What the silly NBA lockout teaches us about the silly NHL lockout

Bruce Bennett

It's all rather tedious for NHL fans, but the NBA went through this last year and they still had a season.

Throughout the NHL lockout, many have observed that the NHL uses the same law firm, Proskauer Rose, that the NBA used in unleashing its own lockout on sports fans the year before.

This may not be apparent to hockey fans who steer well clear of the NBA, but the similarities in their work stoppages do not end there:

  • Just like the NHL has issued repeated "last best offers" to the NHLPA, so too did the NBA owners before they, well, eased off some of their demands.
  • Just like the NHL began lamenting the number of franchises hurting financially, so too did the NBA begin their approach by citing the number of teams losing money.
  • Just as the NHL has sought a major reduction in player share of Hockey Related Revenue (HRR) and significant changes to contracting rights, so too did the NBA seek both a change in revenue split and new limits on contract rights.
  • And just as each major skirmish and breakdown erupted in hurt feelings and cries about approaching disaster, so too did the NBA experience multiple breakdowns described as new "low points" in the 149-day war.

Why, the two lockouts even had similar moments with most unfortunate metaphors, the NBA players being called "plantation workers," the NHL players being called "cattle."

The timeline for the NHL lockout and the timeline for the NBA lockout mirror each other quite a bit.

True, the NHL lockout has now outlasted the NBA one -- if the hockey league is good at anything, it's forcing itself to not hold games -- but the similarities between the two make you think there will be a season once the league has ceased its bluster.

The NHL started this war off with an extreme offer last June, one that demanded a lowering of players' share from 57 percent to 43 percent of revenue, along with a redefinition of HRR -- the combined effect of both which would amount to a de facto salary rollback. They also wanted longer entry level contracts, a longer time to free agency, and restrictions in arbitration.

They talked as if these needs were non negotiable. They are.

Similarly, the NBA once started in a similar fashion, claiming the need for players to accept 45 percent of revenue (the eventual CBA settled on 49 to 51 percent), salary rollbacks, a higher age minimum, and changes to mid-level contract rights.

Their final deal would see none of those "must-have" demands met. Ultimatums came and ultimatums went.

The tough thing for NHL fans -- those who remain despite the league's best efforts to chase them to other sports or more worthwhile uses of their time -- is that both the league and its union will continue to make grand, made-for-negotiating PR statements that make you fear the sky is falling.

(In many ways, the sky really is falling: The league has canceled games it will never get back, cost itself revenue it will never regain, and generally made itself a laughingstock for the umpteenth time.)

But the NHL knows it can bend on some of its demands -- as it has on several already -- so it's testing the union to see how far it can go. The union knows this too, so it's testing itself to see how long it can hold on to other rights now that it has conceded a drop to a 50/50 split of revenue. Both sides know a full lost season is too high a price to pay for any remaining sought gains.

The only way this doesn't end in time for a 2012-13 season, as the NBA lockout did a year ago, is if either side overplays its hand when it's too late to turn back.

And you don't think Gary Bettman or Donald Fehr are capable of costing a league a season ... do you?

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