly late March/early April).  Also, just like the NBA, every team that does not make the playoffs will have a chance at the #1 overall pick in the draft.

In regards to the new salary cap, two amnesty buyouts have been afforded to each franchise.  Because of the reduced salary cup in the coming year, this offseason, as well as next summer, teams can buy out players in existing contracts with no penalty towards the salary cap.  This is beneficial to teams who have guys signed forever and don't them want anymore a.k.a. Steve Mason the past 3 seasons.  The Blue Jackets don't really have many candidates as this is Mason's final year anyway.  Wisniewski has probably the worst contract on the team but I doubt he would get cut unless this year or next is just a total bomb for him.  Don't worry about the players in Europe, they'll all be back unless they don't want to come back and if that's the case, we don't want them either (take your time Ilya Kovalchuk).

The new schedule of 48 games will not pick up with the remaining games on each team's schedule.  A brand new one will be created.  It will most likely feature teams only playing their own conference with heavy emphasis on their own division.  This means the East won't play the West until the Stanley Cup is on the line.  For CBJ fans, that is a lot of Detroit, Nashville, St. Louis and Chicago.  The schedule will most likely be released this Thursday.  In my opinion look for 20 games against the ten other teams in the West (2x each vs the Pacific and Northwest Divisions) and the other 28 games against your division so SEVEN games each among those four other Central teams.

Of course the All-Star Game was already cancelled and with next year an Olympic year (new CBA doesn't address NHL players in the Socchi Olympics yet), Columbus is looking at 2015 as the next potential target year for the ASG and it's expected they will get it.  I would imagine the Detroit/Toronto Winter Classic will just be re-scheduled for New Year's 2014.  Playoffs aren't affected.  Same format.  They may not start until May and the Cup may not be awarded until nearly July but nothing will change in terms of how many teams get in and best of 7 series.  In the 48 game season played in 1995, the Devils won the Cup and no asterisk was put next to their name similar to the Miami Heat winning it last year during a 66 game season.

My main concern moving forward is the salary cap.  While it does go down to nearly $64 million next year, there's a good chance it will continue to increase from year to year like during the previous CBA.  Fingers crossed it doesn't.  The new CBA should be beneficial overall especially in the sharing of hockey related revenues.  It will help the smaller market teams stay better afloat and thus, more competitive on the ice.  I still expect a couple relocations and a possible expansion during this new CBA but who knows what the future will bring.

The most important thing is that players are back in their cities and are ready to get the season underway!  Enjoy puck heads...