NHL Off-Season Main Goal: Knock out the Lockout


While speculation is at an all-time high about the NHL’s CBA negotiations, one thing is for sure; if an agreement is not made by September 15th, the NHL players will be locked out. If this happens, it will be the 3rd time Bettman has allowed the NHL to go into lockout. The only thing that seems to be agreed upon by Don Fehr (NHLPA) and Gary Bettman (NHL) is that there is a ‘ wide gap ‘ or ‘ meaningful gulf ‘ between the sides.

So what does this mean for NHL fans? Well, if an agreement isn’t made, it means no hockey for a while. This also means decreased revenue and excitement around hockey, which has been growing exponentially the last 5 years. If the NHL has a lockout it will be horrible for the expansion of the game both in North America and abroad (global preseason games have already been cancelled)…

Don Fehr has suggested that the game should continue until an agreement is made. “Under the law, if an agreement expires, that may give someone the legal ability to go on strike or in this case to impose a lockout,” he said. “There’s no requirement that they do so and if nobody does anything you (can) continue to work under the old conditions.” But Bettman and the NHL owners do not have any intentions of operating under the current CBA, even if it means no 2013 season. According to Bettman, “We reiterated to the union that the owners will not play another year under the current agreement”. If the CBA is not finalized by September 15th, there is a good chance a lockout is imminent.

But what is everyone even arguing about anyway? Well, the league wants to make sure the owners are protected. They are trying to lower salaries for players and essentially put that money back into the owners’ pockets. According to Don Fehr on NHL’s proposal, “Seems to us that all of the revenue-sharing payments would be paid for by player salary reductions.” Revenue sharing is definitely the biggest issue at hand. The NHL’s current proposal includes an 11% cut of hockey-related revenues going to players (changing from 57% to 46%). Do the players or the owners really need this money? No, probably not. But they definitely want it and they will fight ’til the death (or until September 15th) to come to a compromise.

Personally, it seems that both sides are hard-lining. I mean, yesterday’s meeting lasted less than 2 hours. But hey, isn’t that what negotiations are about? Ask for more than what you want, and don’t let up until the very last second. And we aren’t at the very last second, not yet. I am pretty optimistic that the NHL and NHLPA will work out an agreement, because if they don’t they are hurting virtually all of their stakeholders (players, owners, league, agents, and the fans). Don Fehr and the NHLPA are expected to give their first counterproposal to the NHL on Tuesday 8/14. And hopefully in the meantime, fans don’t attack Gary Bettman and demand hockey. For now those fans will have to wait patiently… or make aggressive memes.

NHL nixes pre-season games in Europe


According to the NHL, this upcoming season will be the first season since 2007 to not have preseason games in Europe. The reason for this change stems from the logistics associated with the NHL’s expiring Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA). The CBA remains in effect until September 15, 2012 which is right at the beginning of when the preseason should start.

Sports Business Journal wrote this week, “Sources said that the NHL was ‘willing to schedule them, but an agreement couldn’t be reached with the NHLPA over how cancellation costs would be handled in the event of a work stoppage.'” So, because of a potential lockout teams can’t promote the sport to fans abroad? In my opinion, this is a horrible situation for the NHL. Deals need to be worked out, but the importance of these games is clearly being overlooked. At the NHL GM meeting, GMs accepted that games could not be scheduled and the CBA could be tabled. Instead they should have scheduled the games, and cut their losses if cancellations occurred (which they most likely wouldn’t anyway). The GMs also could have taken a look at the CBA to try to figure it out before the summer ends. Commissioner Gary Bettman actually said he doesn’t know when talks about the CBA will start, “Ask the union. We’ve been ready. But I’m not concerned. There’s lots of time.” Sure, lots of time, but at the expense of the European preseason.

