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Howard Simon's Blog

Dark Days Ahead for NHL?

As if you aren’t depressed enough this hockey season with the way the Sabres are playing, something happened last week between the League and the Players Association that gave me a sick feeling in my stomach.
One month after the NHL pushed through a plan for realignment effective next season, the NHLPA dropped the hammer by vetoing the idea. I was caught by surprise because I figured any player in the Western Conference would be in favor of the new look and scheduling since it would cut down on their travel. Sure, there might be some teams in the East that wouldn’t be thrilled but they still have the easier travel schedule of the two conferences.
Actually the exact reasoning behind the veto doesn’t really matter. My concern has to do with the war or words that erupted between the two sides. Both sides are setting the stage for talks that will begin shortly on a new collective bargaining agreement. The current deal expires after the season.
The league said the PA “unreasonably” refused to approve the plan. The union said they asked for information concerning the impact of the new scheduling and never received it. The NHL said they asked the players to get involved in the discussions before the issue came to a vote but the union said the league never wanted to enter into a dialogue. And so it goes..blah,blah,blah,blah.
Having lived through a lockout that cost the NHL an entire season, I didn’t think I’d have to deal with the fears of losing more hockey to labor struggles for quite some time. But this little episode makes me nervous.
Add in the presence of Donald Fehr, the former Major League Baseball Players Association chief, who now leads the NHLPA and we have the makings for a clash of two very strong minded and stubborn individuals in Fehr and NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman.
There’s talk the NHL will try to follow the lead of their NBA brethren and reduce the share of revenue doled out to the players. Currently, the players receive 57% but word is the owners will try and get that down to around 50%.
There are probably some hard feelings still around from the lockout when the owners emerged as the winner. The players gave in to their demands for a salary cap and internal disputes led to a change in union leadership. In a recent interview Fehr said “The players made an awful lot of concessions in the last agreement. It’s pretty hard to see them being willing to do that again.”
Not exactly the words you want to hear from a man who was involved in numerous work stoppages during his days with the baseball union. Talks between the NHL and the Players are expected to begin sometime after the All Star break.

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