Blog returns with reasoning on NHL labor situation.


Why, hello there, dear readers. How long has it been?

OK, too long or not long enough pending your opinion of me (and by association this blog); but this entry is to serve notice that updates will be more frequent going forward as the NHL season approaches.

Or does it?

The next round of labor negotiations are set for Tuesday at the NHL offices in New York, but given the nature of talks this past week there is not a lot of optimism for an on-time start to training camps, sometime around Sept. 21.

Officials from the NHL and NHLPA met for about three hours this week. If you’re thinking, “That doesn’t sound like a lot of time given the current CBA expires Sept. 15,” well, that is a fair thought.

I have talked to a few folks with knowledge of the recent talks this week and I can report there is no acrimony between NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr and NHL commissioner Gary Bettman or deputy commissioner Bill Daly. There is, however, a major hurdle to getting a new deal done – and that hurdle remains the revenue split between owners and players.

As Penguins PA rep Craig Adams noted Thursday, Bettman has said he wants a deal closer to the ones agreed upon within the last 12 months by NFL and NBA players. In the new CBAs for those players, NFL players are guaranteed only 47 percent of revenue, and NBA players just 50 percent of basketball-related revenue.

Under the current CBA, NHL players receive 57 percent of revenue – though they also agreed to a salary-cap system, one that Fehr fought hard to prevent when he ran the MLB players union.

The cap is here to stay in the NHL, so that is a non issue. Most of the peripheral issues are being settled, or at least near agreed upon, Adams said Thursday.

So, despite what has been reported elsewhere about a possible divide between owners on their own revenue split, I don’t buy that issue as a sticking point. I can only presume that the big issue here is the owners-players revenue split – and if Bettman wants something close to 50-50, there is no reason to think he will not get it unless players are willing to miss a month or two of games and place in jeopardy the lucrative Winter Classic.

Then owners – big, influential ones such as those in Detroit and Toronto – and business partners – big, influential ones located in Manhattan – might begin to sweat.

Also, there is this not-so-small point:

NHL fans returned in droves after the 2004-05 lockout that was presumed to destroy the league. In fact, there have been mostly record attendance figures and TV ratings in the seven years under this current CBA. The notion that another work stoppage would turn off fans simply does not fly, and Bettman all but said as much this week when he touted the loyalty of hockey fans in North America.

Last time I checked the Penguins have a season-ticket waiting list at about 8,000. I suspect all of those people would eat up any seats vacated by disenfranchised fans.

Hockey fans are actually their own worst enemy here. Their loyalty, though commendable, works against them because they’ve shown to be loyal in a majority of the markets, including all the important ones from Vancouver to, well, here.

There is no doubt this version of the NHLPA is more united that the previous ones, that Fehr is a more experienced labor negotiator/leader that previous union heads. Still, right now neither he nor his union has any leverage over the owners, and Bettman knows this and is exploiting it during these talks.

Bettman, as I have often opined, is not a popular commissioner among NHL fans. That said, I have and will argue that he is as successful as any of his peers in the four major sports, not that anybody wants to admit this as fact.

I am still trying to find a battle for which he has dug in and ended up losing. The Coyotes remain in Phoenix, right? The Penguins are still in Pittsburgh, right? Canadian teams remain competitive (if run properly), right? There is a salary cap, right?

I cannot shake something I heard last week from an agent while I was in Russia: “Gary doesn’t want to do a deal, he wants to win.”

I guess my feeling on this labor dispute between the NHL and NHLPA is that – without picking a side (I will not, for what it’s worth) – there is nothing that leads me to believe Bettman will not win, or at least come closer to winning than his opponent.

Winning is just kind of what Bettman does.

 So, after reading all of this, you may be thinking, “Rossi is pessimistic,” right?


I’m no more pessimistic now than I was a year ago. I have long thought, based off what I had been hearing and continue to hear, that NHL fans would see their sports mostly likely resume action in November 2012. That gut instinct has not changed – and it will not until I hear there are some major personal problems between Fehr and Bettman and/or Daly.

I am told, by both sides, that this is not personal, so I remain no more or less pessimistic than at any point before, and perhaps even slightly optimistic of an earlier-than-November start for the NHL.

Three hours are not many to talk, but those three hours this week were spent talking by NHL and NHLPA officials. If at some point, say the middle of next week, somebody says talks are off because the sides cannot find common ground on the one big issue, then – and only then – will I be more pessimistic.

One last thought:

I learned from covering the Penguins pursuit of a new arena deal in 2006-07 that nothing really happens regarding any negotiation until a deadline is close. The deadline here is Sept. 15. That is when this CBA expires. That is three weeks away – not a lot of time to strike a new CBA, but enough to get closer to striking one.

Were I offering advice to any NHL fan it would be not to sweat these labor talks until that deadline has passed, or until somebody from the NHL or NHLPA says that deadline will pass. Even then, I cannot believe another season will be lost to a lockout.

All signs point toward the NHL and NHLPA agreeing on a lot more than the side disagree on right now, and both sides agree on one inescapable truth – that the only thing that could completely burn hockey fans is a second lost season.

So long as the Stanley Cup is played for near the start of next summer much of what is going on right now will be forgotten.

As always, would love to hear your thoughts.