The first step toward completing the lockout trifecta was taken last week when the NHL notified the league’s players association that it wants to modify or terminate the collective bargaining agreement.
That was not unexpected, though the league and the players had the option to let the current CBA, due to expire Sept. 15, continue for another year. It sets up the prospect of the NHL becoming the third league in the past year to impose a work stoppage, following the lead of the NFL and NBA.
That would be a blow to the Florida Panthers’ hopes of building on their first trip to the playoffs in 12 years. Not only did the team make notable strides under GM Dale Tallon’s plan, the playoff series against the Devils brought a level of excitement that hadn’t been seen in the Panthers’ years at BankAlantic Center.
Consider the Tampa Bay Lightning, who won the Stanley Cup in 2004 and had to wait a year to defend it due to the lockout that wiped out the 2005-05 season. That cost them their star goalie to free agency, and it took them six years to mount another serious playoff run.
Certainly the NHL doesn’t want – and can’t afford – another lost season. The question is how much the league is prepared to press the players for concessions on the revenue split.
Last time the owners wanted, and got, a salary cap linked to league revenue. He league’s revenue has been increasing, and so has the players’ share, to 57 percent this past season. Early indications are that the owners want to chip away at that.
So far, both sides are keeping the rhetoric low key, but negotiations haven’t begun.
“I’m hoping that they are quick, quiet and painless,” NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said when he attended the Panthers’ playoff opener last month.
The NHL Players Association is now headed by Donald Fehr, who during nearly a quarter century as boss of the baseball players union was known for not backing down in labor disputes. Major League Baseball is the one pro sport that lately has been able to avoid work stoppages.
After MLB reached agreement on a new CBA late last year without discord, I asked Fehr about the possibility of the NHL doing likewise.
“Hopefully it won’t precede the way the NFL and NBA negotiations did because they were reasonably unpleasant, and we did that already in hockey,” Fehr said.
The NHL is in its seventh consecutive season of record revenues, which would suggest that the last CBA has worked out quite well for the league. Television ratings are up significantly for the current playoffs, which have gotten a boost in exposure by teams from New York and Los Angeles in their respective conference finals.
While there is every reason for the league as well as the Panthers to be eager to build on the successes of this season, that is no guarantee that labor negotiations will be quick, quiet, painless or pleasant.
Already this year there was conflict when the NHL Players Association rejected the leagues realignment plan.
And Fehr’s brother Steve, who is special counsel for the NHLPA, said in a speech this month to the Sports Lawyers Association that if the league is seeking major concessions on the revenue split it will be a problem because the players feel they made major concessions last time.
Negotiating sessions have yet to be scheduled.
Photo: The last thing the Panthers need is labor strife to disrupt the bond developing between the team and fans during the playoff season just concluded. (Michael Laughlin/Sun Sentinel)