On Thursday, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman told reporters that if the NHL and the players can’t reach an agreement by September 15th, there will be a lock out. Reports are that there is common ground on things like player safety and peripheral points of contention, but that there is a fair amount of ground to cover. NHLPA director Donald Fehr actually classified this as a “meaningful gulf.”
Fehr also suggested that the players would be willing to work under the existing CBA, though it seems unlikely that the league would be amenable to such a solution. The intent, quite explicitly, is to take a sizable chunk of money from the player profits, and of course the players aren’t going to agree to that without a fight.
Still, you have to wonder what the end game is. If players suddenly are unable to earn as much stateside as they would, say, in Russia, what’s to keep players from abandoning the rink in North America? Plenty of players have left Europe to come here, after all. What’s stopping the flow back the other way? Right now, it’s salary in the NHL, but if they keep dropping here, and rising overseas, that could change. Maybe not right away, but perhaps eventually. How much can the NHL cut in player salaries before it starts to really hurt the on ice product?
And of course, you have to think about this with a historical perspective. The NHL sacrificed an entire season less than 10 years ago to get the present CBA. They gave all that up, crippled the sport, and they are willing to do it again. Basically, a season was lost for nothing if we reach another lock out this time around. What was the point, if losing a season didn’t solve enough? If this whole situation doesn’t make you a little bit angry, you might want to check your pulse.