NHL lockout nixes the Winter Classic

Statistics on the NHL Lockout. (credit: Courtesy of Neon Tommy via Flickr) Statistics on the NHL Lockout. (credit: Courtesy of Neon Tommy via Flickr)

As the National Hockey League (NHL) lockout approaches its second month, the casualties mount: 326 games and the Winter Classic have been cancelled. But the negative effects on both the league and the sport are more than just lost games and paychecks. The tide of public opinion is quickly turning from disdain to apathy, and with it go the hopes of the NHL coming out of this debacle unscathed.

Talks between the players’ union and the owners recently passed a milestone when they met for three consecutive days for the second time. But the fact that it was a notable achievement for the two parties to simply negotiate is a testament to the futility of these talks. The owners have been attempting to stiff-arm the players into accepting their terms while completely dismissing their attempts at compromise.

The owners’ main complaint is the distribution of revenue between players and owners. Under the old agreement, players received 57 percent of the revenues. This was dictated by the salary cap and the minimum total player salaries each team was required to have. The owners now want a larger share of the revenues, pushing for a 50–50 split.

While the players have accepted this as inevitable and have conceded to the split, there is still the problem of how current contracts, signed under the previous revenue-sharing agreement, will be handled in the future. The players want to hold the owners to their agreements and have the revenue-sharing slowly scale down from 57 percent with new contracts being signed under the new 50–50 policy.

The owners want a system that starts at 50 percent sharing immediately and fulfills the players’ extra payment by having several years of under 50 percent on the backend. The players have obviously balked at this offer because it essentially translates to the players paying back players, as opposed to the owners being consistent with prior years’ contracts.

Aside from this major sticking point, the owners are trying to reign back many of the concessions they made during the last collective bargaining agreement (CBA) during the 2004–05 lockout that erased an entire season. During that last CBA, there was no firm contract limit, allowing some teams to sign players to ridiculously long contracts, like the matching 13-year deals signed by players Zach Parise and Ryan Suter with the Minnesota Wild. The point of these contracts is to spread the money of the deals over more years than the player will actually be valuable to the team, thus decreasing the cap hit for each individual season.

The Wild’s owner, Craig Leipold, did not do the owners any favors by commenting in the Star Tribune after he signed the top two free agents for $98 million each: “We’re not making money, and that’s one reason we need to fix our system. We need to fix how much we’re spending right now.”
Many Eastern European and Russian-born players have moved over to play in the Kontinental Hockey League, which is based mainly in Russia, while many of the American and Canadian born players have begun playing for Western European and minor American-based leagues.

With the say of public opinion firmly against them and the players finding plenty of opportunities to work, the owners’ hardline strategy is failing. Thankfully, the owners are starting to realize this, and are now negotiating with the players, but the parties still are not close to a solution.