RALEIGH NC - JANUARY 29: NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman speaks at a press conference during the 2011 NHL All-Star Weekend at the RBC Center on January 29 2011 in Raleigh North Carolina. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
The NHL and NHLPA went through a formality this week, as the league told the union that it wishes to modify the current CBA. You can allow lockout fears to consume you if you want, but it's really not time for that just yet.
It's not that the current collective bargaining agreement between the NHL and the NHL Players' Association has treated them poorly.
Since the league locked its players out for the entire 2004-05 season, the NHL has seen record revenues in seven straight seasons, in total up 195 percent (!) since the season just prior to that lockout in 2003-04.
The players, meanwhile, have seen their salaries rise with those revenues. The original salary cap was just $39 million per team during the 2005-06 season, and one NHL general manager believes it could rise as high as $69 million for the 2012-13 season. That's a huge raise in player salaries, even if that number is still proportionally tied to those record league revenues.
In short, the two sides are making a lot of money. Things are going very, very well for the league, its players, its television partners and all of the sponsors who make this whole thing run.
But the current CBA isn't perfect. It has its flaws -- we could spend hours listing them, from the NHL's desire to skip out on the 2014 Olympics to the NHLPA's dislike of the proposed realignment -- and after seven years working under the same agreement, it's time for some changes. The talks may or may not result in another work stoppage -- we can't figure that out one way or the other just yet.
What we do know, though: Both sides have changes they'd like to be made, and we've all been preparing for this for quite some time.
The Players' Association voted in former MLBPA chief Donald Fehr as its executive director in December 2010, a move intended to beef up the negotiating ability in these long-awaited CBA talks with the league. Gary Bettman and Fehr have been talking publicly about the pending CBA talks since at least October 2011.
This has been a foregone conclusion, so it wasn't really a surprise on Wednesday when the NHL officially informed the NHLPA of its desire to "terminate or modify" the current CBA. That was required by rule: Either party had until May 15, or 120 days before the scheduled Sept. 15 expiration of the CBA, to inform the other of their wish to alter the deal. Had that step not been taken, the current CBA would have automatically gone into effect for another year.
This was a formality. Nothing more, nothing less.
But of course, that didn't stop an outpouring of fear Wednesday regarding the chances that we could face another lockout or a strike this fall. It's safe to say a lot of that fear stemmed from the tweets of influential player agent Allen Walsh of Octagon Hockey, who really should have known better than to stir this up:
NHL sends NHLPA "Notice of Termination" of CBA effective Sept. 15, 2012. Also hearing from GM's that NHL teams are canceling rookie camps.— Allan Walsh (@walsha) May 16, 2012
Is the NHL gearing up for another lockout after 7 consecutive years of record revenues, salary cap and 24% rollback of player salaries?— Allan Walsh (@walsha) May 16, 2012
NHL players agreed to massive, unprecedented concessions in last CBA after losing 1 year, taking salary cap, 24% rollback. NHL wants more?— Allan Walsh (@walsha) May 16, 2012
It's obvious players willing to accept status quo for good of the game, NHL is not.— Allan Walsh (@walsha) May 16, 2012
Walsh is a player agent, so his bias is pretty clear here. But by taking to his Twitter platform, standing on a soapbox and shouting these manufactured fears to 17,000-plus followers, all he did was drum up needless concern.
Yes, the NHL wants to change the CBA, despite how well things are going. No, this doesn't necessarily mean that anybody is "gearing up for a lockout." It's far too early to tell.
If you're going to be concerned about a lockout, there's reason to be: The rise in league revenues is still being generated by a few wealthy teams at the top of the league food chain, and the subsequent rise of player costs is detrimental to many of the smaller market teams in the league. The Florida Panthers had to go on a crazy shopping spree last summer just to reach the salary floor. That's not really a good thing if the team can't afford those salaries.
Then you have the fact that NHL players earn 57 percent of all hockey-related revenue, while the recently negotiated deals in the NFL and NBA have that split somewhere around 50/50. That the NHL and NHLPA have yet to meet to begin these talks, despite initially saying they hoped to start negotiations after the All-Star Break in early February, is a concern as well.
And of course, the news that teams have canceled rookie camps and rookie tournaments this summer, in addition to the very early cancellation of the NHL Premiere games in Europe in season, is a minor cause for fret.
There are plenty of reasons to worry, if you're the worrying type, but Wednesday's announcement was not one of them. In reality, there's a whole lot of time ahead before we really have to start up the panic-mobile.