I don’t necessarily believe this will happen. I certainly hope it doesn’t. But having a second lockout in consecutive CBA negotiations and the possibility of another cancelled season give rise to worry for a specific worst-case scenario: that this process – this absurd ridiculous asinine CBA process – is doomed to repeat itself.
Sure, it’s a bit premature to worry about a CBA in 7-10 years when the NHL and NHLPA haven’t even figured out the CBA for the 7-10 years leading up to it, but it’s a valid worry, and one that says a lot about the level of confidence that should be placed in the two organizations.
Note: for the purpose of this article, I’m assuming this is a lost season already. Because let’s be honest: it probably is.
Why The Potential of a Third Consecutive Lockout Exists
This is the second consecutive lockout in CBA negotiations. I’m no sports historian, but that’s not exactly a common thing. Sure, every sport has rough passages between the owners and players- even the massively rich NFL had a brief lockout recently, but it was one that had minimal effect on the actual play of the sport.
If the NHL can go back to lockout mode with the massive fallout from the last lockout still fresh on everyone’s mind, what’s to stop them from doing it a third time?
2. Everybody Is So Busy Posturing They Forgot What They Were Posturing For
It’s rare you see groups that engage in so much PR forget how PR actually works. The NHL and the NHLPA have spent so much time pointing fingers publicly, making nice little videos and writing letters to the fans, and acting (for lack of a better word) miffed about the whole thing, that they forgot the very best PR is simply trying harder (and in public) than the other team.
In a sport where so much of the narrative is about "heart" and "effort", a simple statement from either the NHL or the NHLPA saying something to the effect of "We will be at location X every ready to talk and work on this every day until a CBA is signed" would make for wonderful PR as well as put the onus on the other guy to show up and try to look just as good.
Unfortunately what happened was a whole lot of nonsensical finger pointing about how X canceled a meeting with Y, or how Y wasn’t negotiating in "good faith". In the parlance of my day job, both sides swallowed their own shit sandwiches.
3. It’s No Longer "Just Business"
The players probably don’t have much anger towards the owners themselves. There- it’s just business. But ask, say, Teemu Selanne what he (or most of the NHL) thinks about Gary Bettman, and we find ourselves in a very different realm.
Jarome Iginla’s comments highlight a related issue— lack of trust for the owners, and more specifically Gary Bettman.
“Gary said last time, it was a deal that would work for everyone, be a win-win,” Iginla said Thursday [the 19th]… “If you had asked him, ‘Forecast the revenues and will it work?’ He’d have said, ‘Absolutely. This is perfect.’
“Now, we’re not talking 1% (back from the players). [The owners are] talking 10% back, and that’s $300 million, and that doesn’t seem honest from where that was.
“So how can we trust them next time?”
The players clearly neither trust nor like the leadership in the NHL, whether rightly or wrongly. That will create more and larger problems down the road, barring a resolution that actually makes everyone happy.
Clearly there is a good chance of future lockouts, barring massive changes in how Collective Bargaining is done; why does this matter now, though?
Why the Potential for a Third Consecutive Lost Season Is Bad
1. The Obvious "A third lost season is a third lost season. Duh"
Yes, Mr. Robotvious, it is another season of missing out on the highest level of hockey. That’s simply bad because hockey is fun, and the NHL provides the best product around. I like watching hockey, so if there’s another canceled season, I can’t watch that season.
There’s always other hockey to watch, or hobbies to pick up (no joke, I just bought $40 of origami supplies from Amazon.com so I have something to do. I’m sure I’ll put photos of my paper train wrecks on Twitter.), but it’s not the same as the NHL, and it’s not as easily viewable as the NHL.
2. Degradation of the Quality of the Game
The NHL is already competing with the KHL for some Russian players. Financial instability, as well as the league crying "POOR!" as loudly as possible would do little to attract those players, and may have a long-term effect on drawing some European players as well.
I doubt we’d see a mass exodus, but less high quality players is still less high quality players.
3. The End of the NHL (as we know it)
Ah, here’s the alarmist doomsday scenario.
The fact is, canceled seasons wreck profit- both short and long term. The NHL took some time to recover from 2004-05, and we’re staring down another barrel already (although not as long as was feared). If the fans who returned or starting to take an interest give up, they probably won’t return for a third round. In addition, a lock-out hampers the momentum markets like Nashville, Chicago and Los Angeles had created with recent successes.
If there’s a full, third lockout, the NHL’s popularity would end up circling the toilet – and popularity pays the bills in the entertainment world. If the bills don’t get paid, teams get contracted, players lose jobs, and the NHLs crediblity as a top tier league further decreases. Rinse and repeat. Eventually most players would leave for Russia or Europe and the NHL would continue to suffer because of it.
Of course, this is all Worst-Case Scenario type stuff. It’s hard to imagine a situation where everyone comes out of the lockout and likely cancelled season "happy", but things may not end up as acrimonious as they seem now. Furthermore, the NHL and NHLPA could come up with machinations to prevent more lockouts, though that seems unlikely given how effective Bettman seems to find them. What’s most likely is the economic situation changes, and one side or the other finds themselves more than happy to sign whatever is put in front of them. Only time will tell though.