SportsCentre Year in Review: The NHL Lockout

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Bob McKenzie
12/20/2012 11:12:49 PM
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Leading up to SportsCentre's Year In Review on Christmas Eve, TSN and TSN.ca look back at each of the Top 10 stories of 2012. And TSN's reporters and analysts who covered the events as they happened offer their personal reflections on the stories.

Today, TSN hockey insider Bob McKenzie reviews the NHL lockout of the players that has put the 2012-13 season in jeopardy.

There are many words you could choose to sum up the NHL lockout of 2012, but never let it be said "surprising" is one of them.

That we approach Christmas of this year knowing no NHL games will have been played in 2012-13 is a bitter pill to swallow, but it is in many respects as it was ordained by prior events.

I knew we were headed for a perfect storm of labor strife as early as September of 2011, and truth be told even before that.

It was actually the confluence of three things that led us to where we are today.

One was the NFL lockout and subsequent settlement in July of 2011.

Another was the NBA lockout and subsequent settlement in December of 2011.

And the other one was the hiring of Don Fehr as executive director of the NHLPA just over two years ago.

It's as easy one-two-three and simply connecting the dots.

The NFL players ended up settling for a CBA that gave them a 47 per cent share of overall revenues. The NBA players wound up with a settlement that left them with, more or less, a 50-50 split.

When the only other salary-capped sports leagues in North America ended up with the players getting 50 per cent or less of revenue, it wasn't difficult to discern two things:

One, the NHL would expect to follow suit and get in that same 50-50 revenue split universe as the NBA and NFL.

Two, because NHL players, at the conclusion of their existing CBA, were getting 57 per cent of revenue there was going to be no easy way to go from 57 to 50. At a time when the NHL's Hockey Related Revenue was at an all-time high of $3.3 billion -- up from $2.2 billion seven years ago -- it was a given NHL players were not going to look kindly on a takeaway or concessionary CBA though we knew that was precisely the NHL's expectation.

Especially with Fehr as their new executive director.

Fehr's legacy is that as a tough, relentless advocate for players who led a Major League Baseball strike that once killed the World Series. He was directly involved in a period of massive labour unrest in MLB before it finally led to many years of labour peace that baseball is now enjoying.

In Fehr, the NHLPA hired the most ardent supporter of player rights at a time when the NHL, in part because of what happened in the NFL and NBA, were coming for massive player concessions and takeaways.

I was actually a little surprised that Fehr professed to be able to negotiate off a salary cap system he so clearly opposed with all his being in baseball. But I knew damn well that he wasn't about to accept the premise players should have to "give" anything.

And here we are. In a nutshell, that's the dynamic that has been at play. If we had been able to crack this nut before Christmas, it would have been a most unexpected but welcome gift.

Obviously, that's a big picture oversimplification of a truly complex issue.

The NHL would maintain that in spite of record revenues the industry needs a reset because the majority of NHL clubs are not as financially viable as they need to be.

The NHLPA would maintain that if the players are offered less money and less contracting rights, what possible reason is there for them to accept that.

Though many of the critical issues have been bridged over the last few months -- or more precisely the last few weeks -- and on one level it seems we're oh so close to getting an agreement, the stalemate continues.

As the days and weeks go by without agreement, we get closer to the abyss of another lost season, which last happened in the NHL lockout of 2004-05.

Logic would dictate it doesn't happen again but so much of what has transpired is illogical. One missed step now and the game could go hurtling off the edge of the cliff.

In some respects, it wasn't supposed to be like this. The 2004-05 lost season was understandable to the extent of the philosophical divide between the NHL and NHLPA over the salary cap. The NHL wanted one and the NHLPA was adamantly opposed to it.

No one liked that we lost a season but most everyone understood. And, in fact, many fans who thought a salary cap was needed actually supported the premise of a lockout to get it.

But this time? As some fans put it, billionaire owners fighting millionaire players over how to share a burgeoning pot of $3.3 billion? Seriously? We're going to lose a season, or a good portion of one, for that?

Well, we should find out soon enough. If we're not at the final act of this tragic comedy, we can't be far off.

If the NHL isn't playing games on or around Jan. 20, there is every reason to believe there will be no games at all.

That means the two sides have to have an agreement in place by the first week or two of January. We're coming to the crossroads.

No one knows for sure which way it will go but at this point, many have stopped caring and those who still do either want to be watching games in a month or mercifully be put out of their misery.

Fehr and Bettman (Photo: The Canadian Press)

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(Photo: The Canadian Press)
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