The lockout of NHL players that dragged on for 113 days and cost the league more than half the season was a battle over money, as all collective bargaining negotiations are. More than that, though, it became a battle of egos, which is why it took so long to resolve issues that should have been agreed upon sometime last summer.
Gary Bettman was absolutely set on “winning,” because he had won his first two CBA negotiations as NHL commissioner — one costing more than half a season, the second costing an entire season. But his opponent this time, Donald Fehr, also had a perfect record — albeit in another sport.
In the end, they both lost. Hockey lost, and the sport’s remarkably loyal fans lost more than anyone.
Those fans will get a 48-game regular season with games coming at them nonstop and a lot of teams playing tired as the regular season ends. They will get Stanley Cup playoffs that will end shortly before the Fourth of July, and they will get a season in which they won’t see any foes from the opposite conference at all. So if you are a Washington Capitals fan, you won’t see your team play the defending Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings unless both teams make it to this season’s finals.
When the ice chips finally cleared early Sunday morning, the owners walked away feeling as if they had closed loopholes in the salary cap and made some extra hockey revenue. The players walked away knowing they will still be very well-compensated — the minimum salary for an NHL player will go from $525,000 a year to $750,000 a year by the end of this deal.
Good for everyone. All it took was half a year of sniping and backbiting to get this done. The owners started it in July, demanding that the revenue split go from 57 percent to the players to 57 percent for the owners. Not only was there no way the players were going to come close to accepting those numbers, but such an outrageous opening offer set an angry tone that lasted almost six months.
The owners have tried — sometimes not so quietly — to portray Fehr as the black hat in all this, saying he wanted to stonewall and stall more than he wanted to truly negotiate.
That’s a convenient story line except for one thing: Fehr was still running the baseball players’ union when the first Bettman-led lockout took place in 1994 and was also still in baseball eight years ago when the entire NHL season was lost to a lockout. He was not the common denominator in any of this, but his presence clearly did make a difference for the union.
The owners can — and will — declare victory. They got the players to agree to a 50-50 split of revenues, and they got a term limit on contracts of seven years — eight for a player re-signing with the same team. That means there won’t be any more 13- or 14-year contracts like the ones some owners were handing out this summer (at the same time they were collectively demanding those limits). The owners also got next year’s salary cap lowered from a little more than $70 million to $64.3 million.