NHL lockout seems inevitable

Unless some kind of magical agreement occurs within the next few hours, the NHL will proceed with its third lockout in less than two decades.

So what’s the difference between this pending lockout and the one that cancelled the entire 2004-05 season? From a fan’s perspective – nothing.

The core issue plaguing the NHL and NHLPA boils down to money and how to distribute it. Despite rising revenue in excess of $3 billion last season, the owners are claiming that they aren’t making enough money, that too much is still being paid out in player salaries and that smaller market teams are struggling. The answer to this, of course, is to roll back player salaries, cut the players split of league revenue from 57 percent to less than 50 and lower the salary cap to a meaningful figure that works for both big market and small market teams – making the entire league competitive and able to throw contract offers at big name free agents.

Sound familiar? It should, because that’s basically the resolution that both parties agreed to when the last lockout that eliminated the 2004-05 season occurred. You know, the resolution that was supposed to solve money issues for smaller market teams, make them more competitive and financially stable.

Well, seven years later and the NHL and NHLPA are fighting a same battle for the same reasons that canceled hockey in 2004-05. Time to try something new.

In 2004-05, the league sought a new financial structure that would provide cost certainty to each market. While various plans were proposed, the league ultimately endorsed a hard salary cap system that many critics at the time claimed would not solve the league’s financial problems unless some sort of revenue sharing program amongst teams was included in the proposal.

That’s why one of the major components of the NHLPA’s proposals centers on more extensive revenue sharing between clubs.

The scary thing this time around is how organized the players remain. In 2004-05, the NHLPA was disjointed and fractured with no clear direction. This time around, executive director Donald Fehr has done a good job organizing the players, getting them all on the same side and figuring out a solution that will work well for them and for the league in their view.

Unfortunately, the NHL doesn’t quite agree with the NHLPA on what will work well for the league – hence the pending lockout.

Fans don’t want another lockout and they certainly don’t want to see games get cancelled. Cancelling portions of the season also hurts arena personnel and downtown areas that thrive on game nights when fans take in dinner and a brew before an event. A lockout and a potential cancellation of games have a far-reaching impact outside of just the players and the owners.

But the system remains broken if small market teams are still struggling to remain afloat and remain competitive in a landscape that has seen the salary cap rise each season since it was implemented. The owners think the answer is to cut player salary and lessen their share of league-wide revenue. The NHLPA, however, believes the answer is to implement a club-to-club revenue sharing program that will assist smaller market teams.

This disconnect between the two sides could result in a long battle. The players offered to play another season under the current CBA while the two sides continued to negotiate – a temporary solution that was unanimously voted against by the owners. So while the players prepare to play overseas in the coming days and weeks, fans are left waiting and wondering with no clear answers readily available.

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