I recently went to London and met with executives from both NFL UK and NBA International. Both the NFL and the NBA are doing everything in their power to grow their brands in Europe and get an increasingly International fan base. The NBA is doing pretty well, because basketball is such a global sport. They are growing on a grassroots level, and utilizing social media to gain fans. The NFL faces challenges from rugby fans who doubt the amount of padding used, but the the NFL is still bringing an American football game to London each year. They also are attempting to bring an NFL team to the UK for good. On the other hand, NHL games aren’t even played on TV in England. There is no deal with the networks that allow for them to be played. (Sidenote: this is not the case everywhere in Europe, it varies by country). In the UK they play AHL hockey games on TV. Do you really expect to get new hockey fans from watching the AHL?

The NHL needs to get into the arena of global sports. It is exciting, it is not like anything else (no competition like football has with rugby or baseball has with cricket), and it has prominence in countries spanning the globe (US, Russia, Czech Republic, Sweden…etc). But the first step to attaining this goal was to grow the NHL fan-base in countries that already have a love of hockey. NHL players need to get into their arenas, interact with their fans, and boost the NHL brand. Without these pre-season games, it is a huge step back for the NHL and for global hockey.

NHL in Seattle?


Will Seattle ever have an NHL team? It seems that the issue keeps coming up from various sources in the NHL and Gary Bettman made it sound like it was definitely possible. A couple questions arise when discussing this issue:

Why now? Well, plans are being unveiled for Seattle’s new arena that will be easily accessible for both basketball and hockey teams. San Francisco’s Chris Hansen (who is actually from Seattle and is a hedge-fund manager) is interested in bringing a basketball team back to Seattle. He has bought up land near Safeco Field (see the Seattle Times picture to the left) which is in the perfect location for a new arena. The question is, will Seattle be able to get both a basketball team (which is what Hansen and his investors seem most interested in), or will there also be opportunity for a hockey team to move into the arena?

Chris Hansen and investors have talked about bringing in an NBA team to Seattle and it seems possible considering the amount of money and passion behind the idea. Hansen has continuously talked to Seattle media about how the Supersonics impacted his childhood. Hansen has his eyes on prize (which happens to be the Sacramento Kings) and seems focused on bringing the sport he loves back to the city he grew up in.

But, what does this mean for potential Seattle hockey? According to Gary Bettman, Seattle (as well as 5 other cities) seem to be options for a hockey team that might re-locate. Bettman has stipulated that definite arena plans must be made before the NHL will approve a relocation. And every other city that seems to be an option doesn’t seem very simple. Quebec would love for a new team to come up North, but the Nords’ old arena is fairly small and rundown. Kansas City was another option raised, but is mid-America really the best place to attract hockey fans and why hasn’t any team committed to the new arena since it was built in 2007?

According to the Globe and Mail, AHL Chicago-Wolves owner, Don Levin came out today and told Hansen he would be interested in getting involved with bringing a hockey team to Seattle. This is a major step in getting Hansen and his basketball-minded investors to start thinking about the dual-benefits of a multi-purpose/multi-sport arena. NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly said that Don Levin has been interested in owning an NHL franchise for the last couple years.

And where would this team come from? It is nearly impossible to start a team from scratch in the NHL, and with realignment talks already in the works, this deal probably needs to go through fast. The only team that I think really has a chance of being relocated is the Phoenix Coyotes. Their fan base is weak, attendance is the second-worst in the league, the team is being run by the NHL, they have only won a couple more games than they have lost, and Arizona is not quite a place where ice-cold hockey fits in with the local culture. Not to mention the fact that the Coyotes have been losing money ever since they left Winnipeg to come to Arizona. But will Levin be accepted by Hansen? Will he be able to lure the Coyotes up North?

2013 Winter Classic, Great for City of Detroit and NHL Fans


The NHL had their press-conference at Comerica Park today to discuss the 2013 Winter Classic. It was officially announced that the game will take place at the University of Michigan’s Big House and will be an original six match-up between the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Detroit Red Wings. Most of us already knew this, but it was nice to get confirmation and also hear some new details about the festivities surrounding the Winter Classic.

