For the third time in the past 20 years, the National Hockey League is locked out. Like any work stoppage, this one is based on two sides with different demands unable to come to any sort of compromise. And like most work stoppages, the biggest dispute is money.
The League’s labor contract expired on Saturday night and the owners don’t seem to want to budge. Though the most recent contract was signed in 2005, there are some major changes they are proposing. Most notably, ownership has requested that the players accept a substantial reduction in total hockey-related revenue, from 57 percent to 46 percent. They’ve also suggested getting rid of signing bonuses and extending the time it takes for players to be considered unrestricted free agents.
The players haven’t taken kindly to all the suggested changes; It’s only been seven years since the last agreement was signed after all. The players’ biggest argument is in the fact that they’re being asked to concede money even though the value of the NHL has risen more than a billion dollars since 2005. Although they aren’t happy with the lockout, the players seem, at least to the media, more willing to negotiate than the owners.
“Today we suggested that the parties meet in advance of the owners’ self-imposed deadline of midnight tonight,” Players’ Association Special Council Steve Fehr said Saturday in an emailed statement to the Associated Press. “(Player’s Association Executive Director) Don Fehr, myself and several players on the Negotiating Committee were in the city and prepared to meet. The NHL said that it saw no purpose in having a formal meeting.”
In an effort to wade past all the numbers and get some perspective on this financial conundrum, The Minaret talked with a pair of UT Club Hockey players. Mark Baccoli is the president of the Club team and also their starting goalie. Spencer Indermaur is the team’s vice president and also a forward on the squad.
Some portions of these interviews have been edited for conciseness and clarity.
MS: First off, favorite team and player?
MB: The Buffalo Sabres and Ryan Miller.
SI: The Washington Capitals and Alexander Ovechkin.
MS: Alright. Now into the lockout stuff. We were much younger when the ’04 lockout happened. How frustrating was it then for you and how frustrating is this one in comparison?
MB: Well, I was only about 14 at that time but with the knowledge I have of hockey now, I love watching it and it’s such a big part of my life. It’s just incredibly disappointing for myself and anyone else who loves the sport. It was still disappointing back then, but we had the Rochester Americans in the AHL and that became pretty much the top hockey league in the world at the time, so it wasn’t so bad for us.
MS: Hockey has grown, especially financially, a lot over the past seven years. Do you think this lockout is going to repress some of those gains?
SI: It will definitely hurt the popularity. Even though we’re in a depression, we’re a growing sport. To take a year off would definitely be a step back.
MS: How much of a toll does this layoff take on players?
MB: Well especially for players who are in their late 30s, and there are several in the NHL right now, they have families established in these towns. It’s going to be much harder for them, as opposed to a younger player, to just pick up and move their family overseas. Even if they don’t play somewhere else, it’s going to be hard to take a year off and then come back to the NHL style of play. It may force some players into early retirement.
MS: Do you stand with the players or the owners on this lockout?
SI: I definitely stand with the players. In the last lockout, the players gave up a lot to play that next season. Now they want back a little bit of what they gave up and the league’s not going to allow that. The players even want to play while negotiations are happening just to give the fans what they want.
MS: There’s been a lot of talk recently about Commissioner Gary Bettman. This is the third work-stoppage since he took over in 1993; do you think he’s doing a good job?
MB: I think he’s done good things in his tenure. He’s brought the Winter Classic. He’s done good but I do think these lockouts are going to overshadow that. A lot of people, myself included, don’t like Gary Bettman because I think he’s stubborn and he kind of looks down on fans. He just thinks they’re always going to be there and that’s pretty disrespectful.