NHL Lockout Will End When Greed Finally Takes Over

Greed takes over

Contrary to popular belief, greed has not been the driving force behind the NHL lockout.

No. To date, it’s just been business. And in business, you exploit your position to extract the maximum profits the market will bear. You do this either by squeezing out the competition so you have free reign to raise prices, or you use leverage to drive costs out of your supply chain. There is no greed involved. It’s just math.

In fact, if greed has a role to play, it will be in saving the NHL hockey season. Here’s why…

There is little pressure on the NHL owners to end the lockout until the entire season is on the line. They went through this before in 1994, and they saw the NBA go through it last year. If you can scrape together half a season, the league as a whole will be fine. Especially since none of you took my advice and just gave up on hockey altogether. Junkies.

Anyway, the point is the NHL knows they can ride through a shortened season, but they also know very well that another cancelled season would be catastrophic. This is not 2004 when it was generally acknowledged that the system was broken, and if the NHL had to blow up the league in order to save it, so be it. This time, the lockout has been engineered by the league solely to squeeze costs out of the system, much the same way Wal-Mart squeezes it’s suppliers.

Last time it was for survival. This time it’s just business. That’s where greed comes in.

The league’s plan all along has been to maximize the pressure on the players in order to extract as many concessions as possible without having to cancel the season: 

Point of no return on investment

They don’t want to lose the Winter Classic. They don’t want to turn off sponsors. They don’t want to jeopardize the new revenue streams. Not based on principle or concern for the league, but because all these things mean cash. And they don’t want to go a full year without cash either.

So the key point of leverage for the owners is in late November/early December when the Winter Classic and indeed the entire season is on the line. Until then, the pressure will continue to build disproportionately on the players simply because they have more public exposure:

Public exposure

Unlike the owners, that are safely hidden behind Bettman and Daly, many players are out in public every day facing questions from the media, to say nothing of dealing with friends and family. They aren’t seasoned business people. Public discontent will have much greater impact on them than the likes of Ed Snider and Jeremy Jacobs.

By the way, for the Canucks, public exposure at UBC depends on the season:

Public exposure at UBC

But back to the owners’ ingenious plan.

In order the maximize pressure on the players, the key is to drag out the process as long as possible and ratchet up the pressure on the players along the way.

Here’s how I would do it:

1. Keep the process limping along

This means making proposals, as necessary, to make it seem as though you’re trying to move forward and reach a solution. At the very least don’t cancel another tranche of games without first making a token offer. If possible, include a plan for when the season would start, even though that is irrelevant to the CBA. You’re the good guys. Yay.

But always remember to include something in your proposal that is so extreme that it will never be accepted. The make-hole provision in that last NHL offer was a great example:

 The make-hole provision

The NHL’s most recent offer made for great sound bites before anyone looked at it with a critical eye. And that’s the key to the next step:

2. Control the message

Get your viewpoint out into the media before the NHLPA has a chance to poke holes in it. If you get your story out first, the response is more likely to be seen as spin:

It's not spin if you're first

So get your proposal out there in public so that people with little or no context or grasp of the issues can make uninformed snap judgements. Sure, there will be some that see the right through it, but the vast majority, hungry for a solution, will laud your transparency:

See right through you

When the players finally respond, dismiss their counter-proposals out of hand. The more time you take to deliberate the more legitimacy you give to their offers. So again, get out in front of the message, disparage their response and cast blame.

3. Amp up the pressure

Immediately cancel some more games after they reject or counter any of your offers; even if it’s sooner than the deadline you gave to get the season up and running again. It’s important to try and link any bad news, like cancellations of more games, with the intransigence of the NHLPA. Given that the NHL has brought in a PR firm with lots of experience in politics, it shouldn’t be a surprise that some of the same strategies would be applied here. One of the most common practices when coming from behind in public opinion is to sling enough mud around that everyone gets dirty. 

4. Foster dissent

The external pressure from the public will take care of itself after awhile. To really turn the screws, you might want to start creating a little internal dissent. Sure, some of that will happen on it’s own, but that takes time:

Solidarity forever?

And just like the owners don’t want to get to the point of actually cancelling the season, it’s also important not to push the players so far that you get past the tipping point of just how much they’ll bend before they break:

Don't push them too far

But with that in mind, there’s nothing like a leaked memo or two to get them thinking. Again, with Luntz on board, it’s not out of the question that the NHL might be taking a concept from politics, the push poll, and applying it to a very public negotiation in order to plant a little seed:


I actually think lifting the gag order and then leaking the memo was a genius move. Evil genius, but genius nonetheless.

5. Rinse and repeat

Go back to Step 1 after a couple of weeks and do it all over again. The key is to not let the public furor die down too much. You don’t want numbness and apathy. You want drama, outrage, hope, anger, anything but apathy.