Speeches were made by league commissioner Gary Bettman and the owners of both the Wings and the Leafs. Bettman said that extra activities would take place in Detroit including open skates on the outdoor ice and numerous other hockey games. This ‘Hockeytown Winter Festival’ that will take place mostly around Detroit and Comerica Park, will include minor league affiliate battles (Granad Rapids Griffins vs. Toronto Marlies), OHL games (Saginaw Spirit, Plymouth Whalers, London Knights and Windsor Spitfires), youth games, and the Red Wing vs. Maple Leaf alumni game. The press-conference speakers kept repeating that there will be “something for everyone” which certainly seems like it must be true if you like hockey at all.

There was also a video shown during the press conference that featured past Winter Classic games and the age-old rivalry between the Wings and the Leafs. This rivalry was also talked about by owners during the conference. One of the stats given was that the Wings have played the Leafs 644 times. The Leafs have won 276 of those games while the Wings have won 275 (I realize this does not add up, I am assuming they were not accounting for ties). Pretty close though wouldn’t you say? The rivalry was said to have peaks in the 40s and 60s.

This game will be the largest Winter Classic ever played. The Big House is said to hold 109, 901 seats for the game which is much higher than any other Winter Classic game ever played. This game also has the potential to be the biggest hockey game of all time. Yeah, pretty amazing.

Is this the best thing to ever happen to Michigan/Detroit? There is definitely a convincing argument that could be made. Detroit or “Hockeytown” as they refer to themselves, are huge hockey fans and they seem thrilled to have the chance to host the Winter Classic. And the city could really use the positive impact of the Classic (socially and more importantly economically). And the $3 million the NHL is paying the University of Michigan to rent the Big House has to be huge for students and the people affiliated with the University. What is best is there is no way we will have to worry about weather delays this year- Michigan is darn cold!

Concussion Junction


Recently, the NHL has been dealing with the major issues surrounding concussions. It seems that everyday fans are hearing more bad news about some of their favorite players. Numerous all-star game starters have been benched due to their poor head-health. There was even an article written on yahoo sports about an “all-concussion team” and how they would be a solid group of players.

Hockey has always been a rough game. Players are tough and hits are hard. But, concussions seem to be getting more common and increasingly serious. Captains Chris Pronger of the Philadelphia Flyers and Sidney Crosby of the Pittsburgh Penguins have both been out of commission with post-concussion symptoms for a period of months. Their returns have no definite time-table and fans are beginning to worry if it means the end of these iconic players’ careers.

Fans also seem to be worried that by changing too much in the game (and making concussions more avoidable), the integrity and fast-paced nature of the play would be lost. There is a line to be drawn; when is it okay to slow down the game or change it in order to keep players safe? The league has already ruled that all boards need to be made out of plexi-glass which has started to soften the impact of hits. But is plexi-glass soft enough? Where on the ice are the majority of detrimental hits happening? Is it into the walls, the ice, or the plexi glass? These are things the NHL should look at. Wherever the biggest danger is, they need to start there.

Gary Bettman, the commissioner of the NHL, has come out and sighted new concussion baselines and measures (which were seen on HBO’s 24/7) as something the NHL has improved on. But their new boards and baseline checks are not efficient enough. Concussions are still a major problem that both teams and fans are starting to notice. When the best players in the NHL are sidelined with head-injuries and past enforcers are starting to die from prolonged damage to their brains, drastic measures need to be taken to change the NHL.

So the question is what more can be done? Well the NHL has already changed the plexi-glass, created a department of player safety (I am sure you have all seen those Brendan Shanahan explanation videos), and apparently softer elbow and shoulder padding is in the works. I think if the NHL continues to make the ice a safer place for head-injuries eventually they will slow. I just hope the league can make these changes quickly enough that there are no more major career-threatening injuries and nothing that will destroy the feel of the game.

All and all, the NHL shouldn’t stop fighting in the league and shouldn’t turn the boards into memory foam. The league does need to make softer padding, enforceable punishments for illegal hits, and players need to be educated about how to deal with concussions properly and avoid hits that could cause them. Maybe the best way to avoid concussions is to make a larger playing area. With more space on the ice, players might have more room to play the game and skate rather than get locked up on the boards. Why hasn’t the NHL tested something like that?