Fans who still remember the lost National Hockey League season of 2004-2005 have something new to be nervous about with an expiring labor deal on September 15.
The league and the NHL Players’ Association met this past week for three days in Toronto. Topics of discussion for the week included discipline, pensions, length of training camp, and ice conditions.
The good news for fans is that so far labor negotiations have been described as amicable by both sides. On July 13, the NHL presented the NHL Players’ Association with their first collective bargaining agreement proposal which included a “decreased share of hockey-related revenue, term limits on contracts and a 22-percent salary rollback,” according to The Washington Post.
The NHLPA has requested additional information before they are willing to put forth their own proposal. If a deal is not reached by September 15 though Fehr believes that the season could still continue.
“There’s nothing magic about Sept. 15. The law is that if you don’t have a new agreement, and as long as both sides are willing to keep negotiating, you can continue to play under the terms of the old one until you reach an agreement,” Fehr told reporters after a meeting of the NHLPA’s executive board in late June.
Fehr could be a tough negotiator, having been head of the players union for Major League Baseball from 1986-2009. He has been through several labor stoppages with the MLB and was often seen as getting the better side of negotiations once an agreement was reached.
Former NHLPA executive director Ted Saskin was heavily blamed for the cancellation of the 2004-2005 season for his passive attitude regarding negotiations. Saskin was forced to resign in 2007 following accusations that him and other NHL executives hacked the private email accounts of players and agents in order to see if they were challenging his hiring.
One major hold up in the negotiations might be how the players and owners split league revenue. Currently the players receive 57 percent of all league revenue. The owners are thought to want to decrease that number, especially since the NHL made $3.1 billion in revenue last season. However, Commissioner Gary Bettman did not specify how much of that money was profit. Bettman will be representing the owners during labor negotiations.
Fans do not seem as concerned with the details of the labor negotiations they just want reassurance that there will be hockey starting in October.
“All I know is that I want to see hockey next year,” said Pennsylvania resident and Colorado Avalanche fan Brian Karwaski. “Missing an entire season once was bad enough nobody wants to see that happen again.”
With attendance up nearly 2 percent from 2010-2011 and 3 percent from 2009-2010 a labor stoppage would seemingly hurt the owners more than the players. However, if negotiations go as poorly as they did in 2004-2005 it will not necessarily be bad news for the owners. When the NHL resumed play in the 2005-2006 season 83 percent of NHL teams saw an increase in attendance. The Pittsburgh Penguins in particular had a 33 percent jump up in attendance.
While that can be concerning for fans of the NHL only time will tell where the negotiations head and how it might affect the upcoming season. Both sides are scheduled to sit down again July 31 and August 1 in Manhattan.