Nov 21, 2011; Dallas, TX, USA; NHL commissioner Gary Bettman during a press conference at the American Airlines Center. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-US PRESSWIRE

Fans Left In Fear As Labor Talks Continue

“Well, I followed hockey until that year the NHL didn’t have a season… then they lost me.” This statement alone is all someone needs to say to me to make me want to pull my hair out strand by strand, and I’m sure it boils the blood of most other hockey fans as well. Fall of 2004 to late spring of 2005, with few exceptions, was the most depressing time period of my life to date (and not even because of Honors Chemistry during my sophomore year of high school).

With the current labor dispute, NHL fans are in jeopardy of having to dreadfully repeat history. Even if the upcoming season doesn’t get completely canned like that last time this situation arose, there is still a possibility it could get significantly shortened just as the NBA season was last year. The league and the NHL Players’ Association met again yesterday in New York to continue the discussion, and to see if they can inch closer to a solution.

The biggest stumbling block as we presently stand is the division of revenue generated by the league’s yearly operations. The current collective bargaining agreement expires in just less than two months, so the clock is ticking rapidly for a resolve. The main emphasis on yesterday’s meeting between the two sides was to further the negotiations for a new CBA, considering that the owners do not approve of the amount of revenue that gets allocated to the players (57 percent).

Rumors have suggested that amount could get cut all the way down 46 percent. To further the displeasure this would spark in the players, there might also be a regulation banning contracts more than five years in length and players would have to wait a full decade before becoming unrestricted free agents. These talks began on June 29th, just a few weeks after the LA Kings won the Stanley Cup to conclude the last season under this CBA.

Donald Fehr, the executive director of the NHLPA, has been quoted saying he believes the players are equal partners with owners in terms of anything that effects the regulation of their work. Keep in mind that the primary reason the conference realignment proposal got shot down not too long ago was because the players wouldn’t give it the nod.

’04-’05 wasn’t the only season that was affected by a lockout. The start of the 1994-1995 season was delayed and thus shortened to 48 regular season games, also at the hands of commissioner Gary Bettman. For these and other reasons, Bettman is arguably the most disliked figure of authority in the NHL. If you need further evidence, just Youtube any time he’s ever spoken before a large crowd and the endless boo’s that ensue should  provide that.

What worries me about  this ordeal is the obvious: the NHL already has a struggling fan base, especially when you put it up against the other three “main” professional sports. Given the heated rivalries and exhilarating atmosphere at games, college football and basketball also have no trouble maintaining a better following than pro hockey. The proof is in the low TV ratings NHL games generate, decline in attendance and overall less hype and media coverage. It doesn’t help that many US households were not even able to watch the Stanley Cup Finals, due to its availability on a network a decent amount of people don’t receive.

This situation is do-or-die. The NHL would never be able to fully recover from another lost season, period. A shortened season would be bait for endless jokes from sports fans who don’t favor hockey, and the level of respect professional hockey receives would seriously decline. Of course it’s easier said than done, but this ordeal needs a fix… and October 11 will be here before you can say “desperation.”

What do you think about the labor dispute? We’d love to know in the comments.

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Tags: Florida Panthers Gary Bettman Labor Disupte Nhl NHLPA

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