As the 2012 NHL lockout begins, SB Nation's Dave Strehle and Dominik Jansky take a deep look at the issues. Who's to blame for the third league work stoppage in 18 years? Dave and Dominik go point/counterpoint:
Dominik Jansky: I don't truly see either side as having the majority of fault in this mess, but I do see why each side mistrusts the other - and why somewhere, buried in their rhetoric, they eachhave a few reasonable points.
But since the owners are taking the bulk of the criticism, I'll go ahead and defend them.
Dave Strehle: While I can see viewpoints made on both sides of the coin, I cannot accept the NHL's seeming unwillingness to actually negotiate with the NHLPA. Any talks seemed contrived on the owners' side and almost seemed staged, as if to appease in terms of PR to show they were putting forth their 'best efforts' -- which we all know just wasn't the case. Not even close.
For that reason and others to come, I will take the players' side in these proceedings.
1. There's a reason the owners' original proposal was ridiculous.
DJ: Look, the owners first proposal was extreme, but the NHLPA gave them good reason for it: The NHL ownership let the PA know late in 2011 that they couldn't proceed under current conditions. Yet the PA waited until late June to begin negotiations. While it's good that Donald Fehr took time to get to know and inform his full membership, don't for a minute think that this extreme delay was for any reason other than to put pressure on the owners.
The less time the players allowed for real negotiation, the more they could make it look like the owners were hellbent on a lockout. The ownership response, to show how serious they were about changes, was to ask for the Moon.
DS: No doubt the NHLPA was more than willing to remain with the existing deal, they were willing to negotiate while opening camp and continuing on with the NHL's pre-season and regular season schedules. That may have been their reasoning for waiting to wait for the summer to open discussions, but it's doubtful they expected the token proposals they received when talks began. The players' union may have actually cast the first stone in the upcoming labor war, but it came when they vetoed the league's realignment plans in early January. That action seemed to bring about a feeling of mistrust between the sides, and the league opted to open negotiations. Any ideas of fostering a joint partnership between the sides as the CBA was set to expire basically went by the wayside.
That being said, the owners' initial offer was beyond outrageous.
2. The owners are asking for a lot, but the players aren't being realistic about the NHL's economic challenges.
DJ: Regardless of how much gross revenues have grown under the current CBA, the fact is many teams are still struggling. The cap of 2006 has become $25 million short of the floor in 2009, yet floor teams' revenues haven't grown to keep pace. Whether it's through a change in the split of hockey revenue or through revenue sharing or both, the current economic problems have to be addressed.
The players can pretend all they want that "the owners got what they wanted in 2005, so why change now?" - it makes for good rhetoric. But it completely denies the reality that conditions change, expenses grow, and many teams are still struggling. Pretending what "worked" in 2006 should automatically work in 2012 is like pretending players should use wooden sticks again because hey, it was good enough for Bobby Hull, right?
And yes, the owners should do more revenue sharing if they really want to keep 30 markets - but can you blame the big market owners who paid twice as much for their franchises for not wanting to give more to the small markets when they see the players' share of revenues driving those small markets into the red?
DS: A revenue sharing system could end up as a perfect machination to financial parity in the league, but it's likely nothing the larger market teams would ever be interested in exploring. They've spent a good amount of years building their franchises and making them financially profitable. Truth is the vast majority of clubs are thriving under the current CBA, but Bettman wants to attempt to bring the few struggling teams -- those in non-traditional hockey markets -- to a similar level of profit. We all know that will not happen, as those cities that may have been granted teams hastily for the quick cash grab of expansion fees.
Simply put, the players have given back enough already. After taking a 24% rollback on salaries and accepting a hard salary cap to help painfully impulsive owners "gain cost certainty" to resolve the 2004/05 nightmare, they're bring asked to take a huge hit again. It seems rather disingenuous for the league to ask the players to make up for the owners' uncontrolled spending.
The owners are likely hoping for tough economic conditions for fans to feel a general disconnect with players, many who are making millions of dollars per season. Truth is these owners are not unlike everyday owners in American and Canadian businesses. Players' salaries are their main expenses -- even more than the horrific rising fuel and massage therapy costs Bettman cited as growing concerns. If they would like to cut costs like their counterparts in the general business world, they do not have the option to outsource their workforce or import migrant workers for a fraction of the cost. The owners need to be more realistic.
3. Were the owners always intent on a lockout?
DJ: This is a suggestion that Donald Fehr hasn't made outright, but one he's happily let the media make. But it's disingenuous. The owners publicly stated they were ready to negotiate a new CBA by the beginning of 2012. The players wanted to wait ... and wait ... and wait. Until late June. Why was the NHLPA so happy to wait to begin negotiations? Because they're quite happy with the current deal. They were happy to put the pressure - and the PR shame -- on the owners.
When one side is perfectly happy with the current arrangement, and the other is so intent on changes that it will shut itself down rather than continue under current rules, maybe that doesn't mean they want a lockout. Maybe it means they need it.
As I've suggested previously, I don't think any one side is to blame here. I do think both side is spinning rhetoric to serve its own interests, and they both frankly deserve each other.
DS: With their outrageous initial proposal and steadfast unwillingness to budge on any of the subsequent counter offers, it would appear the owners likely had a pretty good idea the start of the 2012-13 season was in jeopardy, at the very least. When you're basically giving an ultimatum in lieu of negotiating -- which is the tactic Bettman has chosen to employ -- anything short of a complete submission by the NHLPA all but guaranteed a lockout. That's not even close to negotiating in good faith.
Despite the claims of unity in the owners' ranks, they continue to show otherwise with their free-wheeling spending -- which was on full display by the inking of players to the very types of contracts they're asking for protection from -- just one day before the lockout. Included in that wave of signings was Phoenix's re-upping Shane Doan to a four-year, $21.2 million pact, complete with a $2 million signing bonus. With the NHL still owning the Coyotes, it was a move of utter hypocrisy.
Neither side is completely blameless in this farce. The percentage of blame is divided between the two, and as mentioned earlier, the NHLPA may have made the first move in posturing when they denied the league its realignment plans eight months ago. It seems that action may have set the ball in motion for the NHL to play hardball with its players in return. But when it all comes down to it, the best-case scenario remains a partnership between the league's ownership and their most valuable resource, its players.
And that's one thing we can both agree on.