Five months ago, New York City was a hockey town. The New York Rangers finished the regular season with the best record in the Eastern Conference and were deep in the playoffs. They took over newspaper back pages and sports talk shows, stealing the spotlight from the Yankees and Mets.
After they were eliminated, they traded for Rick Nash, one of the premier scorers in the league, to complement their league-leading defense. They were set to open the season Friday night, battling the Stanley Cup Champion Los Angeles Kings in the Staples Center. There’s only one problem: There is no hockey. Opening night should have been last night.
After the regular season ended, league and players’ association representatives began meeting to negotiate another collective bargaining agreement. The main issue was hockey related revenue (HRR). While the league brings in 3.3 billion dollars a year, the majority of teams struggle financially. As reported by Forbes after the 2010-2011 season, the top three teams (Toronto Maple Leafs, Montreal Canadiens, and New York Rangers) operated at a $171 million profit while the other 27 teams lost a cumulative $44 million.
Motivated by this, the owners sought to decrease players’ salaries. Salaries currently account for 57% of the budget; the owners’ original proposal slashed them to 43%. Additionally they sought to cap other ways players could demand increased wages, such as making them wait additional years to be eligible for salary arbitration.
Obviously, the players rejected this unreasonable proposal. In response, they drew up a plan to artificially slow their salary growth and share revenue. While the share would stay at 57%, they could only pocket last year’s salary plus an additional two percent. Any additional income would put into a pool where it could be distributed to struggling teams at the league’s discretion. Sounds reasonable, right? Well, the league delegation flat-out rejected it.
With neither side accepting the other’s proposal, days came and went. At 12 am on Sunday, Sept. 15, the CBA expired. The league was locked out, for the third time in less than two decades. The players accused the owners of being greedy and taking issue with a system they designed themselves, during the 2004-2005 lockout prevented an entire season from being played. Additionally, if the league was losing so much money, why did the teams keep offering contracts of over $50 million? The owners said the players didn’t understand the financial climate of the league and could afford to make less. The fans said everyone was screwing them and taking away their beloved sport.
Since then, there has only been token progress. Talks have focused on insignificant issues, such as drug testing policy, which the NHL has never had issues with, and regulating ice quality. The revenue split has slid closer to 50-50, but games have not returned. Day after day, more and more players pack up and leave to play in leagues across Northern and Eastern Europe. There are no NHL games in sight.
For fans dealing with hockey withdrawal, here are a few tips to cope:
Don’t forget there’s still hockey to watch and follow.
- While it may be difficult to find, the sport is still being played. Many young stars have been optioned to their junior team or AHL affiliates. Also ESPN is airing some KHL games featuring stars like Alex Ovechkin and Zdeno Chara.
Voice your displeasure, if that’s your sort of thing.
- Since the lockout started, there has been a great deal of fan venom towards the situation. Protests have occurred and are planned for the future, boycotts of teams and their products have been discussed, and there is even a regular feature on Puckdaddy allowing fans to vent.
Support businesses near arenas.
- While fans may be upset that we don’t get to watch hockey, the real people being hurt are those who work in and around arenas. If you can, help the surrounding bars and restaurants out since there aren’t any game day crowds.
- If you’ve read this far, you probably care enough about hockey to know the best news sources, but to the uninitiated there are a few guidelines. TSN and anyone affiliated with them is the best. Generally avoid ESPN. Find one good writer on Twitter and follow everyone he follows or interacts with. And remember, Pierre Mcguire is creepy.
In all honesty, it’s a pretty depressing situation. If you can tough it out though, the most exciting sport in the world will be back. Where else but hockey can you see large men with razor blades on their feet swinging sticks around and hitting each other?