Ominous Rumblings. . .Or Maybe Not That Ominous
So Don Fehr, sooner as opposed to later, will be running the NHL Players Association. No big surprise there. The entire membership still has to vote, but given this groups reputation as a bunch of lemmings, nobody imagines this is anything but a straightforward, rubber stamp process. They're not even insisting on getting the full report into the firing of Paul Kelly first, which is just kind of sad.
As soon as Fehr is installed, the rumblings will begin towards 2012 when the currect collective bargaining agreement concludes. Fehr's reputation in baseball is a mixture of hardnosed negotiator and pragmatist. Sometimes he fought with Major League baseball, sometimes he co-operated (steroid era). Few would think he'll be a pushover, and if he can actually get the players to stand behind him - no easy trick, given the history - the next fight could be a big one.
Maybe a strike. Maybe a lockout. Maybe a resolution. But if there is a work stoppage at the initiation of either side, there will again be suggestions that it will cause terrible damage to the game if it goes on for months or ruins an entire season. Apocalyptic results.
Only thing is, that is quite what happened last time, was it?
The NHL and NHLPA were co-conspirators in wiping out the 2004-05 season - technically, it was an owners lockout - and the consensus then was that it would take years for the game to recover, if it ever did.
Instead, what has happened is that the NHL, as a whole, is bigger and probably better than it has ever been.
Just look at how the coverage of the sport alone has grown. Events that once weren't the subject of much public attention at all or didn't exist - the prospects combine, rookie camps - are now not just covered, they're televised. The annual Winter Classic didn't exist before the lockout, although some games were played outside, and is now one of the NHL's splashiest events.
The NHL is playing more games in Europe than ever before. Overall league revenues continue to increase, which is why the salary cap keeps going up. Remember when the financial meltdown south of the border had some predicting the cap would drop by $6 million or more? Never happened. Compared to the first year after the lockout, the cap has risen by an astounding 51 per cent, to a significant degree because of the strength of the Canadian dollar vis a vis the U.S. greenback.
The game itself is sure better. In fact, without the '04-05 lockout, all the changes that have made the sport better - taking out the red line, removing the hooking and obstruction - might never have occurred. The league is blessed by a plethora of dazzling new stars, all given a much better opportunity to show their skills in the league as competition is structured today.
Not a single team went out of business. In fact, the Canadian teams are all stronger - Ottawa might be the exception - and teams in cities like Washington, Boston and Chicago are riding the wave of new popularity with their fans. Quebec City and Winnipeg both want back in, whereas before the lockout, it was assumed that the absence of a salary cap would make it impossible for any other Canadian cities to join the NHL.
There are teams in trouble - Phoenix, Atlanta, Florida - but there were teams in trouble before the lockout. In fact, ever since the NHL doubled in size back in 1967, there have been teams in trouble. So that's not new. Neither is the absence of a large U.S. television deal.
So five years after the lockout, what you have is a bigger industry, not a smaller one, a better game not a worse one, more outstanding young players, not fewer.
The apocalypse never happened.
Maybe Fehr, then, is what the sport needs. Maybe if he's going to make the NHLPA more militant, and more likely to lock horns with the league in another work stoppage, maybe that's not such a bad thing.
The last lockout, after all, apparently did nothing but good.