NHL Cannot Afford the Lockout

The world looks very different now to the one that we lived in 20 years ago, and that is very much the case with the impacted NHL schedule.

Back in 1992, the players went on strike in a move that was to prove a real shock for the hockey world. That strike ultimately led to the hiring of Gary Bettman as commissioner of the NHL and, when the players first went on strike on April 1st, they had a significant amount of leverage and kudos to play with at the negotiating table.

Back then, the situation was a little bit different to the one that we face now, as that strike happened within the season; in fact, right at the start of the post-season rather than like now at the start of the regular season.

On that occasion, because of where the season was and what the NHL stood to lose, the situation was sorted out quickly; the players negotiated increased playoff bonuses, changes to free agency, and more control over licensing agreements, and the strike ended on April 10th. The post-season was completed in its entirety.

However, not all was sweetness and light coming out of that dispute. John Ziegler, who was the NHL president at the time, lost his job, as the NHL owners were grossly unhappy about the way they had been held to ransom and how quickly Ziegler had caved in. He was replaced by Gil Stein for a year until the league named Gary Bettman as the commissioner.

Move forward 20 years and, for the third time since that player-driven strike, the NHL are locking out their players. It is the league rather than the players that now hold the upper hand over revenue and the percentage of that revenue that the players receive.

Twenty years ago, the players called the shots by striking late in the regular season and getting what they wanted from the owners.

Since the change at the top of the NHL’s leadership chart, Bettman and the owners have gained the upper hand and it is hard to see where the two sides can reach common ground this time. We could be headed for a situation where the entire season is cancelled as it was in 2004-05, and then the NHL really will have problems.

Another cancelled season will be a huge blow for hockey – and, indeed, for fans betting on NHL – one the league cannot afford. If hockey wants to remain relevant and in the national consciousness, both sides of this lockout must come to an agreement before it is too late.

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