This has been the NHL gameplan from the start and they’ve executed it brilliantly. What was once a clear NHLPA advantage in public opinion has evaporated. The players are now just as likely to be blamed for the lockout as the owners in so far as blame is now apportioned jointly to both parties. Most importantly, the league has essentially coerced the players into giving up 7% or roughly $230 million PER YEAR without having to give up a single concession in return. And that’s before the full-season schedule deadline has even passed! Astounding.

So, given the success to date and the time left before the season is truly on the line, I would not be at all surprised to see another round of theatre in mid-November before the owners put a real deal on the table around Black Friday, when greed takes over.




  • Gitagrip

    GC, another insightful and brilliantly articulated POV. Kent if you are reading this please promote GC to “Blogger at Large” so these offerings can be shared with the rest of the Nation. Me thinks GC’s anonimity here at CA is wasteful. It would better to be charting for the ON audience so your talents could be appreciated by more than the 5 readers here.

  • CA is the 2nd biggest Nations blog property (behind only ON) and the most trafficked independent Canucks hockey blog (by a lot). Most of GC’s posts get shared across the network eventually, and that will continue.

    Thanks for reading. In addition to your refusal to objectify women with some crass Gravatar display, you’re also a credit to the wit and intelligence that Oilers fans are famous for.

    • Wanyes bastard child

      Wait… did you just say you don’t like boobs?

      I think thats part of the reason I like GC’s articles so much, half his pictures kinda look like boobs or cleavage…

  • Gitagrip

    ” readers here are just less inclined to comment at this point in time.”

    Oh ya, they are less inclined allrighty. Illiteracy can be debilitating.

    ” the most trafficked independent Canucks hockey blog (by a lot).”

    OK, I may have taken license to minimize the actual number of readers. There are at least twice as many as I said. And that’s a lot.

    Now I did not troll over here to raise the ire of the faithful or call out any unwashed, mouthbreathing, knuckledraggers on the west side of the Great Divide.
    I merely wanted to share with GC that his work is recognized and read. Hell, even Tinfoil Toque has some intelligent synapse flashes every now and then and I let him know that when the spirit moves me. Thomas, I could warm up to you but you live in Toronto for gawds sake.

    The above, of course, is all in jest and I want to say how much I appreciate the Nation Network for being available to all of us on a daily basis. All except those heathens in Ottawa and Montreal who should stay in the abyss…..”cold and freezing in the dark” I think someone once said.
    Thank you for sharing and allowing me to share too.

    • Graphic Comments

      “Oh ya, they are less inclined allrighty. Illiteracy can be debilitating.”

      This is why Canucks Army is the PERFECT site to host Graphic Comments. Pictures. Puuurty.

      Now, back to the Hinterland Who’s Who with you.


  • Greg

    Ah, finally some old-fashioned flaming and trolling…gawd, how I’ve missed it! Though–it’s hilarious we’ve been reduced to flaming and trolling about our bloggers, rather than the Ben Eagers or Burrows of the world.

    On the other hand, GC, I’d like to say, as an early fan, great article again!

  • Graphic Comments

    One of the best articles I’ve read on here. I could have used a little exposition on how the owners conned a lot of people, including most posters on this site, that they somehow squared the circle and managed to move directly to 50-50 while honouring contracts. I read a CP story in The Journal Tuesday that is still saying the owners offered the players a 50-50 split. Math is not the strong suit of sports journalists.

    Both sides agree that 50-50 is the end goal. The divider is how to get there. The players have told the truth. Unless you refuse to honour the contracts you claim to have signed in good faith you CANNOT move directly to 50-50. Because of some very rich, long-term contracts it will take some time. The owners scam is to defer contract payments and then subtract them from the players’ share of HRH, pulling their share into the mid 40s for years. That is NOT a 50-50 split. If you fell for that con I have a great pyramid investment scheme for you. The 55-60% of players with one or two years left on their deals are going to be the ones making those deferred payments from the share of HRR they are forced to give up.

    That is why I side with the players. They accept 50-50, which is now the established ratio in NA pro sports, but rightly insist that the owners should first honour contracts they signed of their own free will, but in bad faith, knowing very well what they were going to demand in this CBA. Just like they did leading up to the 2005 lockout. The fact that players earn an average of $2.4 million only means they do not need your sympathy. It does not mean they are not right.

  • ChinookArchYYC

    The NHL 50/50 offer was a stroke of negotiation guenious. It forced the NHLPA into responding, and guaranteed that any counter offer that came off of 50/50 would instantly caste the players into a negative light.

    The only part of GC’s arguments that I don’t agree with is that the 2012 lockout iis not about the NHL’s survival? For at least 15 teams, I believe getting costs under control ultimately is a survival strategy. Even billionaires can’t loose 10’s of millions every single year.

    • Graphic Comments

      I don’t think it’s 15 teams in danger of folding. There’s a handful, 5 or 6, that are still bleeding money. The majority are basically treading water, on an accounting basis. But that franchise values are still increasing, even for them.

      That’s why I don’t think this is an existential crisis for the NHL this time around.

      If you didn’t see my CBA Winners and Losers series at NHLNumbers (with real graphs even), go back and take a look.